How AI in public libraries can benefit librarians and patrons alike


It is inarguably the game-changing technology of the moment.

Once the stuff of science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) has made its presence felt in just about every sector imaginable, from academia to the hotel industry. Much of the discourse around the use of AI technology has centered on ethical concerns, and understandably so.

Generative artificial intelligence has raised red flags about everything from data privacy to plagiarism. AI-generated texts are often riddled with factual errors and images created by generative AI tools have been used to spread misinformation.

Ethical implications of artificial intelligence aside, we can't live in denial of the fact that these emerging technologies are here to stay, and as they develop and grow ever more sophisticated, it serves all of us well to improve our AI literacy.

Moreover, libraries have discovered that integrating AI technology can enhance and streamline their services. In previous blogs, we have looked at the impact of artificial intelligence on higher education; specifically, how academic libraries use AI to improve their services. This time, let's dive into the ways that public libraries can leverage artificial intelligence in ways that benefit patrons and library professionals alike. (Of course, many of these benefits do also apply to other types of institutions—college and research libraries or school libraries, for example.)

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AI enables libraries to play a leading role


A few months back, the Urban Libraries Council issued a leadership brief outlining five ways public libraries can integrate cutting-edge artificial intelligence in their work:

  1. Move from informing to practicalizing such as leveraging AI tools for performance improvements at branches and in program design.

  2. Leverage prompt engineering skills of library professionals who are already trained to find bodies of information using keywords or phrases.

  3. Advance information literacy of staff and patrons through hands-on use of AI, such as workshops where participants learn how to generate short stories and poetry with AI.

  4. Create an AI-focused digital inclusion network to ensure equitable access to the economic benefits of new AI powered technologies.

  5. Advocate for the responsible use of AI to ensure these advancements benefit the community at large, and that foundational standards of education, innovation and access to information are preserved.

“As generative AI tools become more accessible, effective and less expensive, there are new opportunities for libraries to lead,” said Urban Libraries Council President and CEO Brooks Rainwater. “While there are persistent concerns that must be addressed on AI being used for misinformation, the opportunities in front of us are manifold. This includes responsible applications that improve efficiency, speed up communication and serve as a useful tool for showcasing and validating library services and resources.”


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What's in it for librarians

Leveraging AI tools can benefit staff at public libraries in several ways:

Enhanced search and discovery

AI-powered search engines and recommendation systems can help librarians and library users find relevant resources more efficiently. These systems can analyze user preferences, browsing history and content metadata to suggest personalized recommendations, thereby improving the overall user experience.

In a news article from Gonzaga University, Anthony Tardiff, instruction and first-year engagement librarian; Candise Branum, health sciences librarian; and Nicole Gustavsen, STEM specialist librarian, agreed that AI aids research. It does so by simplifying the research process and allowing more time for analysis, synthesis and discovery. For example, Gustavsen noted that chatbots such as ChatGPT “can help you craft good search strings that you can use in a database,” which Tardiff said helps to “simplify the search process and make it generally accessible by allowing users to find useful results through natural language searching”.

Optimizing collection development

AI and machine-learning algorithms can assist librarians in curating and managing library collections through data-driven decision-making.

AI tools can analyze large volumes of data collected by libraries, such as circulation statistics, patron demographics and resource usage patterns, to generate insights that can inform choices around optimizing resource management and improving services.

By analyzing usage patterns and user feedback, AI can help librarians make informed decisions about which materials to acquire, weed out outdated or irrelevant resources and optimize the allocation of library resources.

User services

AI chatbots and virtual assistants can handle routine inquiries and provide basic assistance to library users, freeing up librarians to focus on more complex tasks and providing a more responsive service to users outside of regular operating hours.

Content creation and curation

AI algorithms can assist librarians in creating and curating digital content, such as metadata tagging, summarization and content enrichment, to improve the discoverability and usability of library resources.

Overall, the integration of AI technologies in public libraries can empower library staff to provide more personalized, efficient and responsive services to their patrons, ultimately enhancing the important role that libraries play in the digital age.

What's in it for patrons


Library patrons can benefit from the use of AI in public libraries in several ways:

Personalized recommendations

AI systems can analyze patrons' reading habits and preferences to offer personalized book recommendations. This can help library users discover new books and authors they might enjoy, enhancing their reading experience.

Improved search and discovery

AI-powered search engines can provide more accurate and relevant results, making it easier for patrons to find the information they need within the library's vast collection of resources.

24/7 assistance

AI chatbots can provide round-the-clock assistance to patrons, answering common questions, helping with basic research inquiries and providing guidance on using library services and digital resources.


AI technologies can assist patrons with disabilities by providing alternative formats for library materials, such as audio versions of books or text-to-speech capabilities for online resources.

A digital news platform like PressReader can also be a valuable resource for for readers who rely on tools like assistive technology to access content. With keyboard navigation, compatibility with screen readers, color contrast, large named buttons, and user font-size control, PressReader Accessibility Mode is fully compliant to meet Level AA of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1). It's a custom experience that's fully immersive for users who need it most. 

Language translation

AI-powered translation tools can help patrons who speak different languages access library materials and services, breaking down language barriers and promoting inclusivity.

Data analysis for collection development

As noted above, AI algorithms can analyze usage data to identify trends and preferences among patrons, helping librarians make informed decisions about which materials to acquire and how to organize the library's collection.

Virtual programming and events

AI can facilitate virtual programming and events by powering features such as virtual reality experiences, online workshops and interactive storytelling sessions, allowing patrons to engage with library services remotely.

Content curation

AI can assist library staff in curating digital content by automatically tagging, categorizing, and organizing materials based on their content, making it easier for patrons to discover relevant resources.

As we can see from the above examples, the integration of AI technologies in the library environment has the potential to enhance the patron experience, improve accessibility and optimize library operations.

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