OLL Blog – Paesi nouamente retrouati. Et Nouo Mondo da Alberico Velputio Florentino intitulato (1507): Findings from a Study of the Oldest Book in the Oliveira Lima Library

Paesi nouamente retrouati. Et Nouo Mondo da Alberico Velputio Florentino intitulato (1507):
Findings from a Study of the Oldest Book in the Oliveira Lima Library

Erin Mir-Aliyev

Master of Science in Library and Information Science – The Catholic University of America
Flora de Oliveira Lima Fellowship for Graduate Students in Library and Information Science – The Oliveira Lima Library

Image 1: Rare Books shelf at the Oliveira Lima Library

As part of a rare books course this past fall, I was given an assignment to choose any book I wanted and to “write its biography”. Since I wanted to be able to review and make use of everything I had been learning about how to conduct bibliography in my classes, as well as take advantage of all of the rare books available to me in the Oliveira Lima Library collection, I decided to take a closer look at the oldest book contained in it – a work titled Paesi nouamente retrouati. Et Nouo Mondo da Alberico Velputio Florentino intitulato (Images 2 and 3). Compiled by Fracanzano da Montalboddo and first published in 1507, it contains the first printed narrative of the voyage of discovery of Brazil by Pedro Alvares Cabral among other early accounts of early exploratory voyages by Europeans, and is a very significant resource for many patrons of the collection.

Resources Consulted

Image 2: Front cover of Oliveira Lima Library’s copy of Paesi
Image 3: Title Page of Oliveira Lima Library’s copy of Paesi

My main task was to examine the physical characteristics of the copy available to me, the digitized version of the 1507 edition copy held by Oliveira Lima Library and available to the CUA community through Gale’s Brazilian and Portuguese History and Culture collection, in order to understand the processes involved in how it was made. I also compared this copy to another edition, which in this case was a digitized copy of a 1508 edition published as a facsimile in 1916 and held at Harvard University’s collection. Besides these two copies of the book, I also found useful information from outside sources including Ruth E. V. Holmes’ 1926 bibliography Bibliographical and historical description of the rarest books in the Oliveira Lima collection at the Catholic university of America, lists of known editions such as the one on the John Carter Brown Library website, Philip Gaskell’s book A New Introduction to Bibliography, and a 1917 article about Vespucci reprints in The American Historical Review. Going through this process allowed me to better understand where to go for bibliographical information and what to look for when studying books as artifacts, in order to gather clues about a book’s origin and the history of its development. This exercise also highlighted the continued importance of being able to physically, not only digitally, access books in library collections, as the information I was able to glean was limited by only viewing digitized versions. In order to give an idea of what kinds of information bibliographical research can uncover, as well as some limitations encountered, I briefly describe a few interesting things I discovered by analyzing the information I found through secondary sources as well as from looking at the physical traits of the copies themselves.

Circumstances of Compilation and Production

While common knowledge of the culture and time period in which Paesi was written, such as the atmosphere of competition between European nations to find and claim new lands, was helpful, researching also led me to detailed information about circumstances surrounding the book’s creation. Holmes’ bibliography contributed to my understanding of this a lot. According to her, writings by Jose Carlos Rodrigues reveal that a Venetian admiral and historian named Malipiero had connections to Venetian ambassadors in Madrid and Lisbon, who covertly passed on news and details of the voyage and discovery of Brazil mentioned within the text. One of these ambassadors had access to a letter from Pero Vaz de Caminha to King Dom Manoel of Portugal concerning the voyages, and based on the knowledge contained therein wrote a letter to Malipiero. It arrived too late for Malipiero to use it in the composition of his own works. However, Fracanzano da Montalboddo, a well-known sixteenth-century professor at Vicentia, Italy, was still able to use it to compile Paesi. This bit of information reveals that detailed knowledge about these exploratory voyages was not necessarily meant to be shared between different countries or meant for the average person, and hints that this knowledge about the Portuguese journeys contained in the text was probably not meant to be published, at least not at that time or in Italy. However, certain groups of people were seeking after it and produced the text anyway.

Quality of Materials and Unfinished Pages

Image 5: Inferior Paper Quality
Image 4: Good Paper Quality

Examination of the digitized images of the paper used in the production of the 1507 edition copy appears to indicate that quality was less of a concern as printing progressed. Some pages appear to be higher quality; these are mostly in the first half of the book and appear whiter in color, flatter, and without major flaws. Other pages, mostly in the second half of the book, have a more off-white color and have many imperfections such as warping that appear to have originated in the paper-making process (Images 4 & 5). Paper quality especially seems lower towards the end of the book, in section six. This variation in paper quality throughout the book could indicate that the creator or printer was running out of money towards the end of the printing of this book, and began to use any paper he could afford. It could also indicate that time became more of a concern, and that less focus was placed on having the best materials and more focus was placed on finishing the book the later into the process he got. Paper quality does not appear to be so varied in the 1508 edition copy, though the ability to see the paper closely in this version was more difficult due to the way the facsimile was made.

As mentioned before, this activity highlighted the necessity of accessing a physical copy of a book to thoroughly research some aspects of it or confirm certain details, which was at the time impossible due to Covid restrictions. A patron’s ability to analyze certain aspects of a book like paper, chain lines, format, ink, bindings, etc. are very limited without being able to hold and handle the object in person. This activity also brought to attention how often the bindings, covers, endpapers, and flyleaves of books are often not even digitized with other content deemed significant by whoever is doing the digitizing, leading to important information contained in those features being lost to those who only have access to digital versions. Good quality digitization, with the goal of providing patrons with as close a representation of the original object as possible, should include these features in the digitization process.

Image 6: Unfinished Page with Missing Block Print Letter
Image 7: Unfinished Page with Missing Block Print Letter

Similarly, something else interesting about the 1507 edition copy is that there are several pages in the second half of the book, especially in sections five and six, where the empty space intended to contain a block print of a large, decorative beginning letter is not filled with any design (Images 6 & 7).

Since this is something that would have been completed by hand after printing with the press, it is as if the printer was inattentive or rushed at this point in the process. When taken into consideration along with the decreasing paper quality mentioned above, it could indicate an instance of rushed production in which these details were not carefully checked before distribution of the final product. It could also indicate the importance of the written content over artistic details. It is unknown whether this is something unique to this individual copy, or something encountered in all 1507 edition copies. In contrast, the 1508 edition copy I looked at does not appear to be missing any of these images.

Different Perspectives Over Time

Reviewing the editions of this work that have been produced since the first one in 1507, also led me to realize how Paesi has remained relevant and important for scholars since the sixteenth century, but the format in which it is presented has changed. Unlike the 1507 edition and other early editions in which Paesi was published as its own standalone book, the 1916 version of the 1508 edition was created as part of a series of similar books, all containing Vespucci texts. The context of creation for this 1916 version is different in that the text is embedded within a body of similar information not originally associated with it, and the point of view of the creator and reader of this one is very different from the one that a creator or reader in 1507 would have had. The knowledge we now have of the events and results of the age of exploration contributes to how the information about it is now presented, consumed, and understood.

All of the conclusions made in this study are of course preliminary, but this was still a valuable exercise that taught me to start thinking as bibliographers do about the materials I encounter each day. 

The Archivist’s Nook: On Presidents and Parades, Part II: Bush and Biden

Image of Msgr. John A. Ryan behind US President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his January 20, 1945 Inaguration.

In January 1945, Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration was held on the White House lawn. The ongoing Second World War called for a scaled-back ceremony. Catholic University faculty member Fr. John A. Ryan was present and provided the benediction at this event. The 1945 swearing-in, highlighted in our records on past inaugurations, provides a precedent for the scaled-back ceremonies that occurred this week.

Typically the city of Washington bustles with the excitement of a presidential inauguration, with thousands of spectators gathering along the National Mall, hoping to catch sight of the new (or re-elected) President. But this year’s inaugural ceremonies were smaller due to COVID-19. So while we can’t safely attend a typical inauguration in DC this year, we can reflect on the person at the center of it all and how they are represented in the history of Catholic University. The inauguration of Joseph R. Biden represents the second time a Catholic has been sworn into the highest office in the United States, and also now represents another chapter in the long history of visits by presidents (current and future) to the Catholic University campus.

Then-Senator Joe Biden in today’s Aquinas Hall, 1978.

Like his fellow Catholic Commander-in-Chief, John F. Kennedy, Biden also paid a visit to Catholic University as a young senator! While Kennedy came to campus in 1956 to receive the Cardinal Gibbons Medal, Biden’s three known visits all involved speaking to students and parents about contemporary politics and the role of Catholic faith in 1970s America.

In September 1973, during his first year in the Senate, Biden was invited to campus by the Graduate Student Association. Addressing a crowd in Caldwell auditorium, Biden spoke about the state of American politics and the many critiques of politicians. In February 1974, Biden would again return to campus as a guest speaker during a Sunday brunch on Annual Parents’ Visitation weekend. Unfortunately, we have no reports on what he told the assembled parents over their waffles and coffee.

George H.W. and Barbara Bush, with then-CUA President Rev. William J. Byron, S.J., 1989.

In November 1978, the inaugural National Conference of Catholic College and University Student Government Leaders was held at Catholic University. A student-led conference, its 85 attendees from across the nation met in the then-Boy’s Town Center (today’s Aquinas Hall, and home to our archives!). The conference was opened by Biden, who provided a discussion on “a Catholic’s posture in contemporary America.” The student newspaper, The Tower, reports that the attendees listened to Biden discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in the politics of the late 1970s.

While Biden’s three visits to campus represent the last time a (future) President came to campus as of this writing, other Presidents such as George H.W. Bush would show their support for the school. President Bush would attend the inaugural Cardinal’s Dinner – a fundraiser for the University – which was held off campus in 1989. And perhaps there are guests and students who have walked the campus recently who will someday serve in the Oval Office?

Learn more about all the Presidential visitors to campus by checking out our video here.

Study Space Reservations, January 6: Update

Repair of the water main break on the north side of Mullen Library is taking longer than anticipated. At this time, we do not know if we will have any water in the building on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. If you have made a study space reservation for tomorrow or plan to do that, consider this information and re-schedule if you are uncomfortable being in the building without access to water.

Book pickup is not affected.

We are sorry for any inconvenience.

OLL Blog – Manoel Cardozo: His Contributions to CUA and the Oliveira Lima Library

By Erin Mir-Aliyev  

Master of Science in Library and Information Science – The Catholic University of America

Flora de Oliveira Lima Fellowship for Graduate Students in Library and Information Science – The Oliveira Lima Library

 

         One of the most important figures in the development of the Oliveira Lima Library during the mid to late twentieth century is its former curator, Manoel Cardozo. Though Cardozo was a well-known scholar within the fields of Brazilian, Portuguese, and Latin American studies, not many members of the wider Catholic University community or the general public know who he was or understand the role he played during his time at Catholic University. Recognizing this, and wishing to remember his contributions at the 35th anniversary of his death this December 15th, the highlights of his career have been outlined here to provide readers with an idea of his accomplishments and his legacy. 

Cardozo’s Dynamic Academic Career

Caption reads: “Luncheon meeting of those interested in Latin-American Affairs, Dec. 6, 1961. L to R- Seated: William Manger, Georgetown U., Howard F. Cline, Hispanic Foundation, Father Mathias C. Kiemen, O.F.M., Editor, The Americans. Standing: Kenneth J. Bertrand, CUA, Colby R. Hatfield, Jr., CUA, John J. Finan, American U., and Manoel Cardozo, CUA.” Image source: The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, The Catholic University of America.

As an academic, Manoel Cardozo was involved in a wide variety of scholarly activities within the local Catholic University community, and also on a national and international level. Beginning in 1940 he was a lecturer, then from 1954 a full professor, of Brazilian and Portuguese history and literature. He then headed the Catholic University history department for a decade between 1961 and 1971, in addition to various other academic and administrative positions. He was also President of the Catholic Historical Association in 1962, as well as being active throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in organizations such as the Conference on Latin American History of the American Historical Association and the American Association of University Professors, attending international meetings and conferences such as the Congress on the Expansion of Portugal in the World, and serving on the Board of Directors of two major publications, The Americas and the Catholic Historical Review. We are aware that he was a significant mentor to at least one CUA history student, Karl M. Schmitt, whose photographic collection resides in the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. Through various archived newspapers, we can tell that he organized exhibitions of Brazilian art or other materials depicting themes or subjects relevant to the library’s collections. Cardozo’s research and lecture activities led him on many occasions to travel across the United States, to Europe, especially Portugal, and to multiple countries in Latin America, including Brazil. His work earned him multiple awards, including the Benemerenti Medal in 1974, a medal awarded by the Pope in recognition of service to the Catholic Church.

Manoel Cardozo working at the Oliveira Lima Library.
Image source: “Manoel De Silveira Cardozo I.A.17-1.” The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, The Catholic University of America.

Curatorship of the Oliveira Lima Library

         After the death of Manoel de Oliveira Lima’s wife and assistant librarian, Flora, in 1940, Cardozo took over the curatorship of the Oliveira Lima Library. As the child of Portuguese parents who had immigrated to California, a successful student at Stanford University, and the former mentee of the prominent Latin American scholar Percy Alvin Martin, Cardozo had the personal background, education, experience, and enthusiasm that made him an ideal candidate to care for Manoel de Oliveira Lima’s book collection and archival documents, and to establish it as a permanent part of the Catholic University Library for future generations of students and researchers.  

         His many tasks at the library included continuing to accession and catalog rare and modern books, organize the archives, and care for the many pieces of valuable artwork contained in the collection. Records and articles also show that he travelled internationally specifically to collect new books for the library.

Writings

         Something else Manoel Cardozo left behind that allows us to understand him and still influences researchers today is the writings he produced. While pursuing his academic career and serving as Oliveira Lima Library’s curator, Cardozo was also a prolific writer. His work encompasses a wide variety of topics and types of materials, including political, religious, diplomatic, and intellectual history, and pamphlets, journal articles, newspaper articles, and reviews of others’ works. Many of the materials he produced are available and searchable at the Oliveira Lima Library or in Mullen Library, or are otherwise available through the CUA catalog.

         A project by Oliveira Lima Library staff this fall to collect various materials about, by, or associated with Cardozo available through the CUA library has so far resulted in more than 230 items of which he was the main author or otherwise a contributor, over 70 newspaper articles with mention of him, and almost 75 items present within the Oliveira Lima Library with inscriptions by or to him, or stamps or other signs of ownership by him. Most of his writing was done in English, though occasionally he did write in or review works in Portuguese, demonstrating a knowledge of at least two languages. Some examples of his works include The Latest Word on Portuguese Orthography (1944), Oliveira Lima and the Writing of History (1954), and Slavery in Brazil as Described by Americans, 1822–1888 (1961), demonstrating a range of topics such as language, Manoel de Oliveira Lima himself, and slavery in society and history. Newspaper articles revealing his involvement in activities around campus and elsewhere include an article mentioning his role in the Foreign Students’ Association planning for a festival, (1954), another article mentioning him as moderator in a televised discussion among faculty members (1964), and a third article about him leading a summer school-affiliated tour through Latin America (1951). Representing a sample of books showing ownership by Cardozo, the book Antropologia e História (1954) contains an inscription by its author to Cardozo, Indice de Biobibliografia Brasileira (1963) contains a note saying it is a presentation copy by Manoel Cardozo to the library, and Latin America, A Modern History (1958) contains an ownership stamp, and possibly the personal notes of, Manoel Cardozo. These details help reveal or indicate what he found interesting or valuable, how he interacted with other professionals, and his activities as curator.

Manoel Cardozo at the Oliveira Lima Library in 1985.
Image source: The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, The Catholic University of America.

While we will likely uncover much more information as our staff works further on this project and works through cataloging the Oliveira Lima collection, the accomplishments mentioned above offer a little insight into who Manoel Cardozo was as an individual, his passion for Latin American history and culture, and his dedication to providing CUA faculty and students, as well as those outside the CUA community, with more resources about these topics. 

 

 

Catholicism and the U.S. Presidency: Context and Resources

While Catholics have been an integral part of American history for hundreds of years, President-elect Joseph R. Biden will be only the second U.S. President who is Catholic. At University Libraries, you can find a wealth of research and records on the intersection of Catholicism and the United States Presidency.

Anti-Catholic Pamphlet from 1928
Anti-Catholic literature attacked Democratic candidate Al Smith in 1928.

The first major presidential candidate of Catholic faith was Al Smith. Smith was a New York City politician of working-class origin. After working to enact social reforms into law, he served four terms as Governor. In 1928, he earned the nomination of the Democratic Party for candidate for president. Anti-Catholic sentiment was pervasive at the time, however, and this prejudice greatly affected Smith’s fortunes. The Ku Klux Klan, newly resurgent in the 1920s in part because of anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment, burned crosses to protest the Democrat’s election campaign. Smith lost to Herbert Hoover, who was inaugurated in 1929.

For more information on Al Smith and anti-Catholicism, visit the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, which preserves and maintains original records relating to these events. Their Anti-Catholic Literature Collection features anti-Catholic pamphlets circulated at the time of the 1928 U.S. presidential campaign. Blog posts in our Archivist’s Nook series, including one on the eve of Pope Francis’ campus visit, include digitized versions of these pamphlets. In addition, the department maintains other collections of anti-Catholic literature.

Picture of JFK
The Alumni Association presents then-Senator John F. Kennedy with the Cardinal Gibbons Award in 1956.

The first American Catholic to be elected U.S. President was John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was the son of a businessman (who served as first SEC chair and Ambassador to Great Britain), a hero of World War II, and a U.S. Representative, then Senator, from Massachusetts. In 1956, the University’s Alumni Association awarded Kennedy the Cardinal Gibbons Medal at November’s homecoming dance. The Alumni Association had given the award annually to a person who “rendered distinguished service to country, Church, or the Catholic University.” Digitized copies of student newspaper The Tower, maintained by University Libraries, detail Kennedy’s acceptance speech.

Like Smith, Kennedy faced anti-Catholic prejudice in his 1960 run for the presidency. For example, a Protestant organization led by Norman Vincent Peale, the “National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom,” politicized Kennedy’s religious faith by accusing him of being captive to the Roman Catholic Church’s views. The young senator dedicated an entire election speech to his political independence and swore that if “[the] office [of the presidency] would require me to either violate my conscience, or violate the national interest, then I would resign.” While Kennedy achieved a narrow win against Richard M. Nixon (who was raised as a Quaker), he faced a double-standard: the win required him, and not his rival, to frequently address his religious faith.

Since Kennedy’s untimely death in 1963, only two Catholics have been nominated by a major political party for the U.S. Presidency: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, and President-elect Biden. (Pat Buchanan ran under the obscure Reform Party ticket in 2000.) Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004, and later served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

Joe Biden Official Portrait
Official portrait of Vice President Joe Biden in his West Wing office at the White House, 2013

Kennedy’s visit in 1956 is one chapter in a series of presidential visits to Brookland. President-elect Biden visited campus at least three times in the 1970s, usually as a guest of student government to speak on the topic of being a Catholic in politics. Keep reading our What’s Up blog for future blog posts on Biden’s connections to The Catholic University of America.

In addition to the archival collections, blog posts, and online documents linked above, check out the online resources linked below to learn more about JFK and religion in U.S. politics.

The author would like to thank Special Collections Archivist Shane MacDonald for assistance in research for this blog post.

References

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life : John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 . 1st ed., Little, Brown, and Co., 2003.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919-1933 . Houghton Mifflin, 1957.

Related Online Resources

Burns, James MacGregor. John Kennedy : a Political Profile . Open Road Integrated Media, 2017.

Casey, Shaun. The Making of a Catholic President Kennedy Vs. Nixon 1960 . Oxford University Press, 2009.

Dallek, Robert., and Robert. Dallek. John F. Kennedy. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Kennedy, John. “John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.” John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Project Gutenberg.

Smith, Robert Charles. John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Ethnic Incorporation and Avoidance. SUNY Press, 2013.

CUA Papyri

The Catholic University of America has a teaching collection of Coptic, Greek, and Arabic papyri (mostly fragmentary) acquired by Msgr. Henry Hyvernat (1858-1941) in the early twentieth century. This includes 157 numbered items (CUA Museum Hyvernat Collection), along with one Demotic papyrus fragment. The materials are housed in the Semitics/ICOR library.

Bibliographical Note
1984. Leslie S.B. MacCoull, “Coptic Documentary Papyri in the Hyvernat Collection.” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 27 (1985) 53-60.
2015. James G. Keenan, “Payment Order for Cavalry Fodder: SB XIV 12116,” Zeitschrift fūr Papyrologie und Epigraphik 193 (2015) 244-248.
2016. Nikolaos Gonis, “A Receipt and Credit Note from Sixth-Century Hermopolis,” Archiv fūr Papyrusforschung 62.1 (2016) 119-120.
2020. Lajos Berkes and Nikolaos Gonis, “Monastic Wine Distributions in the Eighth Century: Papyri from The Catholic University of America,” Journal of Coptic Studies 22 (2020) 1-27.

In 1984 former ICOR Curator Dr. Leslie S.B. MacCoull drew public attention to the CUA collection with her edition of 57 of the papyri. In 2006-2008 Visiting Associate ICOR Curator and papyrologist Dr. Chrysi Kotsifou focused on much-needed conservation initiatives, working with APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System) representatives. In January 2008 at her suggestion the University Libraries, the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) and the Center for the Study of Early Christianity sponsored a two-day conservation seminar in the Semitics/ICOR Library to instruct a group of CUA Libraries staff, faculty and graduate students in the conservation, imaging and cataloging of papyri. Invited participants were trained in APIS-level standards of papyrus conservation. Over the next 18 months the Semitics/ICOR Library held 19 papyrus conservation workshops and successfully treated 107 papyri, removing acidic cardboard mounts and tape; cleaning and aligning papyri fibers, making joins, checking for mold, and glass-mounting papyri. Writing was found under the cardboard mounts of more than one-third of the treated papyri.

Image from Library Papyrus Conservation Workshop
Library Papyrus Conservation Workshop
Participant at Library Papyrus Conservation Workshop
Library Papyrus Conservation Workshop

More attention has been paid to the collection over the past five years. In 2015 James G. Keenan re-edited CUA p75.73 with a new interpretation of this 6th century Greek payment order for cavalry fodder. In 2016 Nikolaos Gonis published a revised edition of CUA p75.02, a 6th century Greek fragmentary text of the reimbursement of an oil worker named Apollos. This year Lajos Berkes and Nikolaos Gonis have published a collection of 17 CUA texts in their article, “Monastic Wine Distributions in the Eighth Century: Papyri from The Catholic University of America.” The texts include a collection of wine delivery orders (Greek-Coptic 8th century), as well as 6th/7th and 7th/8th c. fragments of letters, receipts and accounts. On the first page of this article they provided a succinct description of the CUA collection: “The papyri of the Catholic University of America are mainly Coptic, but there are some (unpublished) texts of the Roman period as well. The bulk of the collection seems to stem from a monastic context.”

CUA p75.20 Wine distribution account.

Papyri from the CUA collection were reviewed in a May Gallery workshop directed by Meghan Howard (Semitics dept. graduate student) following her March 27, 2019 Hyvernat Eve Lecture, “From the Nile to the Seine: Working with Coptic Documentary Papyri from the Collection of the Sorbonne.” In July 2019 Jacco Dieleman, Research Associate Professor (Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures) identified the Demotic papyrus fragment in the collection as part of a larger papyrus scroll from the so-called Tebtunis Temple Library. Papyri were featured in the Oct.-Dec. 2019 May Gallery exhibit for the Center for the Study of Early Christianity’s Christian Culture Conference: “Treasures New and Old: Christian Cultures and Culture in the Patristic Age.” In the Spring 2020 academic semester Janet Timbie, Adjunct Associate Professor (Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures) introduced a new course: SEM 783 Studies in Coptic Epigraphy supported by the Coptic epigraphic (papyri and ostraca) and manuscript collections in the Semitics/ICOR library.

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

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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

Curbside Pickup and Study Space Reservations: Expansion of Services

The University Libraries has made the following adjustments to our curbside pickup and study space reservations to accommodate more of the university community:

Effective immediately, curbside pickup hours have been expanded.  Once a library patron receives notification that an item is available for pickup, he/she may schedule pickup between the hours of 10 am-noon, M-F and between the hours of 4-5, M, W, and F.

Effective, October 13, the hours that study spaces may be reserved have been adjusted to 11-1, 2-4, and 5-7, M-F.  The gap hour between reservations is for sanitizing the study spaces.  Library users may reserve two time slots per day for a total of 4 hours, but must exit the building after each time slot. All library users will be required to submit a reservation request at least 12 hours in advance of the selected reservation time.