AI arrives at the library

The year 2023 will go down in history as the time when generative AI became commonplace at universities, both in learning and in support of teaching.
Large language models to support learning

In 2023, the use of generative AI greatly increased. This raised concerns among university teachers: Are the assignments given to students too easy to complete with the help of large language models such as ChatGPT? 

In February 2023, the University of Helsinki published its guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence in teaching. The guidelines encourage people to experiment with AI and use applications in a responsible manner. Teachers have nonetheless felt the need for more detailed guidance for their work and for students. 

At the library, we have piloted teaching the basics of AI to students, developing the expertise of the library staff at the same time. The piloting has been carried out, for example, at the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Medicine. Some of the students were already experienced users of AI applications, while others had not utilised AI at all. The teaching sessions received positive feedback, with the topic eliciting interest and inspiring a lively exchange of experiences.

AI literacy is also an element of the online courses on information retrieval. We are continually considering the library’s role in teaching phenomena and skills related to artificial intelligence, the library’s collaboration partners and the topics that should be taught to students in a rapidly changing world. A critical mindset, the assessment of a range of information sources and the use of AI applications in information retrieval are appropriate content for the library’s teaching on the use of large language models.

AI-based tools for retrieving research knowledge

AI-based information retrieval tools have been in use for years. In 2023, the library was active in the deployment of the Keenious search tool, collaborating with its developers. A manual in Finnish and English was drawn up at the library. Keenious has been actively introduced to teaching and research staff and included in teaching information retrieval to students and doctoral researchers.

Participants in information retrieval courses have taken an interest in experimenting with AI-based search applications that provide references to previously published research. Especially after experiences with hallucinating chat bots that generate false information through language models, knowing that the results are based on existing publications has been a relief. For the time being, Keenious primarily complements traditional methods of retrieving research knowledge. The tool has been criticised in fields where Finnish-language literature is important, as material in the language is scarce in the OpenAlex database behind Keenious. Other information retrieval tools based on artificial intelligence, such as Consensus and ResearchRabbit, have also featured in the teaching of information retrieval. 

Expertise of library staff increases

The library staff has been monitoring the development of artificial intelligence and, in particular, language models, flexibly increasing their skills through online courses and webinars. In January 2023, Professor Teemu Roos gave an illustrative presentation on the basics of AI at a training day for the entire library staff. In November, AI applications was one of the themes at a development day for the library’s customer service staff. Everyone had the opportunity to test commonly used applications, such as CurreChat, ChatGPT, Bing Chat and DeepL.

AI working group seeks strategically supportive solutions

In December, the library’s executive team established an AI working group, which includes experts from various library operations. The working group is tasked with increasing the organisation’s expertise and shared understanding of artificial intelligence and its utilisation, as well as drawing up an AI strategy for the library. The group will conduct a survey on how the library already makes use of artificial intelligence. It will also collaborate within the University of Helsinki as well as nationally and internationally. It also will test various AI applications relevant to library operations. The idea is that the library, as an organisation using artificial intelligence, considers the reliability of information and knowledge to be of key importance. Moreover, the library uses artificial intelligence in a solution-oriented manner, emphasising its benefits and opportunities.

Päivi Helminen
Leading Information Specialist