Our November 2019 conference discussion session ranged across various topics - looking at current practices, user expectations, the challenges for service managers and the impact on resources, staff skills and training.

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Most services have well established web chat services and some have extended this into 24 hour support through consortia arrangements.  Providing interactive support, these have proved to be very beneficial for remote library users and enable service delivery and quality to be maintained beyond core hours.

 

But the boundaries of this would change significantly if Artificial Intelligence tools such as chatbots come into play.    Clearly, wider institutional buy-in and support would be needed to maintain and develop this service.  And it was certainly felt important to have a clear definition of service parameters to manage user expectations.  The onus rests with library managers to make the service level clear, as many delegates noted that how systems manage those queries needing follow up or referral is crucial to the user perception of the service.

 

More research and understanding around user expectations and demand before embarking on big changes around this would be of great benefit for the H.E library community.   Virtual assistants are gaining a foothold in homes and other areas of everyday life but is this feeding through into user expectations around library service points and spaces?

 

Another challenge needing to be addressed before AI systems could become established across our sector on a nationwide basis would be their capacity to handle regional dialects, or languages such as Welsh.  From the user perspective, testing would likely be required to make sure these offer a viable engagement tool for international students.

 

The discussion session recognised the opportunities AI systems offer for service enhancement in libraries but also identified several challenges to be carefully considered and tackled around their implementation.

Customer Services Group UK 2020