Machine Learning and AI in the Library

Every two years, the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee publishes in College & Research Libraries News an article on the top trends and issues affecting academic libraries and the change our institutions are experiencing. We will be highlighting some of these trends through a number of blog posts over the next few weeks.


When you think of AI, what comes to mind? There are dichotomous images in books and movies. In one view, there is the AI created to support and supplement the work of humans. In the other view, there is the robot uprising. In the library, AI and machine learning can be powerful tools. As with any tool created by man, AI can project biases or inaccurate readings into a situation. With that in mind, responsible and limited use of AI and machine learning can be a resourceful method of expanding limitations within libraries. Image of humanoid robot

What is AI and machine learning?

Encyclopedia Britannica defines AI as “Artificial intelligence (AI), the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience.” Machine learning is the branch of AI that programs computers to learn from experience. (Encyclopedia Britannica). John McCarthy, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University, coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ during the Dartmouth Conference in 1956.

Growth of Research in AI Although the concept of artificial intelligence has been around for decades, popular awareness has grown exponentially. As popular awareness increases, so too does the number of research papers and books. An examination of the Google Books Ngram Viewer indicates a steep increase in the number of books published on the topic of machine learning. The same trend is also evident in the journal literature.

Fig 1: Analysis of term appearing in Google Books Ngram Viewer, 10/27/2020

Web of Science shows 36,603 results for artificial intelligence and 105,220 for machine learning over the past 10 years. The past two years have seen the greatest growth, with an increase of 10,000 titles on machine learning between 2018-2020.

Fig 2: Analysis of term appearing in Web of Science entries, 10/27/2020

Libraries and AI

But what, you may wonder, does a library have to do with artificial intelligence? One lesson we have all learned from the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine is that libraries provide much more than physical collections. The infrastructure that provides access to ebooks, journal articles, and services online also provides access to the big data that could be used to analyze general user needs. For example, adding AI to a bibliometric analysis of required course readings could lead to a forecasting of student research needs, potentially improving student retention as the library pivots to meet those needs. With AI, library collections and services could become more individualized in much the same way that Amazon makes purchase recommendations based on past searches. AI has already changed the way many person-centered jobs are performed. “By 2022, today’s newly emerging occupations are set to grow from 16% to 27% of the employee base of large firms globally, while job roles currently affected by technological obsolescence are set to decrease from 31% to 21%. In purely quantitative terms, 75 million current job roles may be displaced by the shift in the division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms, while 133 million new job roles may emerge at the same time” (World Economic Forum, Future of Work, 2018).

World Economic Forum. (2020) Strategic Intelligence: Bias and Fairness in AI Algorithms. https://intelligence.weforum.org/topics/a1Gb0000000pTDREA2

If you have a smartphone, consider how many times a day you turn to your device to check your calendar, search for the name of a song or an actor, watch a video, or even interact with other smart devices around you. During the pandemic, you may have had more conversations with Alexa or Google Assistant than with a real person. The question may occur to you whether an artificial intelligence bot could do as good a job at service occupations such as librarians. Research shows that acceptance of AI bots for service functions increases based on the anthropomorphism of the bot and the emotional ability of the person to accept AI. (Gursoy, 2019) While we may never see AI bots taking the place of librarians at a university library reference desk, librarians are already using AI to assist with research inquiries. Librarians help researchers navigate and understand the biases that algorithms develop. As Geneva Henry, Dean of Libraries at George Washington University writes, “Searching the internet using popular search engines, for example, can employ deep learning algorithms that continually learn from previous searches.” (Henry, 2019) Librarians often are called to help narrow a search and target the best results from hundreds of thousands that a search engine or database returns.

Ethics of AI

As with all software, AI can evidence the biases written into algorithms by humans. Additionally, because machine learning software is made to develop new neural networks, the algorithms can develop biases not initially observed. A bias can be as simple as listing the most likely link first in a results list, or as insidious as not recognizing the faces of people of color. To overcome bias in AI and machine learning, it’s important to work toward diversity and inclusion in the workplace and programming.

Additional Reading

B.J. Copeland, Artificial intelligence, Encyclopædia Britannica, August 11, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/technology/artificial-intelligence.

McCarthy, John, Marvin L. Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester, and Claude E. Shannon. (2006) “A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence, August 31, 1955,” AI Magazine 27, no. 4, 12–14, https://doi.org/10.1609/aimag.v27i4.1904.

Gursoy, D., Chi, O., Lu, L., & Nunkoo, R. (2019). Consumers’ acceptance of artificially intelligent (AI) device use in service delivery. International Journal of Information Management, 49, 157–169, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2019.03.008

Henry, Geneva. (2019) Research Librarians as Guides and Navigators for AI Policies at Universities. Research Library Issues, 299, p. 47-65, https://doi.org/10.29242/rli.299.4

Griffey, Jason, ed. (2019) Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Libraries. Library Technology Reports, 55, no. 1, https://doi.org/10.5860/ltr.55n1

Kennedy, Mary Lee. (2019) What do artificial intelligence (AI) and ethics of AI mean in the context of research libraries? Research Library Issues, 299, p. 3-13, https://doi.org/10.29242/rli.299.1

Padilla, Thomas. (2019). Responsible Operations: Data Science, Machine Learning, and AI in Libraries. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research, https://doi.org/10.25333/xk7z-9g97

Young, Jeffery R. (2019) “Bots in the Library? Colleges Try AI to Help Researchers (But with Caution),” EdSurge, June 14, 2019, https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-06-14-bots-in-the-library-colleges-try-ai-to-help-researchers-but-with-caution.27

COVID-19 Update: Library Resources During Coronavirus Response

Do you have questions about the Coronavirus and how the University Libraries are responding to the crisis?

We have posted a new information guide with evidence-based resources on COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The guide provides information on services the library is providing during the coronavirus emergency.

Introducing the Textbooks on Reserve Pilot Program

Textbooks are expensive, we know.

The top two most expensive textbooks at this university cost $446 for an accounting textbook and $396 for an Italian language textbook with the accompanying online access code. Libraries and colleges can work together to reduce the burden of textbook pricing on students. The Catholic University of America University Libraries is leveraging its membership in the Washington Research Library Consortium to examine options. The impact of textbook costs on students was discussed in a University Libraries blog post in April 2019.

One solution to resolving the crisis is expanding textbook access through library reserves.

For Spring 2020, we are introducing a Textbook on Reserve pilot program.  We analyzed courses with highest enrollment and expensive required texts. We limited the pilot to courses that have an enrollment of 50 or more students. Based on the analysis, we have identified 8 courses and purchased 9 textbooks that will be placed on reserve for limited use.

The courses identified for the pilot project are ARPL 102, CLASS 211, ECON 102, SSS 740, ENG 101, MATH 168, ME 342, and TRS 280.

Subject Course Number TTL course enrollment Textbook cost Title Author Instructor (Spr 2020) Required Spr 2020 Yes/No
ARPL 102 64 $60.00 DESIGN DRAWING-W/CD Ching Ohnstad, T y
CLAS 211 116 $106.65 CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY: IMAGES & INSIGHTS Harris Lao, E; Stanchina D y
ECON 102 61 $250.00 PRINCIPLES OF MICROECONOMICS Mankiw Asguet, E; Nowroozi, B; Kane, K y
SSS 740 59 $150.00 ETHICAL DECISIONS FOR SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE + PRACTICE BEHAVIORS WORKBOOK Dolgoff Zitzmann, B y
SSS 740 $120.00 ETHICS FOR PROFESSIONALS IN A MULTICULTURAL WORLD Cooper Zitzmann, B y
ENG 101 386 $117.35 BEDFORD HANDBOOK + DEVELOPMENTAL EXERCISES FOR THE BEDFORD HANDBOOK, 10TH ED. Hacker y
MATH 168 99 $232.20 FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES: MATHEMATICAL LITERACY IN TODAY’S WORLD. Comap Semiyari, H; Khurshid S y
ME 342 88 $125.35 FUNDAMENTALS OF MACHINE COMPONENT DESIGN Juvinall Luo, X y
TRS 280 80 $126.65 ANATOMY OF THE SACRED: AN INTRODUCTION TO RELIGION Livingston Porter, J y

 

The textbooks can be checked out from the Mullen Library Circulation Desk for a 2-hour period. Students will need to bring their Cardinal ID card to check out a book. The books cannot leave the library.

We hope this service will save students money, as well as help with student retention and timely completion of degree programs.

Student success and retention have been demonstrably improved through transitioning to affordable textbooks (Winitzky-Stephens, 2017; Hardin, 2018).

In addition to the textbooks on reserve pilot program, the University Libraries have also partnered with the Washington Research Library Consortium to join the Open Textbook Network. The Open Textbook Network is a group of higher education institutions that provide access to openly-licensed textbooks. These open textbooks are written by academics, peer-reviewed, and may be found in the Open Textbook Library collection. The Open Textbook Library currently includes 690 textbooks, with more added all the time. The textbooks may be used or adapted freely to better meet instructional needs.

Open Educational Resources (OER) materials lower the cost and increase access to required texts. The below figure from a Department of Education analysis shows the relative cost and access issues that students face (Akani B, College Textbook Affordability, ED598412, March 15, 2019 [http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED598412.pdf]).

An interactive calculator created by the Open Education Group can show the impact of adopting OER material in lieu of traditional copyrighted texts: https://impact.lumenlearning.com/

If you wish to learn more about the textbook on reserve pilot initiative, please contact Lea Wade, wadel@cua.edu.