It’s Déjà VU All over Again: Artificial Intelligence in Libraries

No doubt you have noticed the increasing number of articles that talk about AI and libraries. You might be tempted to think that this is a new idea. You would be wrong. Gaining stream in the mid-1980s, peaking around 1990, and declining significantly by the late 1990s, libraries experimented with the application of expert systems in a number of functional areas, including abstracting, acquisitions, cataloging, collection development, document delivery, indexing, bibliographic search, and reference.

An expert system is: "a computer system emulating the decision-making ability of a human expert." During the period in question, they were typically developed by libraries using expert system shells. Less frequently, an AI programming language, such as Prolog, was used.

Sharon Manel De Silva’s "A Review of Expert Systems in Library and Information Science" (1977) surveys over 400 papers on this topic.

An example of expert system development during this period was the University of Houston Libraries’ Intelligent Reference Information System project, which produced the Index Expert (expert system shell) and the Reference Expert (Prolog) systems. Reference Expert’s open source code was distributed at no charge to over 500 libraries at their request. The project also conducted a survey of ARL libraries’ expert system activity, which was published as a SPEC Kit.

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