Karah's #hyperlinkedlibrary Blog

“Harness the Good” or, I’m Scared, but Will Try to Keep an Open Mind

Posted in Uncategorized by on March 30, 2019
Lately, my four year old loves watching Circle Line Art School on YouTube and drawing houses with the tips he picks up.

In this week’s lecture, Michael concludes by saying, “ If we can harness the power for good of [mobile] to help people learn, I think it’s going to be pretty amazing.”  What does it mean for information services? For libraries?

The first thing that comes to mind, though, as I sit at my kitchen table watching this week’s lecture on Mobile Devices and Connections, is my own young children.  Since my first son was a toddler, I’ve been interested in finding the best games to load onto the iPad and my phone for him to engage with, and since then, I have had a lot of fun seeking out the good stuff that exists out there for little ones on screens.  There is a lot of unease surrounding children and screen time, but our philosophy has been “everything in moderation,” and that has worked out nicely for our family so far. Most recently, my seven year old has been playing with Google Earth daily on our mobile devices, and we have been listening to the Harry Potter series using Libby and Sora. My four year old is loving the YouTube channel Circle Line Art School, and has been drawing constantly and adding to his “gallery” on our front porch. All this to say, we use our mobile screens for good, I believe, for learning. It undoubtedly adds value to our daily lives.

But when it comes to AI, I am much less comfortable.  I think it is because I don’t really understand how or why it can be used for good or for learning.  I have a Google Pixel, but I literally only use the voice assistant to set timers. If I want to know how to bake boneless chicken thighs, I Google it myself because I want to scroll through the results, sifting and sorting the results based on my ever-changing criteria; for example, maybe I want to cook them a little differently than I did last week, or I want to retrieve the recipe from the page my friend sent me, or I want to avoid Alton Brown’s advice (I would never, I’m just using the first name that comes to mind here), or any number of other variables based on how I’m feeling on this particular weekday when I’m trying to make it to bedtime without ending up on the local news.   How could AI possibly work with all that? My kids have no interaction with AI in our home because my husband and I don’t use it.  I have a friend who has both an Alexa and an 18 month old in the house. My friend has never called Alexa by name, and instead set it to respond to “Computer” because she didn’t want her baby to confuse the computer for a person.

I think what concerns both of us as parents (and educators) is what Samantha Murphy points out in “Growing up with Alexa: A child’s relationship with Amazon’s voice assistant,” her September 2018 article for CNN Business, ”It raises profound questions about how children interact with technology, with other people, and how it might shape their interactions and development.”  The obvious task for libraries is to provide information, programming, and services that address these questions. How can libraries best harness the power of AI for learning? Is there AI that can provide greater discovery, access, and delivery of information?  Can we build AI into our makerspace programming?

What I’ve realized in thinking about mobile information environments is it is hard to view them with the eyes of a librarian and not those of a wary parent, educator, and patron.  This will be important to keep in mind in my work.

In other news…

On Friday, a colleague strongly recommended Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, and after hearing about it everywhere, I’ve decided to make it one of my few actual book purchases.  She and I got to talking, and I was telling her about Eric Klinenberg’s Palaces for the People, and then this morning I read this article in The New York Review of Books (thanks, Feedly!) about both books as well as the 2017 documentary Ex Libris, which I have not yet seen.  From the article:

Perhaps the most definitive rebuke to the idea of trading libraries for Amazon and coffee shops comes from a former Starbucks employee whom Klinenberg met at a branch of the New York Public Library, where he is now an “information specialist”: “At Starbucks, and at most businesses, really, the assumption is that you, the customer, are better for having this thing that you purchase. Right?” he said. “At the library, the assumption is you are better. You have it in you already…. The library assumes the best out of people.” What we learn from The Library Book, Ex Libris, and Palaces for the People is that we are all better off, too, when people assume the best out of libraries.

I love this piece (though I am confused about the use of quotes around “information specialist”), and am so looking forward to reading Orlean’s book and watching the documentary to bundle with my reading of Klinenberg’s book earlier this semster. I came away from that reading with a much clearer understanding of myself and my love of libraries; I am excited to build on that knowledge with these texts.

6 Responses

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  1. diana said, on March 30, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    @karahiansito I loved this post and the accompanying image. 🙂 I hadn’t heard of that YouTube channel. Also, I am adding the NYPL docu to my must-watch list. Last, I LOVED The Library Book. I can’t even tell you how much I loved it. Would love to know what you think once you read it.

  2. Jasmine H. said, on April 3, 2019 at 1:50 am

    Hi Karah,
    Like you, I think that mobile phones are a great resource for learning. But as for AI, I’m not crazy about it either. I know a few people that have an Alexa, and they love it, but there’s just something about it that I don’t like! I feel like it takes all the work out of le learning (which may not be a bad thing) but then will people know how to search for things like baking a chicken on their own? And honestly I just think it’s kind of creepy that it’s always listening.

  3. Karah Iansito said, on April 3, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Thanks, @diana! That seems to be the consensus about this book; I can’t wait to read it! I’ll let you know what I think. Are you on Goodreads? I’m easy to find if you are, just my first and last name (Karah Iansito) 🙂

  4. Karah Iansito said, on April 3, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks for reading, @jhuff918. I agree it’s a bit creepy in terms of privacy, and also I just don’t know where Alexa et. al. are getting their information!

  5. Michael Stephens said, on April 10, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    This was so interesting: thanks for the glimpse into how your family uses technology.

    I want to watch this for hours:


    You make some good points about AI. It’s a bit different for me. I use Siri and HomePod to play music, turns the lights on and off, get the weather first thing, etc. The integration with Messages etc also make it a rather useful assistant.

    Great bit from the former Starbuck employee – <3

  6. Michael Stephens said, on April 10, 2019 at 1:03 pm


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