ChatGPT: A Library Perspective

January 27th, 2023

ChatGPT has been a hot topic since late November 2022, even surpassing AI (artificial intelligence) as a Google search term within 2 weeks of the public release. This has brought up a lot of questions about both AI and ChatGPT and the role it may play in libraries and across university campuses.

At its core, the Krupp Library team is dedicated to helping our Bryant community to access and use information as well as emerging tools and technologies, including AI. Because of this, we aren’t making any decrees about whether ChatGPT is “good” or “bad.” Instead, we’re taking this opportunity to look at it through the lens of information literacy.

Graphic representation of ACRL framework, OER Commons
OER Commons

The ACRL is one of the professional organizations for librarians, and we base our information literacy instruction on the ACRL Framework. Here are some places where ChatGPT intersects with the framework:

Research as Inquiry ChatGPT is good at answering general knowledge questions that could also be found in a quick google search. It isn’t always perfect, and one issue is as of this writing the program’s “knowledge” ends in 2021.

Scholarship as Conversation This frame means that different opinions and perspectives are necessary to learn. ChatGPT can’t actually offer opinions and isn’t actually an expert in anything. However, you might be having a hard time finding information about a perspective that isn’t the same as your own, or need to find “the other side” in an argument. If you phrase it correctly, ChatGPT can tell you what someone with a certain ideological perspective would say about a topic.

Searching as Strategic Exploration Ask any librarian or library lover, and they’ll tell you that the best results come from developing a plan before you start your research. You can use AI to find keywords on a topic to help improve your searching, though that can also be found in Google.

Authority is Constructed and Contextual Here’s one of the trickier parts of this topic. You can’t write a good paper without good sources that can be verified, which is why citations and reference lists are so important. You should be able to ask any author where they got a certain bit of information, and unless it’s common knowledge in their field, they should be able to provide you with a citation to a source. ChatGPT was “taught” by being fed massive amounts of data and information that it has synthesized and can share using natural language. We have found that ChatGPT can’t always tell you where it got a specific piece of information, especially if it can be found in more than one place. We can’t judge the quality of the sources, just that overall, they’re generally acceptable. ChatGPT lacks authority, which is why this version can’t be considered a truly credible, or scholarly source.

Information Creation as a Process If you want to get the most out of a paper, you usually don’t hand in the first draft you come up with. There are always some adjustments along the way; things that need rephrasing or could be explained more thoroughly, additional sources, even your phrasing and word choices themselves. Most people don’t put the same level of research into something like a blog post or social media caption as they would for a research paper. ChatGPT is a great way to get started brainstorming, or if you want to write a general overview of a topic, but it is often vague and even inaccurate, and is not a substitute for human writing.

Information Has Value Just ask any library director looking at their budget, and they’ll tell you that information is not free. Libraries spend thousands of dollars on databases each year so their users can learn and become part of the scholarly community. Scholars spend countless hours over decades in the classroom and in their field gaining experience and developing expertise. Database vendors invest large sums of money to create search interfaces that allow users to access materials as easily as possible. Open AI, the company that is developing ChatGPT and its previous versions, has also put a significant amount of time and money into this project in the hopes that one day it will be commercially viable. The reason it’s free right now is everyone using ChatGPT is helping it continue to learn. At the very bottom of the ChatGPT page, Open AI has stated “Free Research Preview. Our goal is to make AI systems more natural and safe to interact with. Your feedback will help us improve.” It is important to realize that by using it you are contributing to ChatGPTs development by providing free labor. This is an important fact to be aware of when deciding whether or not to use it or interact with it.

ChatGPT is just one AI tool. There have been many disruptive technologies and always will be. We will continue to make choices about how and what to use or adapt; the library is here to help you to learn and understand how these tools can be used and provide some guidance on when they should or should not be used according to our professional best practices. 

Questions? Interested in learning more? Ask the Library!

Allison Papini

January 27, 2023




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