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

 

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(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

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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)

Nice to know I’m doing something right…

This week has seen a roll of drop ins and workshops that I have been running for the students and staff. For the students I am engaged in dissertation support and I received some feedback from their module lead on Friday: “Dear Karen
Just thought you’d like to know that several students commented in tutorial sessions yesterday how helpful they’d found your sessions.
Best wishes”
[Module Lead]

It’s always good to know that the students find the sessions helpful and interesting! It’s balm for my soul as sometimes I wonder how I ended up doing this. I often question whether I am best placed to answer these questions so when someone finds something I have said or suggested useful, I feel a small sense of justification!

Another piece of feedback was from a member of staff after I had done a piece of work for her: “Hi Karen
That’s brilliant, thank you for taking the time to do this, it’s much appreciated
Best”
[Academic Staff Member]

So again I feel very happy that someone is finding what I do useful and that I have helped, in however small a way. This also shows my commitment to engaging with the academic staff and that I am always happy to help! Institutional context is important for Chartership and this piece of evidence, along with others in a similar vein, highlights that I don’t just sit at my desk, ordering books and stamping them. It shows just how valuable we are in our faculties and that we are appreciated and our job is important. It’s not always the case, but I am lucky in the area that I work in, that I’m not just seen as an add-on. I’m a valued member of the University and someone that the staff and students feel comfortable and happy to approach! There will probably be more on this subject; watch this space…