The Intelligent Library – some thoughts and reflections on AI and the future Library

 

42828328_10156921294335530_9213335900874866688_o

(Image of Radcliffe Camera, on a wall in Oxford. Copyright Karen Dolman, 2018).

Recently, at home, we signed up for the Hive system for our heating. As part of the deal, we now have an ‘Alexa’ device, which has been a bit of an eye-opener for us both. My partner is very techy, but not very digital, and I’ve had to have a few ‘Librarian’ moments with him in terms of using it correctly (for example, he asked her to ‘play Peatbog Faeries’ and she didn’t understand. I asked her to ‘play music by the Peatbog Faeries’ and she understood, rewarding us with some very good tracks!).

So, this little issue made me think about how this technology will impact on how we teach students and also how it will impact on how they access information – we already have issues when trying to explain how to use key terms and words; how much more difficult will this be when we have to try to explain how to get the best from an AI system? As Librarians, we are used to the language of key terms, concepts, controlled vocabulary and, in Health and Medicine, MeSH Headings. However, this is something that not everyone will understand or develop and this leads me to wonder how we can develop these skills to make sure our students, and the populace at large, are accessing correct, relevant and appropriate information?

I saw a conference advertised a while ago, at which one of the presentations was ‘Skills for the future academic library‘. I couldn’t attend due to staffing demands, but my manager went and said this was a very interesting presentation. I immediately followed up with this and realised that, apart from being a future consideration, AI in libraries is already here. The presentation highlights that such systems as ‘Deakin Genie’, ‘Revision Assistant (Turnitin)’ and chatbots are already in use and becoming accepted as a way of communicating and disseminating information.

At Hallam, we don’t have any automated systems as yet, but we have recently introduced a new portal, MyHallam, which has a knowledge-base for students to search. The idea is that they should be able to find answers to their queries within this system, only coming to seek help should they not find an answer within the system. The knowledge-base will grow with enquiries that come in, and, eventually, students should find answers to all of their questions, as well as interacting with us via this portal. It’s not really AI, but I envision that we wont be long in subscribing to one of the above-mentioned systems. We already have access to an online 24 hour academic feedback service, so we are definitely moving in that direction.

Returning to the research issue: one comment is particularly telling in the presentation. A researcher points out that AI may make journal publications obsolete as a way of communicating research as, rather than subscribing to many different journals, researchers could just subscribe to a filtering service which will tailor their research strategies to personal need and the algorithms will do all the work for them. Hmmm, interesting.

For me, this begs the question: how do you know you are getting the best results? I may be being naïve here, but the elephant has to be grasped by the trunk. When I construct a research strategy and apply it to the database, I can be flexible enough to have the opportunity to do the initial scanning of articles myself, in order to eliminate any that may not be peer-reviewed or of appropriate provenance etc…I am not sure, given the rigid nature of algorithms, that a filtering service would allow this flexibility and also that it would give me the best results every time, with this in mind. A conversation with a colleague about this also raised the issue that algorithms are constructed by people and therefore could reflect the biases and opinions of those people – ie white, middle-class and male. This is another issue that I think affects the validity of such systems and which is exactly why they are unreliable in my view. People make mistakes.

Look at Facebook: it works on algorithms, the same as any other system, but at certain points it seems to get stuck in a loop – I regularly have to go in and change my settings to make it do what I want. And I only see consistently the results that I interact with, which generates more of the same results, which I interact with, and so on. Applying this to a research methodology – how can I be sure that this isn’t also happening with a filtering service? Given that, when conducting research, the idea (especially in my areas) is that we need to find as much of the body of literature that is available as possible, then select the most appropriate using screening methods and evaluation tools. How can a filtering system manage that, given these algorithmic limitations? Indeed, one of the issues raised about the use of AI in the presentation is that of accuracy and validity.

However, I also realise that a lot of these systems are ‘learning’ systems (heuristics, for example), but I still beg leave to doubt, as there are questions about whether these still will give the best results. The possibilities inherent in these systems are infinite, but I think, for me, there needs to be more evidence of their effectiveness before I subscribe wholeheartedly. We need to make sure our students (and staff!) understand the value of good research techniques, as well as the systems out there designed to help them find the appropriate resources and how to use them effectively, and their place in the research process. As a Librarian, I am all about saving the time of the user, but there is a definite ‘cutting corners’ feel to these systems that I am rather wary of. Watch this space…

Back to the original subject however, Alexa has proved to be a hit in our home, although we still can’t make her talk to the heating system…I’ll leave that to the technician in the family.

References:

Cox A, Pinfield, S & Rutter, S. (2018). Skills for the intelligent library. CILIP Briefing: Skills for the future academic library. London: CILIP

Conference Reflections and summery fun…

Keynote-2

(Waiting for the keynote. Little me, top left right at the back, hand on my chin, on me tod. Larger image here. Image courtesy of HLG Conference)

This year, I have been privileged to attend not one, not even two, but THREE conferences, almost back to back. They have all been Health Library focused, and identified on last year’s PDR (Performance and Development Review – more on that in a later blog post). As this is going to be a long post, I’m going to concentrate on the first conference, which was the bi-annual Health Libraries Group conference, held this year in the lovely environs of Keele University. For the very first time in my professional career, this conferences was a stay-over, so I had the very great pleasure of honouring the Holiday Inn with my presence for one night only…and a very pleasurable stay it was.

I cant possibly go through every session in detail in this post: two full-on days of innovative practice and engaging, interactive discourse is very difficult to disseminate. So I will say that the main themes of the conference were demonstrating impact, raising awareness of libraries and librarians, their work, their problem-solving and their innovative ways of engaging service users and collecting feedback. To try to give a flavour and some reflection, I have picked out some photos from the conference (with me in them, mostly the back of my head!) and given a brief precis of the session. In no particular order…

  • HLG Conference saw the launch of the CILIP Health Hub
  • Keynote 1: Nick talked about the boundaries between study and work blurring and about the changing work and study environments: online, personalised, flipped. And about digital exclusion, the proliferation of social media, diversity and culture and about how librarians make the links between all of the above. We must change as a profession to keep abreast and ahead of these developments.
    • I am currently part of a team developing a project (to be approved) around reading for pleasure supporting wellbeing, diversity and belonging. We are looking at developing a ‘Big Read’ for Hallam. I have searched the literature to find evidence on how reading for pleasure supports these issues, to show that it has impact for our project manifesto. I got involved in this project via my work with Feeling Fiction book group, and something I have a long-standing interest in an interest in: reading for pleasure and mental health. My MA dissertation investigated the impact on literacy development by engaging in reading for pleasure – and by association, building self-confidence, promoting better education and raising aspirations, all of which help towards promoting belonging, mental wellbeing and understanding diversity.
  • Keynote 2: Dr Mark Taylor delivered a keynote on why clinicians need to use evidence-informed practice. There was a lot about communicating health decisions to patients and how this is done. Language, lenses, financial and political concerns. And fake news, misinformation and manipulated content and how we need to debunk this for the public. I thought this would go over my head but actually it made a lot of sense!
    • It’s important for me to know about how clinicians and health professionals do this, as my students learn a lot about communicating health decisions and so I can use this as further evidence of how important good quality research, and the skills needed to find it, are. I tend to also promote ‘Behind the Headlines‘ to students, as a good place to look for debunking those amazingly manipulated health headlines, such as the Telegraph reporting, ‘Middle aged drinking may reduce dementia risk, new study finds‘. Behind the Headlines debunk this in an easy to read and understandable way.
  • Playing the Communication Game! And the team behind the games. A fun-filled first session with board games aimed at transferring knowledge and skills through play. It was really difficult to do; like Pictionary but with words! My team won.
  • Listening to Jane Falconer report on quality of reporting of lit searches in systematic reviews – some very unnerving stats!
    • After doing the SCHARR training (more in another post) earlier this year, this was a good session to remind me to reinforce why reporting your search strategy is really important in health research! I now talk authoritatively (and enthusiastically!) to students about why reporting your research strategy is important to the methodology and transparency of their research, and also about meta-analysis and narrative synthesis. Before the training, I would have backed off from this, but now feel very confident in addressing these issues with students. I’ve also been previously asked to help with systematic reviews and have declined, but, as a result of the training, I would now feel confident in taking part.
  • Talking about barriers to research in Gillian’s session Dont use anecdotes, use research!’ Collaboration is what we do: barriers to research such as time, opportunity and value mean we learn from others, rather than looking for it ourselves. Librarians can help!
  • The very engaging Shirley Yearwood-Jackman speaking my language about developing evidence based practitioners! ‘Yes, you do know this, I told you in the last session!’.
    • We had a good chat after the session about how students say things like ‘I wish I’d known this in the first year’ when we see them in the first year and tell them! It’s so frustrating some times as I feel that I am either not communicating effectively, or I am just wasting my time. But I do feel very happy when it just clicks for some people and others do eventually get there.
  • Helen and I, on the left of the photo, listening to the findings of a report on the impact clinical librarians have on patient care. Helen is another friend and ex-colleague from Uni. She is a clinical librarian also, so it was good to have her views on what was being reported too. The upshot: librarians make a difference!

Full album of HLG Conference photos here Conference presentations here

This conference had a few surprises up its sleeve for me. I learned a lot of things of course, and I have taken a lot away from it. But I also met a very old friend and ex-colleague whom I haven’t seen for many years since we both worked at Walsall Mobile and Home Library ServiceDavid Laws! We managed a very quick catch up during the first session, but had a longer one a bit later on, on Facebook. The impact of this isnt just re-engaging with a friend (which was lovely in its own right): he is now Library Services Manager for the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust and a member of the HLG Board, and so therefore ideally placed to be an information source and a critical friend for work – wider professional knowledge as defined in the Chartership criteria. I am currently about to contact him about the new funding structure and student access to NHS resources, something which we have struggled to get a definitive answer to.

As this conference is very expensive, we share the attendance alternately between the Health Librarians at Hallam, which now means that Simon gets to go to one, then me the next…Now, when Simon went in 2016, he got to go for a seaside jolly up to Scarborough, home also to his passion for cricket. I got to go to Stoke. Not that this is a really bad thing (the seaside would’ve been better, though!); it’s only that I am originally from quite close to Wolverhampton and – as the footballers amongst my readers will know – there is a long-standing ridicule of both environs on the part of the other. Basically, we dont like Stoke!…however, I wasnt tarred and feathered, and Keele really is a beautiful part of the world. Coupled with that, my parents only live 30 miles away, so I forewent the conference dinner in order to pay them a surprise visit on the eve of their Golden Wedding Anniversary. I was forgiven by my fellow conference attendees on this merit.

The conference wasnt all about Librarians though. There were lots of opportunities to give things a go and one of the sessions that interested me was the ‘Laughter for Healthcare’ session. This comprised of an exercise called Laughing Yoga’ (I am in the middle of the photo, next to the lady with the green and white striped jumper. And, yes, I really am that short). Laughing is apparently a great form of therapy and one we do not do enough of. I felt a bit silly in this session, but actually it was a great relaxer after a quite full-on morning. Typically, I havent really revisited this since, but once I have a bit of spare time it’s definitely something I will be looking into. Who knows, I may even suggest it for our next team away-day! 🙂

So I am enthused, motivated and all conferenced out, now! I am looking forward to disseminating this to my fellow Learning & Teaching Team members at some point in the future (probably the next away day, which this post will be useful for – reflecting back!). I’ll do another post on the other two conferences which, while by no means less interesting and exciting (there was a little escapade on the Tube…), were slightly shorter and therefore can be summarised more effectively.

But it hasnt all been work. This summer, as previously indicated, has been full of fun, frolics and other frivolity beginning with letters other than ‘F’. We’ve had heatwave madness, in the form of short trips out to the East coast – Filey (oops, F!), Cleethorpes and Skeggy (lots of Podling-paddling happening!); to the West – Aberystwyth (nope, in charge of Lemmy the Whippet and he was having none of this paddling malarkey, thank-you-never-so-much!); and a nostalgic return to some youthful haunts in the south Mids. There was also, last weekend, a return to the outdoor climbing scene for the first time in years, in a visit to Birchens Edge. My knees are covered in bruises from a fight up a chimney…

paddling

(Image taken at Deal, Kent. Podling-paddling in the sea! Copyright K Dolman, 2018)

To Google…NO!

google

The above quote comes from that amazing advocate of all things library, Neil Gaiman. I researched extensively to ensure that the quote does originate from him and the answer seems to be a resounding yes. How did I do my research? On Google, of course. Who wouldn’t?

On Sunday last, the other half and I watched a film called AntiMatter, a film about a PhD student at a certain University in the UK who discovers how to move matter – wormhole technology, apparently (that’s the simplistic, non-scientific explanation because I don’t understand it!). If you want to know more, watch the film. It’s really very good.

The reason I have injected this non sequitur is that there is a scene in the film where the main protagonist (we’ll call her PhD 1, to align with the film’s scientific theme) asks a fellow student (PhD 2, D’oh!) a question about where to find some research on a neuroscience topic. Let’s set the scene: PhD 1 and PhD 2 are in the library. We know it’s a library because there are books on the shelf. This, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily mean that they definitively are in a library, but we know that they are because of several other defining features on the set:

  1. They are both holding books…
  2. There are lots of books on the shelves…
  3. There are other students looking at books…
  4. There is a card catalogue next to PhD 2…

Hold on…a card catalogue? Either this is a very hard-up library (and, given the institution, I doubt that very much!) or the director of the film has a very narrow view of what a library is. But that aside, much as it annoyed me and then annoyed the other half because I ranted, the worst thing about this scene is the answer PhD 2 gives PhD 1 about finding neuroscience research…I’m hoping you guessed it? Yes, she says ‘have you tried Google?’.

Again, this just goes to show that the director, script writer, whomever has no concept of the information landscape or the resources we offer as libraries. Ok, if you are doing some generic research on a particular subject, Google et al would be good places to start. However, neuroscience research would be supported by the most up to date resources imaginable, available via the library and provided to the students through database and journal subs. It would contain authoritative and evidence-based information that Google can’t access as it’s hidden behind the passwords that are provided to staff and students to access the University resources.

So. An example I use with my first year students when trying (sometimes even successfully!) to get them to think outside the Googlebox (see what I did there? I’ll get my coat…) is, think of the web as an iceberg. The bit you can see is the bit that Google etc can see. But this is just a little bit of the information that is out there in the digital environment. Think of all the staff intranets around the world; all the company resources that are provided for staff; all of the medical information contained in secure online repositories, ad infinitum. The majority of this isnt available to search engines because they cant ‘see’ it. It’s hidden.

And that is just it; for these two, Google definitely isn’t the answer. What I would have liked to see would’ve been PhD 2 to sit down at one of the (non-existent) computers and say ‘hey, why don’t you try PubMed?’.

This is why so much of my job is teaching information literacy, or information skills, if you like. So that people (staff, students, users, etc) know how to access the most authoritative information for their research or information need. It’s not all about Google, although it can, as I have stated, be a good place to start and it definitely has its place. But it’s a real eye-opener for some students when they see that they can do so much more with our resources than with normal searching. And it adds such value to their studies too. I think more on this will be forthcoming: watch this space…

‘Flipped Classroom’ and ‘Flipped Learning’.

Changing the way we do things…

Previously with our first year undergraduates we have had a one hour introductory lecture to research skills. This lecture has never really worked well for me – I felt it was not interactive enough and that it was very dry…however, I persevered.

This year, I couldn’t get the lecture timetabled for two of my courses – the usual packed timetable for Level 4’s couldn’t accommodate me. However, the students need this input before they come to the workshops in order to have some context in which to work.

So, I decided to turn the one hour lecture into two short videos: the first about searching for information and the second about evaluation, information management and referencing. These would then be sent to students a week prior to the workshops with the instruction to watch them. Below are some of the responses I had in the workshop evaluation, to a specific question on their learning outcomes:

Level 4 responses to workshop – some examples

What is the most important thing you have learned today?

  • Useful information on how to refine searches effectively and efficiently. Also, clearer understanding as to how referencing should be practiced.
  • The important thing I have learnt has to be knowing where to find hidden articles and journals for my modules/course and also having knowledge to reference.
  • Being shown how to use ” and * in the search box to help find as many primary and secondary sources as possible to help with assignments.
  • How to search a database to find accurate resources
  • How to search through databases and find journals and books
  • how to find the resources for my course
  • How to search a database properly
  • How to refine searches and search for specific phrases and truncations.
  • How to find appropriate literature for my course.

 

These comments highlight how important it is for our students to have these skills. They will go out into practice and need to use these skills to make clinical decisions and find evidence-based practice to make these decisions with.

I found that providing them with introductory videos before the session worked really well – I had the academic tutor’s support and reinforcement that they adhere to the ‘flipped classroom’ approach, which helped. We could then focus on applying the knowledge they had gained from watching the videos to their assignment topics.

With the positive comments I received, I will definitely be using this approach this year with all of my first years. I plan to develop the videos a bit more (we use camtasia) to include our new look interface for Library Gateway, so that students are familiar with the functionality before they attend the workshops. Watch this space…

Pick your own: Literature reviewing tools – www.InfoToday.eu

Pick your own: Literature reviewing tools – www.InfoToday.eu.

Just got this through on an email and was very interested in this article, particularly as I haven’t had the opportunity to do much research recently.

I was interested in it because we have a particular driver at the minute in how we can better support our researchers (not previously having been a research-intensive Uni). However, for REF 2020 we have a priority to be a top 50 Research Uni and to do this we have a Uni-wide strategy to strengthen our support and interaction with research.

Now, I am quite organised but while doing my MA project I found that all the organisational skills in the world won’t help you if you don’t have some sort of management tool, and at the time the only one open to me was Endnote. Not to dismiss it’s usefulness but I personally didn’t find it particularly intuitive (which is a shame as it’s the one we use here!). So I was interested in this article as it covers some other tools that might be more to my liking and also that I could possibly be promoting to our researchers.

Anyway, I will be sure to be trying some out in the future, so please, watch this space…