CILIPS Autumn Regathering, 26 October 2021

Bruce Ryan and Rachel Salzano were lucky enough to get spaces at CILIP Scotland’s first in-person gathering for two years. Many thanks to CILIPS East Branch, whose funding allowed Rachel to attend!

CILIPS has already blogged briefly about the full programme, but here Rachel writes as a non-techie about the session on ‘AI and the information professional’, while Bruce writes as a former occasional environmental campaigner about the session on ‘Climate Action, Inequalities and Knowledge’. You can also check out Bruce’s live-tweets or the hashtag #CILIPSAutumn21.

‘AI and the Information Professional’: presentation by Dr Andrew Cox, Information School, University of Sheffield

AI is one of the biggest buzzwords of the modern world. From the algorithms that drive social media, to Alexa/Siri/Google Home, to the timeless science fiction trope of a robot revolution, the concept of AI is very much in the public consciousness. When a concept is relevant so broadly, there can be many definitions, similar to the concept of culture in my own PhD research, and Dr Cox began by providing some possible definitions of AI.

The definitions covered include:

  1. Everyday features increasing productivity of knowledge workers
  2. Cluster of new technologies
  3. A material global industrial complex
  4. An evolving ideal, a social imaginary
  5. AI for information professionals.

Of the five definitions discussed, some are a bit more acceptable to the ‘techies’ working on development (e.g. cluster of new technologies) and others are more relatable to other fields (e.g. AI for information professionals).

To me, the most intriguing definition is #4: an evolving ideal, a social imaginary. This ties into the later discussion about the sustainability of new technology (shades of Bruce’s discussion below about the session on Climate Action, Inequalities, and Knowledge) as well as the values that drive the creation and use of technologies. Technology is great, and can be used to improve lives, but there is an issue with equality (voices from the Global South are often ignored) and sustainability (how many resources does a small bit of technology use?) when considering technology and AI. Defining AI as an evolving ideal allows us to adjust our methods of creation, and our use, to match our values.

The overall message of the presentation was that AI, and tech in general, provides yet another opportunity for information professionals to shine. When moving forward with technology, the values of our field will need to be continually examined and upheld. Sustainability, equality, and the hearing of voices traditionally silenced must take precedence. AI and technology are not automatically an ‘enemy’ but can be adapted to compliment the work of information professionals. Embracing technology can help information professionals work towards a better world, so do it well and keep reaching for that ideal!

‘Climate Action, Inequalities and Knowledge’: presentations by Lydia Ayame Hiraide and Sophie Robinson, student researchers

Back in my PhD days (1989 to 1996), I also campaigned for Greenpeace and other environmental organisations, so I was delighted that these presentations were on the agenda. The topic is ever-so-slightly topical just now.

Lydia’s first point was that climate problems hit unequally. So what is role of libraries in tackling climate issues and inequality? Firstly, they need to reduce their own emissions! Secondly, they share scientific facts and knowledge, because we can’t act on what we don’t know about! Thirdly, libraries are community hubs. Lydia’s examples were the British Library community garden and Mountain View public library (USA), which shares seeds as well as books/knowledge. The detail on this is that libraries and librarians can be community spaces for climate action by

  • [being] reliable and trustworthy profession, combatting disinformation
  • [sharing] knowledge as an empowering tool for climate action
  • [creating] positive relationships with nature too
  • [being diverse, safe community spaces
  • bringing everyone along – how can libraries and their programmes be made accessible to all?
  • using ‘intersectionality’, which can be a useful concept for examining access questions.

Lydia ended by sharing the following links:

Sophie’s first point was that the climate crisis is not gender-neutral. Women (including trans-women) bear the brunt of climate issues. Yet, for example, the UK CoP26 team is predominantly male. Sophie asked why women’s voices are not being heard at crucial summit, adding that equal representation is only a starting point: women should not merely be present but actively participating. Sophie then talked about a local example of positive action: Glasgow Women’s Library. This was created in response to side-lining of women in Glasgow. It has created a space for fresh, collaborative feminist work on climate action.

Sophie then asked ‘where do we go from here?’, stating that we need diversity of voices because ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work. Women’s libraries are a vital part of the answer to this, in part because they can forge intergenerational connections. Sophie’s experience is that Glasgow Women’s Library inspired her to have a voice, and that there is no hierarchy at GWL. GWL helps with actions and brings strength and joy, so it’s hard to ignore this library

Sophie encouraged everyone to join climate movements, saying we can dream of a better future so we then make it happen.

Sophie ended here presentation with links to a few resources:

Finally, you could check out #CILIPSGoGreen!

Wrap-up

CILIPS Autumn Regathering was highly enjoyable and informative. You can check the latter for yourselves by accessing the presenters’ slides and audio recordings (when they become available). As for the former, well, you’ll just have to trust Rachel and Bruce!

Sean McNamara, Head of CILPS, opening the Autumn Regathering