McGill University librarians, Sandy Hervieux and Amanda Wheatley, conducted an online survey of librarians in the US and Canada to get a better understanding of the perceptions held by the community of such common artificial intelligence (AI) tools as virtual assistants Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana. (Note: Microsoft announced in 2020 that it would be ceasing support of the Cortana mobile app in favor of their productivity-oriented services during the early months of 2021.)
From the introduction of the paper, published via the Journal of Academic Librarianship but openly accessible on Science Direct:
As mobile becomes the dominant internet access trend, it stands to reason that librarians should engage themselves in understanding the technical limitations (or lack thereof) to which their patrons are exposed...This survey seeks to establish the attitudes of academic librarians toward AI in order to better understand the profession’s ability to interact and integrate with these new applications.
Their survey elicited responses from 163 academic librarians during the summer of 2019. While virtual assistants were not necessarily viewed in a negative light, there were concerns expressed about the privacy and ethics of their use. At the same time, responses seem to indicate that the community may be unclear on the actual definition of or degree of implementation of AI in library products or services.
Notable findings include:
- “When asked 12% of librarians believed that their library owned some type of AI technology, however only 8% of respondents agreed that their library was actively using artificial intelligence in some capacity.”
- “Participants identified that their libraries used virtual assistants, either Google,k Alexa, Cortana or one of an unspecified vendor. Two comments also highlighted the use of Watson, an artificial intelligence product created by IBM, in their libraries.”
- “The majority of librarians did not indicate any impact of AI on their work, however 43% of librarians believe AI has the potential to improve libraries.”
- “Strikingly, 50% of librarians were unsure if patrons had already been using AI in connection with their library, suggesting that more learning needs to be done to educate librarians on what is powering the technology they expose to their communities. Currently only 20% of librarians believe that their patrons are interested in interacting with AI.”
A PDF of the full paper may be downloaded from the Science Direct platform here.