The library’s blog is filled with a variety of voices and unique perspectives, including my own, on books, reading, library services and the world around us. This month, with my blog post deadline looming, I developed a case of writer’s block that not even all the coffee in our Jammin’ Community Cafe could cure – what timing! After mentioning my struggle to my colleague Cliff, he joked, “Hey, you should have AI write your blog post!” Our initial laughter at the idea eventually gave way to serious contemplation, as I thought, “hey, what if AI did write this post?”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around for a long time, though with the rise of popular tools like ChatGPT, Bard, and DALL-E, the frequency of conversations around AI have skyrocketed in recent months. At the library’s Information Desk, we often receive requests from patrons for articles about AI and ChatGPT, and the library has even hosted a couple of programs and panel discussions on AI that focus on its future and how it might impact specific fields of study and employment. And, we also know many people are using AI for help with simple, everyday tasks.
Deciding to investigate AI’s capabilities further, Cliff and I logged into his OpenAI account and gave ChatGPT a prompt for my blog post:
“Please write for me a 600 word blog post on my recent trip to South Africa and Zambia. It should emphasize how my library card from the Princeton Public Library proved so useful during my trip. I want to emphasize our e-library, specifically the e-books, a small collection of travel guides, and hoopla binge pass for watching videos on the plane, proved very useful and handy. The tone should be bright and optimistic, emphasizing the tremendous value of these services and the library where I work, “how it goes wherever I go.””
In under 30 seconds, ChatGPT produced a blog post entitled “Embracing Boundless Adventures: My Journey through South Africa and Zambia with My Princeton Public Library Card.” (Read the full post here, published yesterday on the library’s blog.) Both Cliff and I immediately noticed the post exceeded the word limit indicated in the prompt, at 673 words. So, we instructed ChatGPT to shorten the post to 500 words. It did and provided a new piece that was 324 words. Too short! Neither would do.
Aside from post size, I noticed that seemingly insignificant facts it offered were incorrect, dramatized or based on incorrect assumption. For example, one paragraph from the blog post stated:
“One of the most delightful surprises was discovering the Hoopla Binge Pass, a service offered by our library that allowed me to download and stream movies and TV shows. During the long hours of air travel, I found solace in the captivating narratives of African cinema, enhancing my anticipation for the adventures that awaited me. As I soared above the clouds, I immersed myself in documentaries about the rich biodiversity of the region, forging a connection with the landscapes I would soon explore.”
ChatGPT assumed I had just discovered hoopla and its BingePasses and that I opted to watch documentaries about the nature of the continent I was visiting. In truth, I’ve known about hoopla and BingePass, for quite a long time. And, instead of watching documentaries, I opted for something lighter – the Hallmark Movies Now BingePass to be exact – and watched my favorite, cheesy romances and mysteries. I shared the AI blog post with other colleagues at the library who felt that, aside from the content issues of the post, it also presented style issues. The language and ideas tended to be repetitive, lacked depth, and consisted of generalizations. One librarian commented that it felt “overdone” while another noticed the use of “marketing language.”
Above all, what stood out to me was that the post was missing a human element, mainly my own voice. If I had written the post, I would have shared that BingePass made my 16-hour flight much more bearable, that having access to an entire eLibrary of eBooks and audiobooks passed the time, and that the children’s content while traveling with friends and their 14-month-old was a lifesaver.
My foray into ChatGPT was fun, and there are certainly situations in which it can prove helpful. But, AI tools simply cannot replace human thought and intuition. Next time I have writer’s block, I might just rely on that extra cup of coffee. Oh – the one thing it did right? It highlighted how valuable a library card can be, regardless of where you are in the world:
“So, the next time you embark on a journey, don’t forget to pack your library card – because you never know where your love for reading and learning might take you.”