The vision of the Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida is to ignite curiosity, serve as the locus of knowledge management and promote intellectual exchange within our diverse global learning community. To achieve this vision, the libraries collaborate with university constituents to facilitate knowledge creation that contributes to UF’s standing as a preeminent public research university.
As part of the University of Florida's Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative, the Smathers Libraries seek to support advanced scholarship and create an ‘AI for everyone’ academic environment. To learn more about the opportunities that AI will create for the Smathers Libraries we interviewed Dr. Hao Ye, reproducibility librarian at the University of Florida.
What opportunities have opened in your field thanks to the emergence of AI?
AI tools and technologies have created novel ways to organize and provide access to information. Specific applications include innovations in patron interactions such as AI-powered chatbots to answer questions, information storage and retrieval (identifying similar and related materials in text or other formats) and the extraction of knowledge from publications to aid in the automated synthesis of evidence.
How do you see resources at the Smathers Libraries evolving as you expand AI research and opportunities?
The Smathers Libraries strongly believe in “AI for Everyone” and are committed to providing resources and learning opportunities to everyone at the University of Florida. We will create accessible pathways through direct instruction (including workshops and longer-format courses), resource guides for self-directed learning and support for AI resources through partnerships with other UF units such as Research Computing.
The Smathers Libraries recently hired Borui Zhang, Ph.D., as Natural Language Processing (NLP) Specialist. What are Dr. Zhang’s expertise and how will they help advance research at UF?
Dr. Zhang has a background in linguistics and computer science, and her research work adapts NLP/AI methods to help the linguistic studies for endangered/low-resource languages, which have low data resources. Dr. Zhang will greatly enhance our capabilities in text analysis and will provide general support for AI within the libraries and to other faculty hired in the AI initiative. It is an exciting time, and we look forward to Dr. Zhang helping us create, identify and evaluate learning resources in the areas of NLP, AI and data science.
How are faculty and staff at the Smathers Libraries currently using AI?
The Smathers Libraries have developed Machine Aided Indexing (MAI) to help index, or categorize, materials in the Digital Collections. Currently, the MAI project can assign topic subjects and Florida place-names to thousands of titles in just a few hours! This increases the discoverability of materials, especially any that previously had minimal metadata. To validate the results, staff members from Library Technology Services, Cataloging and Discovery Services, and Digital Support Service have collaborated to implement a workflow to monitor and adjust the machine’s work and to optimize the MAI process to handle more complicated patterns. So far, MAI has processed more than 29,000 theses and dissertations, 300 titles in archival materials, more than 10,000 agriculture publications and many more.
In your field, what kinds of pressing issues do you think AI technologies and faculty research will be able to address?
As more research is published, one challenge is finding relevant articles. On the topic of COVID-19 alone, tens of thousands of articles were published, and it is not feasible for a researcher to sift through all of them, much less read them. AI has the potential to analyze the contents of these articles — not just by matching keywords — to help identify trends and to map out concepts and themes.
What steps are you taking to build a cohort of AI researchers that represents our diverse society?
The Smathers Libraries are committed to making sure resources and learning opportunities are available to all learners by lowering the barrier of entry to AI as much as possible. The libraries have multiple groups who continually review our policies and resources to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and justice. We also develop specific programs that target improvement areas, such as the accessibility of our spaces and materials for English-language learners and families, to ensure we are meeting the needs of everyone at UF, not just the people already using the libraries.
How does the culture of the Smathers Libraries foster an environment where new faculty members can excel in AI?
Colleagues in the library span the breadth of domains and disciplines at UF. This means that group efforts are highly collaborative and interdisciplinary. Although there may not be much precedent for many projects in the libraries, we are familiar with innovating new programs and providing the necessary support for new faculty to achieve success, whether that is in AI or anything else.