How AI (artificial intelligence) is impacting libraries

Before the age of Google the library was the only search engine. Librarians cataloged and indexed information to facilitate a manual search through records. Then came the Internet followed by browsers and then search engines. Some names like Altavista are long forgotten while the later arrivals like Google grew into huge business empires. 

Libraries ceased to have the importance they once had to search and catalog information. The function of the library changed, as libraries became a method of access to the Internet for people who had no access. The first public computers were installed in libraries for patrons to access the Internet. Later the first public WiFi systems were installed in libraries for patrons to take mobile devices to access the Internet. In the intervening years many more people have access to the Internet and libraries have ceased to be an important portal.

Now the third stage of library evolution is underway with the availability of AI tools. AI is probably one of the most important developments in computing since the development of the digital computer, however is poorly understood by the public who are searching for information. The information published in websites is for the technocrats, the people who work with technology. There is little information about AI for non-technical people available on the Web. Libraries are embracing AI tools to develop a new range of services and are becoming the hub of knowledge for non-technical people who want to discover what AI is all about and use AI to benefit their lives.

 

Overall benefits

Libraries are benefiting from using AI in a variety of ways, some of the main benefits include:

  • Improved user experience: AI-powered systems can provide personalized recommendations and make it easier for patrons to find and access the resources they need.
  • Increased efficiency: AI can help automate repetitive tasks, such as cataloging, and free up librarians' time for more complex and valuable activities.
  • Enhanced discovery and search: AI-powered systems can improve the accuracy and relevance of search results, making it easier for patrons to find relevant resources.
  • Predictive analytics: Libraries can use AI to analyze patron data and predict which resources will be in high demand, allowing them to better allocate resources and budget.
  • Virtual assistance: AI can be used in libraries to provide virtual assistance to patrons, for example through chatbots, which can help them with basic information, such as library hours, directions and other frequently asked questions.
  • Improving accessibility: AI can be used to make library resources more accessible to patrons with disabilities, such as by providing automatic captioning or audio description of videos and audiobooks.

 

Smart speakers

AI-powered smart speakers can help make library services more accessible and convenient for patrons by providing voice-enabled search, virtual reference services, event and program information, resource information, accessibility services, and personalized recommendations. AI-powered smart speakers can be integrated into libraries to help patrons access information and resources. Some examples of how smart speakers can be used in libraries include:

  • Voice-enabled search: Patrons can use smart speakers to search for books, articles, and other resources in the library's catalog by speaking.
  • Virtual reference services: Patrons can use smart speakers to ask librarians for help with research and other library-related questions.
  • Event and program information: Patrons can use smart speakers to find out about upcoming library events and programs.
  • Resource information: Patrons can use smart speakers to find out about library resources, such as study rooms and technology available.
  • Accessibility: Smart speakers can be used to provide accessibility services, such as reading aloud the content of a website, providing directions to the library or information on library hours, for patrons with visual or mobility impairments.
  • Personalized recommendations: AI-powered smart speakers can suggest books, articles, and other resources to patrons based on their reading history and preferences.

 

Audiobooks

Overall, AI can help make audiobooks more accessible and convenient for library patrons, by providing personalized recommendations, automatic summarization, voice recognition, and speech-to-text services. Some libraries are using AI to enhance the experience of accessing and discovering audiobooks. These are some examples of how AI is being used:

  • Personalized recommendations: AI-powered recommendations systems can suggest audiobooks to patrons based on their listening history and preferences.
  • Automatic summarization: AI algorithms can analyze the content of an audiobook and generate a summary of its main points, allowing patrons to quickly understand the book's subject matter.
  • Voice recognition: AI-powered voice recognition can be used to make it easier for patrons to search for and access audiobooks. For example, patrons can speak the title or author of a book they want to listen to and the system will find and play it.
  • Speech-to-text: AI can also be used to transcribe the audiobook, allowing patrons to read along while they listen.
  • Language translation: AI can be used to translate the audiobook into different languages, making them more accessible for patrons with different language backgrounds.
  • Audio description: AI can be used to generate audio description for visually impaired patrons, adding descriptive information of the setting, characters and actions to the audio narration.

 

Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing technology can be used by libraries in a variety of ways to provide remote access to library services and resources. Some examples of how libraries have used video conferencing include:

  • Virtual reference services: Many libraries have implemented virtual reference services, which allow patrons to speak with librarians remotely via videoconference, in order to receive assistance with research and other library-related questions.
  • Virtual programming: Many libraries use videoconferencing to host virtual events, such as author talks, book clubs, and workshops, which can be accessed by patrons from any location.
  • Remote access to specialized collections: Libraries have used videoconferencing to provide remote access to specialized collections such as rare books or manuscripts, allowing patrons to view these items remotely.
  • Distance learning: Videoconferencing is also used by libraries to facilitate distance learning, by connecting students and researchers with librarians and other experts at other institutions to access and share resources.
  • Virtual training, orientation and outreach: Libraries use videoconferencing to provide virtual training, orientation, and outreach to patrons and staff, as well as to other library professionals.

 

Improved Internet access speed

AI (artificial intelligence) requires a lot of Internet bandwidth to be effective. To take full advantage of AI libraries will need to upgrade the Internet service for a faster speed. Libraries can take advantage of the current investments to provide fiber to the home (FTTH) and fiber to the business (FTTB) at giga-bit speeds. There is also a growing demand to provide additional Internet related services for patrons. Some of these are listed below.

  • Basic Internet access: Libraries are a very important resource for Internet access for the part of the population that does not have Internet at home. This adds up to millions of people in the USA. Today applying for a job or making a payment requires Internet access to fill out forms on-line. Most libraries provide wired desktop computers and also WiFi for personal mobile devices that patrons take to libraries.
  • Advanced Internet access: Since libraries began offering Internet services many years ago technologies have changed dramatically. Now people are using video conferencing such as Skype and Zoom for tasks that previously required personal contact. Now job interviews are conducted with video conferencing. The pandemic has led to a significant increase in the use of videoconferencing software like Zoom. Many people have turned to video conferencing tools to stay connected and continue learning remotely. Zoom in particular has seen a surge in usage, with the company reporting a massive increase in daily meeting participants and revenue during the pandemic. This has led to an increased demand on internet infrastructure, and a lot of people have experienced internet congestion and slow speeds, especially during peak hours.
  • Mobile and remote work: The pandemic accelerated a change from working at business premises to mobile and remote working. Businesses moved business software applications on-line so employees can connect anywhere. Many people now work from their homes part time and libraries have become a valuable resource for mobile and remote workers. When a home Internet is slow or not reliable the person can go to a library to continue working. A person who is traveling might get Internet service at a hotel but may need access to a library to continue working. Many business have switched from permanent staff to freelance staff to reduce cost and freelancers can use library Internet services

Libraries need to accommodate changing requirements by planning and building an appropriate IT infrastructure. Patrons are taking advantage of the public WiFi offered by libraries. Videoconferencing can be data-intensive meaning that it can take a lot of bandwidth and for this reason libraries must be prepared to handle this increase to accommodate online activities. Guest Internet products have been installed by many libraries to manage the Internet service provided for patrons to ensure that all patrons are delighted with the Internet service.

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