A vibrant intellectual and social forum for the campus community, the transformed Library will provide access to the latest learning technologies, a gateway to the world’s knowledge through its rich collections, and expert staff help.
This dynamic environment will bring diverse people and disciplines together and will facilitate interaction, discovery, innovation, and new partnerships. It will be a “go-to” place of exciting possibilities for students and staff, a space that is bright, attractive, appealing and makes learning truly enjoyable.
This new facility, currently at the advanced-planning stage, will take account of changes in the learning environment, notably a focus on teamwork and increasingly autonomous student engagement beyond the lecture venue. Enabling digital creativity will be a priority, recognising that libraries are now places which emphasise knowledge creation every bit as much as information consumption.
Creativity extends to making physical objects: the transformed building will include a Makerspace with 3-D printing and a range of other fabrication technologies, supporting programming and the use of virtual or augmented reality.
This space will sit alongside a Digital Scholarship Centre with interactive video walls and high-specification computing facilities for the mining, manipulation and visualisation of vast quantities of data.
AI Deployment and Debate
Students will have many opportunities to put artificial intelligence techniques and technologies into practice in the Learning Commons. Just as importantly, they will be able to combine creativity with collaboration, also identified as a key skill for the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Bryan Penprase who believes that “students who are capable of creative insights, collaborating in diverse teams, and navigating through global cultural differences will be at an advantage”.
The vision for the NUI Galway Learning Commons foregrounds community building and collaborative engagement across disciplines, maximising technological and intellectual resources in order to address challenges which exceed the capacity of any one discipline, for example climate change, sustainability and disease control. Such challenges are central to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The neutral space of libraries makes them ideal locations not only for collaborative endeavour but also for debate and dialogue across multiple dimensions of any subject. For AI, this is important in opening up opportunities for engagement with ethical as well as technological issues. It is notable that the University of Rhode Island has located its AI Lab in the library to promote active discussion of social issues, thereby complementing the technological focus already in place and helping to achieve a balanced perspective.
Robotic technology will underpin the operation of the transformed Library at NUI Galway. Access to the majority of its printed collection will be via an automated storage and retrieval system which will facilitate a more flexible use of available space while enabling books to be available within 15 minutes of request. A robot, or Bookbot, will manage access to more than 400,000 compactly stored volumes. The Bookbot will literally do the heavy lifting and will not require books to be co-located by subject to find the right volume quickly.
Training students and researchers in data literacy is likely to be a vital Library function, especially in ensuring full awareness of data sharing issues and ways to manage personal privacy in an AI environment. Library staff will play an important part in providing a necessary human interface between users and the technologies available to them, facilitating their use for academic endeavour and daily life. They will act as guides for how AI might be harnessed for scholarly work in potentially transformative ways, including text and data mining, automation of some aspects of peer review for publications, and the use of personalised recommendation systems to navigate the published literature. Other AI-related roles for Library staff might include maximising access to machine-readable collections, curating datasets, and monitoring data quality.