Should Librarians Be Worried About Artificial Intelligence?

Career Blog
Robot hand touching human hand

Published: May 29, 2023 by Hannah Nguyen

As new technology emerges, there is often a discussion about how librarian’s roles will change in relation to it. This conversation has become especially relevant with the introduction of new artificial intelligence (AI) tools. These innovations are certainly going to affect America’s workforce, and librarians are no exception to this. But what are the opportunities and risks? Should we be worried?

Focus on What Makes Us Human

For fun, I found an AI generator that answers whether a job can be replaced by automation, and there’s good news for librarians. According to this bot, librarians are unlikely to be replaced by AI because they “cannot provide the same level of personalized service that librarians can.”

AI generator stating that librarians cannot be replaced by AI

There seems to be a general consensus that certain human qualities, like empathy and critical thinking, cannot be replicated by AI, and they are essential for the work that we do. In Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines by Jamie Merisotis, the author has a fairly optimistic view of smart machines and artificial intelligence. It cautions readers not to cling to nostalgia or get lost in anxiety that “the robots will come for our jobs,” but rather embrace the ways these machines will help us focus on meaningful work. It is easy to see why there is cause for concern, however the intention behind the machines is to eliminate repetitive tasks, which ideally will free us to focus on more important and creative ideas.

We Need to be Diligent

I recently connected with Kiri Wagstaff, a machine learning researcher (and iSchool alumni) whose thesis was on using machine learning to make weeding decisions in libraries. She shared that she sees “AI/machine learning as a complement to human effort, rather than a replacement for it” and “to use these new tools effectively, we all need to know their strengths and limitations.” There is currently a lot of buzz in the academic community about a specific AI tool called ChatGPT, which was just released in November 2022. This particular tool is relevant to librarians because many people have been using it for research assistance. Duke University Libraries posted this helpful article about why people should be cautious about using it for academic research. Essentially, it does not function like a search engine by connecting you to actual resources. In fact, it often creates citations for fake articles, falsely attributing them to reputable sources. Although this tool is a breakthrough in technology, it is apparent that there will be a role for librarians to teach information literacy skills related to AI and help discern fact from fiction.

It’s probably too soon to say exactly how AI will affect the field of librarianship, but it is essential that we stay up to date on relevant news so that we can adapt services to meet our community’s changing needs.

Additional Resources:

Two More Things…

Here are a few job opportunities that might be of interest!

Also, remember that internships can be an especially valuable part of your learning experience at the iSchool while also helping you when it comes time to look for jobs. Learn more about the iSchool’s internship program here, where you can check out the INFO 294 Student Handbook as well as the Internship Sites database.


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