Monday, June 03, 2024

Article Note: on Chat GPT and academic librarians

This short article out of C&RL News is mostly a very flattering paean of LLM's (large language models) and ChatGPT (one of those LLM's). The authors basically envision ways the tool will displace some workers for an AI (artificial intelligence) assisted future. To be honest, a good amount of this has echoes from the days of Library 2.0 and the hype that went along with it. As I read the piece, I found myself writing small comments and questions in the margins. At times I wondered if the authors had read or seen various news on ChatGPT and AI that are not exactly worshiping the models. 

Here are then some highlights that caught my eye: 

ChatGPT is a...

"...tool that uses deep learning techniques to generate text in response to questions posed to it. It can generate essays, email, song lyrics, recipes, computer code, webpages, even games and medical diagnoses" (99). 

It can also generate, to put it bluntly, a lot of bullshit and right out make up stuff (CNN; AP). 


"...ChatGPT has been trained on a large corpus of text, including news articles, books, websites, academic articles, and other sources." (99).

Yes, and a lot of it is outright stolen from creators and/or scraped from the web without any form of compensation or attribution. In fact, some news organizations are suing due to what they see is content theft from the AI companies (via CBS News).  See also this piece out of Futurism on a guy basically stealing content and using AI to "repackage" it to sell. 

One detail from the article that also caught my eye is an optimism that seems to have little regard for any ethical concerns, a somewhat naive assumption that everyone involved will be honest. Keep in mind that very often plagiarism is a concern of faculty in academia. In earlier days, they might ask a librarian for assistance, then they turned to Google, and now they rely on tools like Turnitin (another tool that comes with its own ethical issues, but let's not digress further), and next it is AI. Somehow using a tool that basically steals content to check if content is stolen does not feel right, to this librarian at least. 

The authors do mention plagiarism, but then ask, gee, is a student turning in work done with ChatGPT really plagiarizing? (101). I'd say yes they are, and I say it both as a librarian and a former writing teacher, but the authors use a loophole: since plagiarism is defined as "presenting someone else's work or ideas as your own" and ChatGPT is not a someone, well, you get the idea. That is a nice loophole if you can get away with it.

As for librarian roles, a lot of it according to the article will be basically working as "prompt engineers" to "assist researchers by providing tips in asking the right questions to get the best results" (100). Uh huh. At least we may have some job security teaching faculty, and especially students (we all know faculty are not exactly known for wanting to be taught anything, but I digress), how to tell if some text or piece of art is real or AI generated. That will not be an easy task. 

Authors also mention that researchers may have concerns AI could seep into academic writing. Well, it is already happening as researchers are getting caught passing ChatGPT generated essays as their own for publication (via Futurism, but a small search will yield a few other stories).  

I could go, but I am stopping here because I just do not share the rose colored vision the authors of the article appear to have. At any rate, as I was reading this mercifully short article, other thoughts came to mind. Below then are some links that may not be as rosy in their view of ChatGPT and AI that I read recently as of this post. 

Citation for the article noted: 

Christopher Cox and Elias Tzoc, "ChatGPT: Implications for Academic Libraries." C&RL News, March 2023: 99-102.

 The additional links to consider against the whoopee of the original article in addition to the links I included in my comments above:


Monday, May 20, 2024

Article Note: On using library chat reference to answer campus questions

This article caught my eye initially because I do not recall people using our library chat reference much to answer campus specific questions. I would have to dig into our local statistics to be more certain, but at least from what I have observed in our chat reference service questions related to the campus are minimal. A good question for us to explore down the road may be where are people going then to get campus-specific answers, but that is another story for now. 

This article's goal is to investigate how academic libraries not only provide academic assistance but whether they are seen as an option to provide information on their campuses. In their opening, the authors remind us how chat reference services in libraries picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our virtual services certainly picked up during the pandemic's prime time days. 

Authors establish topic relevance for the article by connecting the growth of chat services to the need of libraries to prove their value to stakeholders, in this case campus administrators. That is certainly one of the reason we and other libraries are always collecting a variety of service statistics; we have to justify our existence to the bean counters. For example, we collect data on things such as number of research consults and library instruction sessions. One of the places that data ends up is on the campus fact book, which is available online on the campus website. So in a way an ulterior motive for this article is to show a library's value to its campus community.

The significance of this study is that, unlike previous studies of reference chat services in libraries, none up to now has focused on whether a reference chat service answers campus related questions that are not related to the library. 

Some highlights from the article: 

  • Method: Analysis of chat transcripts from 5 large four-year public universities during the 2-year period of 2019 to 2021. The choice of campuses "were selected based on only the affiliations of the collaborating authors and do not necessarily reflect a representative sample" (15). To be honest, that is a small sample, but that is somewhat consistent with this type of LIS article.
  • What they found: "This study found that non-library campus questions, on average, accounted for 2.44% of library chat questions, a relatively small proportion of all library chats" (12). At this low percent, I would not call this "filling a gap." Again, I do wonder where are patrons and others going for that information. 
  • A curious to me finding is that this kind of information from reference chat may be "a more significant resources for less privileged student populations" (12). Not sure at this point what to make of that. 
  • They did notice that reference chat often gets IT-related questions. A possible reason could be "their I.T. department may have insufficient hours of staffing" (13). I can testify to this a bit since our I.T. department is fairly notorious for their insufficient hours of staffing. I'd call them bankers' hours except bankers these days actually open late and on weekends. 
  • Call for further research: "Further research building on this study could examine the prevalence of campus-related questions at physical service points in the library and compare this to chat" (15). They also suggest doing some comparisons with private institutions. 
  • One good thing of analyzing chat reference transcripts: "...these transcripts provide a unique opportunity to identify areas where students are in need of additional information and support. The data can help identify offices and services on campus with which library chat operators should be most familiar and prepared to address in chat inquiries" (16). 

Article citation: Erin Owens,, "Beyond the Library: the Role of Academic Libraries' Chat Reference in Answering Campus Questions." The Reference Librarian (April 2024): 1-24. 

I got this one via Interlibrary Loan.

Monday, May 06, 2024

Article Note: On Chinese aid in developing libraries in Africa

This is a short article that begins to explore the topic of Chinese investment in the African continent, specifically investing in developing local libraries. The reason I read this was one of my students. They were doing broader research on China and its Belt and Road Initiative. When helping them with their research, this article came up. I figured they could maybe mine the citations for additional resources, but otherwise this article was not for them. However, an article about libraries often catches my eye, and since it was short, I read it. 

I wrote that the article begins to explore the topic as the author states that little research has been done on this area. The author's study then strives to see how China is investing in libraries on the continent. To do so, the author does a newspapers and news content analysis; the study relied on China Daily. China Daily is a Chinese English language newspaper; it is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and it is a source many around the world read even with that caveat as it provides important information on Chinese issues. Author does acknowledge there are limitations to using China Daily as the research source such as possible biases from the newspaper's ownership. 

Author found that the Chinese invest in library development in three main ways: 

  • China provides direct funding and is involved in a library's construction.
  • A Chinese multinational corporation may be involved, a form of corporate social responsibility. 
  • Other NGOs may be involved in developing a library 

Forms of aid can range from infrastructure and construction to donating books. Author notes book donations can have mixed results, especially if a lot of the donations are books written in Chinese that may have limited use and/or interest in the African nations. Author ends by calling for further research in this area. 

Citation for the article: 

Swapan Kumar Patra, "Chinese aid in the library development of Africa: a brief survey." Annals of Library and Information Studies Vol. 70 (2023): 126-131.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Book Review: Revenge of the Librarians

(Crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian)

Tom Gauld, Revenge of the Librarians. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly, 2022. ISBN: 9781770466166.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: literary, humor, comic strips
Format: small hardcover
Source: Eastside Branch, Lexington (KY) Public Library 

This is the latest, as of this post, collection of literary humor comics by Tom Gauld. If you've seen his comics, you can easily recognize his art style featuring simple figures, a style that works very well. Gauld has a good imagination and often he comes up with literary situations that many readers and writers can find relatable. This particular collection was published in 2022, and it contains many comics with pandemic humor. It is a nice way to make light of the lockdowns and the pandemic at least for a while. 

Some highlights include: 

  • The revenge of the librarians (opening strip).
  • The bookshop cat and the pandemic.
  • The library of terror.
  • A conversation with the author.
  • Village murder mysteries. I've been watching Midsomer Murders, and this reminded me of the series right away.

The humor is nice, but it is not laugh out loud humor. Most cartoons may cause a chuckle, maybe make you smile. There are some comics that are nice but fall a bit flat. I like the book, but it is not terribly memorable. Fans will likely enjoy it, so will folks who like literary humor. It is a nice book book to pick up, read and smile a bit, then move on. It is more a book to borrow. I'd recommend it for libraries with large graphic novel collections. For a small library like ours, I'd consider this optional. 

3 out of 5 stars.  



Friday, December 15, 2023

Book Review: Reading Novels During the Covid 19 Pandemic

(Crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian.)

Ben Davies, Christina Lupton, and Johanne Gormsen Schmidt, Reading Novels During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2022. ISBN: 9780192857682.

Genre: literary studies, literacy, academic treatise, reading
Subgenre: COVID-19, pandemics 
Format: hardcover
Source: Interlibrary Loan (ILL) via Hutchins Library. It came from Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, Texas.


Now that most people think the COVID-19 pandemic is over we're seeing all sorts of books and retrospectives of the pandemic time. This book would fall in that category, though the study it discusses was done during the pandemic. The book aims to provide a look at reading habits of folks during the pandemic, specifically reading fiction. Bottom line, for me at least, is this is a book by academics written for other academics. This is not exactly a book for light or pleasure reading. I picked it up to see what insights it might have offered to librarians and to see another side of the pandemic. 

The book is arranged into an introduction and nine chapters. The introduction describes the parameters of the study. The chapters look at different types of books people chose to read and reasons to do so. Among the selections were books about plagues, old books, and romances. The book includes a bibliography, which is extensive but it also features a lot of popular magazine articles. The book also features an appendix with the survey instrument. 

Note that the study sample readers in two countries: Denmark and the United States. Once we get past the introduction, the chapters look at different kinds of reading. Bring a typical academic book, the authors fill a lot of pages with literary and critical theory to support their findings. Between all the theory  you get selected quotes from the readers they interviewed. The reader quotes may be the most interesting part, but they get drowned by all the theory.

To be honest, if you strip out a lot of the theory, you end with what feels like material for popular magazine articles. The book's findings often read like headlines for a popular magazine article. Some examples of findings: 

  • How people perceived time/made time to read during lockdown.
  • Why Camus's book The Plague makes for popular pandemic reading.
  • Unable to buy books, more people read what is already on their shelves. 
  • You said you'd read that big, long, thick book some day. Well, the day is here, so start reading War and Peace

That is pretty much what the authors' research confirms, things that we sort of knew. I am sure plenty of librarians observed some of the reading patterns presented in the book. I will also notes the book looks at people who were mostly locked down at home and stuck there. I was deemed essential, so I worked at the library, albeit virtually with my office door closed. So my lockdown experience was very different. 

Overall, this is a dense academic book looking at a limited sample of readers. The themes do not seem to be particularly breaking news, and much of it seems like material for articles rather than a cohesive book. Research libraries interested in literacy and literary studies may want to acquire it. It may also be of interest to large LIS program libraries. I would consider it highly optional, and I would not acquire it for our library. 

1 out of 5 stars.