Library AI Blog

As I mentioned before, I’m currently a Visiting Scholar in the Ryerson University Library, hanging out in their Collaboratory. The central part of this appointment is to advance aspects of artificial intelligence/machine learning in the Library. Working with Library staff, faculty, and graduate students, we hope to open up discussions, host events, and pilot initiatives.

Among other things, we’re creating a discussion series in the fall and working with the Toronto Public Library and the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) on a very exciting AI literacy project (Al for All).

As part of an awareness and engagement strategy I started a new blog: Library AI: Exploring the use of machine learning in libraries.

Library AI

What you will find in this blog are:

  • Examples of AI use in libraries.
  • AI Issues, challenges, and opportunities specific to libraries.
  • Relevant examples, insights, applications, and developments from the larger AI community.

Posts so far discuss the AI authored book from Springer and the unsupervised text mining project to extract latent knowledge from the materials science literature. Both are very interesting developments and raise questions about libraries and scholarly communication.

Hope this is useful; happy to get comments and suggestions.

…Mike

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Ryerson and Vector

Sometimes opportunities simply fall into your lap. Maybe we need to be prepared for them; maybe they just surprise us.

Recently I was appointed to two research positions: Visiting Scholar (2019-2020) at the Collaboratory of the Ryerson University Library and Postgraduate Affiliate (2019-2121) at the Vector Institute. In both cases I’m amazed and delighted.

Thanks to the generosity and support of Carol Shepstone and Fangmin Wang at the Ryerson Library, I’ve been given the opportunity to advance various AI/ML initiatives at the Library and within the larger Ryerson community.

I’ll be working with Library staff to raise awareness about AI and to nurture library-based AI pilot projects. Through the Collaboratory, I’ll be working on interdisciplinary AI initiatives (events, workshops, panels) that bring together faculty and graduate students from across campus. This includes a major evolving project on AI/algorithmic literacy (more, hopefully much more, on this later). It has been gratifying to meet to many talented and innovative folks from the Ryerson community and to be able to collaborate with them on these initiatives.

Being accepted as a Vector Postgraduate Affiliate was quite unexpected (the acceptance rate was ~8%) . The Vector Institute is one of three national AL/ML research incubators. Its members (faculty, graduate students, industry partners) are at the leading edge of this field. These are extraordinary folks, deeply engaged in the core challenges of ML.

I believe I was accepted because my library/information science/social science background brings a different perspective on ML to the Vector community. My interests in autonomous/machine information behaviour, explainable AI (XAI), and algorithmic literacy are social as well as technical. It’s early days for me at Vector but I’m thrilled to be there and looking forward to what I can learn and how I can contribute.

So, the opportunities have arrived. Now to capitalize on them.

…Mike

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“So What?” The Podcast about LIS Research & Why it Matters

Last year we started a podcast. Simple, right? Well, sort of. The basic idea was this: library and information science research is far less known (and utilized) than it should be. By practitioners, by journalists, and by the general public. We think we can make a small difference by talking with LIS researchers and helping them explain why their work matters.

So What?” is created and produced by graduate students at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS), Western University. We are still at the early stages. Our goal is to highlight LIS research nationally and internationally, but we’ve started locally.

Episodes have featured stories on LGBTQ picture books, aging and death, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations, the importance of reading for pleasure, cataloguing games, truth and reconciliation in libraries, internet trolling, and inclusive design.

From the start the idea was to make this project a place to learn. While some of us had podcasting and radio experience, for most it was entirely new. We encouraged everyone to explore their interests, to learn at their own pace, to participate as they had time, to take as much responsibility or as little as they wished, and to produce an entire episode themselves or assist on one lead by others. Low floor, high ceiling.

More Information, Listen & Subscribe

So What? Website

Have a story to tell about your LIS research? Send us a note (sowhat at uwo.ca).

Many people have contributed to the success of the podcast, but two people deserve special mention: kirstyn seanor and Alex Mayhew (both LIS PhD students at FIMS). Alex has interviewed and edited, organized and promoted, and generally done whatever it takes to support the project. kirstyn is the guiding light of the project. Her vision for “So What?” as a platform for learning and as an inclusive, welcoming project has shaped the essence of what we do. Both amazing people.

So many people to thank for their assistance, participation, support, and encouragement: Paul Buckley-Golder, Jacquie Burkell, Erin Carroll, Yimin Chen, Nicole Ciccaglione, Marni Harrington, Mackenzie Johnson, Karolina Kayko, Charlotte McClellan, Cal Murgu, Jamie Lee Oliver, Lynn Ridley, Connor Spearman, and Kendall Sturgeon.

And a personal thanks to Kelly Jones who showed me how to make good radio and to my father, Jack Ridley, who was a highly recognized amateur radio enthusiast. If only I’d listened more to him. Kids eh?

…Mike

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Retirement

Today, after an over 45-year association with the University of Guelph, I’m retiring from the University. I first came to Guelph as a student in 1972, returning in 1979 as a newly minted librarian. After some years away at the Health Sciences Library at McMaster and the University of Waterloo Library, I came back in 1995 as the Chief Librarian and finally to be Guelph’s Chief Information Officer in 2004.

I was interviewed recently by Emily Jones, Manager of Communications in the Library. In that interview I tried to sum up what it meant for me to work at Guelph. Let me try again.

The daily demands of a job come and go. After a while, months turn into years and years into decades. At what seems a blink of an eye, you’ve spent most of your life at a place.

From one perspective, you could say that you have given a lot of time and energy to the job and to the organization. And while that may be true, that’s not how I feel about it. What I have received back from Guelph is infinitely more that I have been able to contribute. Guelph has been a gift to me.

I’ve always told staff who move on to another job, that they can go elsewhere but they will never leave Guelph. Guelph will always be with them, not as a nostalgic memory of times gone by, but as a symbol for a set of principles and values that are meaningful: Guelph as a true caring community.

“Retiring” is such a strange word to say. It hardly seems appropriate. As many will know, I’m really just moving on to a new challenge: continuing my PhD work at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University.

I’ve said “thank you” to people so many times over the past few weeks as my tenure at Guelph comes to an end, it must seem insincere to some. Let me assure you it isn’t.

We do all sort of “stuff” in our jobs: projects, implementations, planning, budgeting, fire-fighting, crisis management, on and on. However, what you remember, what matters, are the people you worked with, learned with, relied on, supported, and grew with. So, once again, with all sincerity, thank you.

….Mike

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168:01 – A Library Rising from the Ashes

The remarkable Aga Khan Museum in Toronto currently has an equally remarkable installation. Entitled “168:01 – A Library Rising from the Ashes”, this piece from Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal is about building libraries as an act of resistance.

For those who hate, violence against libraries is a sadly popular way to eradicate culture and demoralize people. Bilal’s installation is a wall of shelves holding 750 blank books in white covers.

The work recognizes all the libraries destroyed in war and ignorance. In particular it remembers the 2003 burning and looting of the library in the College of Fine Arts at the University of  Baghdad.

Burnt books from the College of Fine Arts Library, University of Baghdad

Russel Smith’s excellent article in the G&M about the exhibit explains the title: “[it] refers to a legend in Iraqi history: when Mongol invaders destroyed a library in the 13th century, they threw the contents of an entire library into the Tigris. The books were said to bleed ink into the river for seven days (168 hours), until the were drained of their knowledge. The number 168:01 refers to the first hour of their reconstruction, beginning now.”

If you buy a book for the exhibit, your book replaces one of the blank ones. Gradually the shelves be will replenished and at the end of exhibit all the books will be shipped to the library at the College.

There is a recommended list of books available on Amazon.  I bought and donated Ai Weiwei’s Spatial Matters: Art Architecture and Activism. In return I brought home one of the blank books (#54) that will be replaced by the Weiwei book.

A small act of resistance but one I urge you all to make.

…Mike

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My Biblio Fetish

I have a fetish (doesn’t everyone?). If you know me, this won’t come as a surprise.

Miniature books worn as lapel pins.

I have over a dozen and have given away dozens more. Most of them are stamped with the University of Guelph logo and we gave them to friends of the Library. Each one is unique.

Unfortunately, the bookbinder we used retired. Ack! I couldn’t get any more for the Library or myself.

My search for a new bookbinder was going nowhere until one day I was bemoaning this in a PhD class at FIMS, Western University. Alex says, “I know someone who could do this.”

Woohoo!

Let me introduce Arielle VanderSchans. Arielle, also a PhD student at FIMS, is a very talented bookbinder and she enthusiastically took up the challenge of the miniature book pins.

After a series of back and forths to clarify what I wanted and what Arielle thought would look good, I received the first pin a few weeks ago. It’s beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m delighted that these new ones are on the way!

 

You can find Arielle and her work on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter @ariellesbindery, and on the web at Arielle’s Bindery

…Mike

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Naming Algorithmic Concerns

What’s in a name? Everything of course. Naming creates identity but it also shapes affect. Take algorithms. The literature on algorithmic concerns about fairness and discrimination is vast and growing.

The term “algorithmic bias” is most commonly used to describe these concerns. Bias is a generally well understood concept and is applied in many settings (e.g. journalism.) It works. Except, of course, in algorithms, “bias” can have a different (and benign) meaning with respect to the range of observations or measurements. Algorithmic bias is a good thing, except when it isn’t.

Other terms have emerged

Examples such as “algorithmic inequity” (Sara Watcher-Boettcher: Technically Wrong) or “algorithmic inequality” (Virginia Eubanks: Automating Inequality) highlight the social and economic effects, and echo “pay inequity” or other types of systemic discrimination. These are terms that resonant with familiar concepts but probably don’t provoke us as much as the authors would wish.

Perhaps the most dramatic example is “algorithmic violence” (Mimi Onuoha: Notes on Algorithmic Violence). No subtlety here. The harm is active, direct, and physical.

A related approach is Noble’s “algorithmic oppression” (Safiya Noble: Algorithms of Oppression). Highlighted here are the political dimensions and the social justice implications. It links to Noble’s observation that “artificial intelligence will become a major human rights issue in the twenty-first century.”

The last example, from the Politico journalist Julia Angwin, is insightful: “algorithmic privilege” (Julia Angwin: Quantifying Forgiveness). The perspective here is not the harm but the advantage. The bias in algorithms favours mainstream populations (i.e. white, middle class, etc.); it recognizes the differential rewards rather than the discriminatory penalties.

…Mike

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Libraries as AI Model Repositories

Libraries and librarians have a critical role to support and enable explainable artificial intelligence (XAI). Calls for transparency and oversight of the opaque and potentially biased machine learning and deep learning systems have increased as the extent and influence of AI has also increased.

However, transparency often conflicts with the quite reasonable desire for the protection of intellectual property. Hence many regulations (e.g. the EU’s GDPR) have carve outs for IP protection dramatically restricting some XAI options like public access to code or algorithmic models. Third party oversight of AI (such as auditing) is a widely promoted XAI strategy but concerns about secure access are problematic.

Lilian Edwards and Michael Veale (Enslaving the Algorithm: From a ‘Right to an Explanation’ to a ‘Right to Better Decisions’?) offer an interesting option: libraries as secure places for model repositories. The idea resembles how access to sensitive Statistics Canada data is provided via Research Data Centres in academic libraries. The result would allow qualified and certified third parties access to the AI models and training data under conditions that would protect IP.

Three observations from this:

  1. Since third party auditing is a highly favoured strategy for XAI, I’m supportive of anything that furthers this.
  2. This suggestion establishes a new role for libraries as AI repositories. These collections will require increased sophistication in terms of collection management. However, their near-term value as auditing resources and their longer-term value as research collections makes this new role important.
  3. This proposal explicitly identifies libraries as secure and trusted. It selects libraries over other possible sites for such an archive. Edwards and Veale believe libraries are (or can be) ultra secure and have the mandate and capacity to be so. We have a track record with Stats Canada, although this one may require more diligence.

Of course, this option would almost certainly come with additional funding since libraries would be part of a formalized auditing regime mandated through regulation or legislation. For the forward-looking library (or library consortium – I’m looking at you OCUL), this could be an important opportunity and the beginning of a research collection of unprecedented value.

…Mike

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On Not Travelling to the United States

In 2016 when several US states passed what have become known as the “bathroom bills” prohibiting transgendered people access to appropriate facilities, I joined in on the outrage. I tweeted about not to travelling to North Carolina and other states, withholding my tourist dollars, in protest. Someone on Twitter replied saying, quite reasonably, “yeah, big deal, you weren’t going to travel there anyway.”

He was right of course. It was an empty declaration. It had no real consequences.

At the beginning of this year, I decided that for the foreseeable future one way for me to protest the villainous actions and attitudes of the President of the United States was to refrain from any travel to the US. This includes academic travel as well as tourism.

I have not submitted papers to US conferences, I have not attended any US conferences, I’ve resigned from some associations that refuse to consider relocating their meetings, and I recently turned down an invitation to be a scholar-in-residence at a US liberal arts college. As an academic librarian and a PhD student, this decision has already impacted my ability to engage with colleagues and to advance my research work.

I know my decision can easily be viewed as pointless. I know that what I have given up is nothing compared to those in the US being deluded and oppressed by their own government. But it is something. And I felt I had to do something tangible and with consequences for me, however small and probably ineffective.

…Mike

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Books and Screens and the Reading Brain

Last week I participated in the Books and Screens and the Reading Brain conference held at Vilnius University in Lithuania. The lead organizer was the EU COST action E-READ network and it drew attendees from across Europe. I was the only person from North America. The E-READ network is a group of researchers exploring the implications of digital reading.Vilnius is a fascinating city and I learned a lot about Lithuania (especially its troubled history and its very proud citizens). Vilnius University (founded in 1579) was a wonderful host. It was refreshing to be outside the US/Canada bubble that dominates most of my professional life.

Paper and Digital

Unsurprisingly, many of the papers discussed the digital reading experience: affect, comprehension, representation, intimacy, and even “aura”. The methodology of choice was eye-tracking. While a few researchers reported on the use of EEG and fMRI, eye-tracking was used by many to explore how we read digitally, especially in comparison to reading on paper.

And this leads to the most common theme: paper vs. digital. And the “versus” part should be emphasized. This was clearly competition. There were many good papers. One especially valuable meta-analysis (presented by Ladisiao Salmerón; a member of Rakefet Ackerman’s research team) analyzed dozens of empirical studies of paper and digital reading. According to the results, there is a clear “digital deficit” with respect to reading comprehension.

I confess to being tired of this debate, largely because it is an “apples and oranges” comparison.

Straight up comparisons of paper and digital reading typically standardize the text being read to isolate the effect of the media. However, few studies looked at e-readers (e.g. Kindles), so most compared paper reading to less optimal digital reading environments (i.e. computers or tablets). Writing on paper evolved to optimize the reading experience. It wasn’t always so (think of early manuscripts with dense typography and no punctuation or paragraphs). These studies change the format but they don’t consider changing the nature of the writing.

Put simply, effective digital reading requires appropriate/effective digital writing. Just as we write differently for paper so should we (in fact, do we) write differently for digital.

A more interesting empirical study would be to compare idea comprehension between a text written for and read from paper and a text written for and read from an e-reader (or an otherwise appropriate device). Still “apples and oranges”, but this time not a search for “deficit” but a search for effectiveness.

…Mike

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