CTG UAlbany Examines Libraries’ Role in AI

A library with rows of tablet computers at desks.
CTG UAlbany is partnering with the Urban Libraries Council on a $637,470 project to examine how libraries can empower communities to better understand AI.

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 28, 2023) — Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a popular tool in various industries to assist or, in some cases replace, human actions and decision making. While there is great potential for AI to benefit society, the technology also raises a number of risks, including questions around ethics and privacy.

The University at Albany’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany) is partnering with the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) to examine how libraries can empower communities to better understand AI and ensure its ethical design and application.

The project, “Empowering Communities: Public Libraries, Inclusive Civic Engagement and Artificial Intelligence,” is supported by a three-year, $637,470 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The initiative follows CTG UAlbany’s previous research on the role of public libraries in improving open governments ecosystems and in developing smart communities.

“Although scholars and practitioners prescribe public engagement in AI to better identify potential harms, improve the quality of datasets, and better address community needs, there are no clear strategies to engage communities in AI initiatives nor availability of spaces where this engagement may take place,” said CTG UAlbany Research Director Mila Gascó-Hernandez, the principal investigator of this project. “We believe that public libraries, as trusted learning spaces and community partners, can serve a critical role in promoting and advancing inclusive civic engagement when it comes to AI initiatives.”

The project aims to understand the role of public libraries in fostering critical and inclusive civic engagement in AI initiatives, including their design, implementation, governance and evaluation.

Three research questions guide the study:

  • What role may public libraries play in increasing knowledge about AI in the community?
  • How may public libraries foster inclusive civic engagement in AI initiatives?
  • What are the opportunities, threats, benefits and challenges of public libraries leading inclusive civic engagement in AI initiatives?

Results from the project will include four case studies, on comprehensive report and one practitioners' guide. The project will also deliver two dedicated websites and several digital projects, which will help disseminate the results and reach a wide and diverse audience.

“As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, CTG UAlbany is strategically positioned to continue contributing to recognize the positive impacts of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, but also their potential risks and challenges,” said CTG UAlbany Director J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, co-principal investigator of the project. “Through this project we aim to shed light on the role that citizens, communities, and public libraries may play in understanding and ameliorating some of the negative consequences from using AI, such as discrimination, bias, and other related harms, as well as in leveraging potential benefits that allow to better address community needs and improve the well-being of society.”

This project marks the third grant that CTG UAlbany has received through IMLS. It also marks another extension of UAlbany’s Artificial Intelligence initiative, AI Plus.

AI Plus is UAlbany’s holistic approach to integrating teaching and learning about AI across its academic and research programs to ensure every graduate is prepared to live and work in a world radically changed by technology in the coming decades.