Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Executive Director, Research, at OCLC
Lynn Silipigni Connaway is Executive Director, Research, at OCLC, a global library cooperative created by librarians to drive innovation for its membership and provide technological and research services for the librarian community. Connaway recently took part in the iSchools event, organized by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) together with other universities, which brought more than 400 researchers together in Barcelona.
What are the main conclusions to be drawn from iConference 2023, at which you spoke?
Firstly, it was great to meet my colleagues in person, to network and to connect our ideas. In addition to the sessions, we had the coffee breaks and the dinner, where we had the chance to connect and talk about our presentations. It was a really open and inclusive conference, which also gave access to students, meaning they had the opportunity to establish contact with researchers. It was fantastic for all of us to be able to come together in person.
What has been the technological impact of the pandemic in the fields of research and information management?
Our OCLC project called New Model Library has gathered data during the pandemic's peak and also afterwards. We interviewed 29 world library leaders, and spoke of what they were doing in the summer of 2020 and of the changes that came afterwards. There's always been a digital gap, but the pandemic really brought it to the foreground. There were a lot of people using libraries for the Wi-Fi, for the tablets… In one of the libraries forming part of the study, most members of the community were not native speakers of English. Many of them didn't have Wi-Fi at home, but did have mobile phones. So, these people would sit outside the library and connect to hotspots in summer temperatures in excess of 37°C.
The pandemic also exacerbated problems for the homeless and worsened food shortages, so many members of library staff made their centre's resources available to help them, offering the community new environments and different ways of accessing materials. The pandemic also provided a great boost for digitizing materials and seeking open access materials.
How is artificial intelligence changing research and information management and how do you see the future in this field?
At OCLC we've been working with machine learning techniques for some time now. The latest craze is ChatGPT. In my keynote talk at the conference, I asked ChatGPT to look for my biography. All of my education and work experience is online but, even so, ChatGPT didn't get the answers right. So, there's mistaken information on this platform. On the other hand, I have a friend who's a Spanish literature scholar, and he asked ChatGPT to write a 500-word text. According to him, the work was very good and completely accurate. Why? Because the source is historical information. Where does it get this information from? We don't know, because it didn't cite any sources. Core-GPT, a new platform that will combine AI and open access academic sources, will provide information using open access journals and will also cite its sources. The project has been developed by CORE, the largest collection of open access publications.
Can tools like ChatGPT be detrimental to information professionals?
AI is progressing towards greater credibility, but it hasn't reached that point yet. It's the perfect opportunity for information professionals to get involved. It's like what we did with Wikipedia, providing a different corpus of information. When Google came out, I remember lots of information professionals saying, "this is the end for us", and I said, "No! Accept it, use it, integrate it into your information search system…". We can integrate some of these things. I'd ask information professionals not to get discouraged by AI, but use it to their advantage.
What is or should be the role of public libraries now that we have access to enormous amounts of information online?
Well, I don't think that the internet has everything on it, and what's on the internet isn't always credible. So here, once again, it's the perfect opportunity for public libraries to continue educating people and creating a more literate environment, teaching them how to establish information's credibility. What's more, public libraries need to integrate themselves into the community together with other agents: we need to work with environmental, social and other organizations. We need to get to know our community. Libraries have to lend out bicycles, if that's what people need. They could be places for people to charge their car battery… If the community needs a meeting place, the library should be available. And we're going to have to think more globally, as communities are becoming increasingly global. A large proportion of the US population speaks Spanish. What are we doing for them? And for those who speak Chinese? I hate to say it but Google will translate for you. It won't be perfect, but we can use these kinds of tools that we have available.
English is the dominant language in the world of information (in search engines, databases, etc.). What are the social and intellectual implications of this language's dominance?
Quite a lot of work is being carried out in the United States on this topic. But I think it goes beyond language. It's also cultural, religious… And, once again, everything goes back to the systems we've used in libraries, which also promote this Anglo-Saxon culture or whiteness way of thinking. A great many things are being done to change this, but it's a lot of work and we have to do it little by little.
Let's talk about social media. Is user behaviour changing with the passing of time? Do you see any differences between the younger and older generations in the way they use these platforms?
I'd hate to attribute it to age. My mother was 91 and my 16 year-old niece called her a "screenager". She never stopped sending messages, searching for things, playing, and using Facebook and Instagram. I don't think it's a matter of age, but rather of need. And the pandemic sped this up. Many people already liked chatting and using social media and the pandemic made this the dominant form of communication. When I look around in a restaurant, I see families sitting together without saying a word to each other… They're immersed in virtual conversations. I don't think that use of social networks has to do with age; I believe it's a comfort zone.
To conclude, how would you sum up the future of public libraries?
There have been a lot of changes in recent times, forced by the pandemic. Some of these changes were good and we adopted them, and others didn't work out. We've moved on to a more hybrid environment; coming together and collaborating is extremely important now. No library can do it all on their own. There's a need to begin to think globally about our materials, policies and practices. And I believe we need to adopt the new technologies and services that exist and see where we fit in, where our experience is needed. If people are going to use ChatGPT, let's teach them how to do it. I think we've got a great future ahead of us if we continue to adapt and evolve.