School Librarians Discuss the Implications of AI at Media Literacy Day

The 2024 statewide Media Literacy Day held in Stuyvesant teaches school librarians about the usage of AI.

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Stuyvesant librarians Jonathan Cheng, Christina Kennedy, and Mary McGregor hosted the 2024 Media Literacy Day in the Boaz R. Weinstein library on January 17. The discussion, titled “Innovate, Integrate, Lead: School Librarians at the Forefront of the AI Revolutions,” consisted of a series of online sessions organized by the New York State School Library Systems Association. The conference was targeted to New York school librarians and education administrators, and centered around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications on student-produced work. 

The meeting was one of 12 discussions across New York State organized by the Schools Library System Association. “In each geographic region of New York State, the library director organizes the event space and recruits panel participants. Then they watch the presentation over Zoom together in person as a way to share what they've learned and talk about it,” Manhattan School Library Coordinator Leanne Ellis said. 

The Stuyvesant librarians volunteered to host the discussion since the school’s location is convenient for the majority of New York librarians, and the library provides ample room for 50-70 attendees. “I attended the New York State literacy day training viewing room last year with NYC school librarians in [a DOE building in the Bronx], and it was a little bit less convenient to get to for a lot of the librarians in the city,” McGregor said. “I knew all three of the librarians here would want to attend anyway, so we'd have to close the library if we all attended, so I thought, ‘Well, why don't we have them here?’”

With approval from the administration, the Stuyvesant library was closed to students on January 17 for Media Literacy Day. “We offered to host and then it was just a matter of going through [Assistant Principal of Organization] Dr. [Gary] Haber and [Assistant Principal of Safety & Security & Physical Education Brian] Moran and Principal [Dr. Seung] Yu to make sure that they were okay with us closing the library to students that day and having all these guests from across the city come into the building. We had to make sure that we had a list of the attendees for security,” McGregor said. “Once all that stuff was squared away, we also just did a walk-through with [the School Library Systems Association] to make sure the setup would work for the viewing areas comfortably.”

The layout of the discussion consisted of a presentation and hands-on activities led by keynote speaker Dr. Christopher Harris. “[Dr. Harris] talked a lot about recognizing AI and [...] how students are using it in class work [so we can] anticipate any issues that might come up with cheating,” McGregor said. “Then there was a hands-on session with the same speaker where we played with some different AI services like ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude, and compared the outputs they would give for the same prompts and evaluate which ones are higher quality.”

The discussion ended with a panel discussion in which different librarians talked about their visions for AI in school settings. “There was a panel in the afternoon of different school librarians from across New York State talking about how they're exploring AI in their school libraries and how their school communities are embracing or thinking about AI with their students,” McGregor said.

To many librarians, the talk was unique in that it emphasized the practicality of integrating AI in modern society in a safe way rather than adhering to a traditional view towards AI. “What's interesting about this whole conference [is that it was] more of how can we embrace AI because it's here. There’s no way to stop it. Every time we try to find a way to deter [AI], someone's gonna find another way to get around that,” Cheng said. “The better thing to do is to embrace it, and to kind of use it as a tool to help students learn better.”

The discussion allowed librarians from different schools to exchange their concerns and ideas, thus creating a sense of unity within the field. “Most schools have one librarian if they have any. So it’s really important to meet with other people in [your] profession and troubleshoot problems and ask questions that you all have in common. So we only get a few chances a year, maybe, total to do that,” McGregor said.

School librarians view AI as a tool that, when utilized effectively, can lead to creative innovations. “I feel that if students want to learn how to use AI, [they should] learn how to use it effectively and efficiently. It can help some students who may be struggling in their subjects. I do feel like foundational skills can be gained by using the tool,” panel speaker and librarian at Science Skills Center High School Sandra Echols said. “And I refer to it as a tool, because that's what it is. It is a tool that we can see used remarkably, if you use that tool responsibly.”

Panel speakers sought to emphasize that AI should not be feared so long as media literacy remains high. “What I wanted to get across to everyone [as a panel speaker] was that you shouldn't be afraid of artificial intelligence,” Echols said. “Yes, generative AI is transforming all of our sectors—not only education, it’s transforming the business sector, it’s basically transforming society. But in my personal opinion, how it is being used is that you still need to have your keen critical thinking skills to discern the output.”

With the advancing technology revolution, librarians find it important to stay updated on media literacy. By holding this event and making their materials public, librarians in schools across the city stand prepared to best use and manage AI in their school libraries. “As technology changes rapidly or new sources of information become available, it’s really important to always be curious and willing to learn as much as you can about it instead of trying to catch up to it later,” McGregor said.