Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Expert Systems in Technical Services and Collection Management

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Expert Systems in Technical Services and Collection Management

Article excerpt

Technical services operations have traditionally evaluated their effectiveness in terms of quantity--number of orders placed, number of serial issues checked in, number of titles cataloged. Recent budget cuts and technological changes have, however, required libraries to redefine effectiveness. Many have begun to adopt current management thinking, which considers an organization's ability to adapt to its environment in addition to quantitative measurements. The ability to adapt may be increased through the empowerment of staff to take control of issues and resolve them without extensive hierarchical intervention or approval. This decentralization of decision making enables library staff at all levels to respond rapidly and innovatively.

Frank D'Andraia notes another compelling issue that will affect the future of technical services. He predicts a major staffing crisis in academic libraries in the 1990s, for technical services in particular. The focus is now on knowledge skills rather than clerical skills. Staff work very independently and must understand the larger processes in addition to their specific tasks. Traditional clerical work has been replaced with more interdependent and varied automated tasks.(1) What technical services manager has not seen the increasing need for acquisitions staff who understand OCLC, or copy catalogers who can interpret acquisitions records?

One of the ways to capture and build on existing expertise is through the use of knowledge-based systems. Although there are exceptions, these systems are not in wide use in libraries today. Certain aspects of acquisitions, serials control, collection management, cataloging, and preservation are ideal candidates for artificial intelligence development. However, as the following remarks indicate, little has been done outside the cataloging arena to develop knowledge-based systems in these areas.

Knowledge-Based Systems

Background

What exactly are knowledge-based systems? Knowledge-based systems are the broad category of systems that use some knowledge to perform their functions. They need not use either heuristics (rules of thumb) or artificial intelligence techniques in performing their tasks. Knowledge-based systems may be as simple as an online personnel manual that is easier to use because it can be searched more efficiently. Intelligent systems are a subset of knowledge-based systems. They display intelligent behavior, but not necessarily at the level of an human expert. The same online personnel manual may fit into the category of the intelligent system if it includes linkages from one policy to another, for example, between salary schedules and pay classifications. Expert systems, a more specific category, use heuristics to perform tasks previously done by human experts.(2) The "expert" version of the personnel manual would incorporate the personnel librarian's knowledge of classification to allow the novice supervisor to select the appropriate classification after answering a few questions asked by the system. In essence, a well-developed expert system should provide the same answers that an expert would give when approached with a particular problem.

Use

Expert systems have five primary uses: 1. To make existing expertise more readily available, particularly in multiple locations; 2. To reach new levels of expertise by accelerating complex problem solving; 3. To free the expert to handle difficult cases while the system handles the more routine ones; 4. To preserve expertise that might be lost through retirement or resignation; and 5. To enhance training through observation and analysis of the reasoning used by the system to reach its decisions.(3)

In more colloquial terms, "the computer can answer queries when the expert gets tired or takes a vacation; it doesn't forget key components when under pressure. A well-written and well-formulated expert system will perform consistently and 'mindlessly. …

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