State Libraries, Artificial Intelligence, and the Workforce: A CIRCL Work Group

Full Prospectus


This prospectus calls for the creation of a limited term working group of state libraries and relevant stakeholders to explore the varied roles state libraries in the use of AI and in their support of efforts around workforce development in AI. Rather than a one-time event, the working group will be a facilitated process with CIRCL gathering data, building an environmental scan, and interviewing library staff to provide a focused explorations of the topic with participating state librarians.

The goal of the working group is better equipping state libraries to proactively respond to the opportunities and perils in AI. Through this process, state libraries will gain insight, and participant-specific ideas for projects and applications to better position them in growing efforts in AI workforce development, and in their own outreach and support missions.

Participation in the working group is through a one-time $10,000 program support fee. Funds from the program fees will support the work of CIRCL including development of an environmental scan, creation of an “AI Petting Zoo” where state library staff can experiment with AI products, and development of a state-level set of recommendations by CIRCL experts and analysts. The work will take place over 6 months from the full funding of the working group by 10 participants.


The outcome of the working group will consist of a detailed report of working group research, conclusions, and overall recommendations. Each participating library will have a chance to provide input from staff and will receive targeted recommendations for their unique situation. CIRCL will provide hybrid forums to discuss the work as well as provide online workshops to the staff of participating libraries.

All the outcomes will also be available widely through Creative Commons licensing after vetted by the working group. Other institutions can be invited to join the work, but only with the consent of the full working group.

What is CIRCL

The Collaborative Institute for Rural Communities & Librarianship (CIRCL) is a network of rural libraries, associations, state agencies, universities, and individuals dedicated to the advancement of rural communities through libraries. It acts as a think tank by, for, and with rural librarians.

CIRCL is structured to bring together network members around key issues to librarianship and rural libraries in particular. This working group will focus on the whole operations of participating state libraries but include special attention to issues relevant to rural libraries such as training, support, and supporting rural community development.

The Working Group Team

The working group consists of contributing partners and CIRCL supported experts to facilitate that ongoing work and provide research support. The team will be led by R. David Lankes, The Virginia & Charles Bowden Professor of Librarianship at the University of Texas at Austin.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already profoundly changed the way people find information, communicate, produce media, and learn about the world. AI will continue to change work; from automation in manufacturing, to how energy is distributed across a smart grid, to the use of generative AI to produce marketing, the workforce of our states will change.

Libraries can be central in how a state adapts to this new technological landscape:

  • Public libraries from large urban centers to the smallest rural communities can help train workers, support small businesses in linking to vital resources, and provide necessary broad band connectivity to remote workers. Public libraries can be central to advocating for ethical AI and sensitize citizens to the dangers of corrosive AI – the use of deep fakes and AI to undermine trust in democratic institutions.
  • Academic libraries are already supporting a raft of new degrees in AI and machine learning at public universities. These university faculties support research that is shaping AI tools and ethical understanding of the technology. Community college libraries are supporting workforce development through accessible entry points to higher education and the basic technology skills needed to work in AI-enhanced industries from agriculture, to medicine, to energy.
  • School libraries are demonstrated effective teaching centers that prepare the children of a state to function in a future workforce, governance, and in life through information and media literacy instruction.
  • Medical and special libraries already support medical research into the adoption of AI diagnostics, pharmaceutical development, and a changing legal framework for AI generated work.

State libraries have a vested interest in engaging AI through common functions such as:

  • Archives and History: the preserved the archival record of a state is a treasure trove of data for AI construction (training). AI will also be instrumental in facilitating scholarly and public research with the expanding digital corpus.
  • Libraries and Learning: AI is not only an emerging important topic for librarians to know, but to share with their service communities. Furthermore, AI promises to disrupt the learning process itself. AI enhanced tutors, responsive learning management systems, and AI writing and image synthesis tools will change how state libraries approach learning.
  • Access to Public Records: for those states charged with a responsibility for helping public agencies maintain their public records (State and Local Records Management), AI expertise is vital. How will a state’s records be impacted by AI analysis? Is there policy needed around generative AI in the production of laws, policies, and mandated reporting?
  • Reading Services: can AI systems (text to speech, natural language processing, automatic caption generation, image to text descriptions) be used to support the reading needs of thousands of citizens with disabilities preventing them from reading a standard book (Talking Book Program) and access to public records?

The work group will seek to go beyond these broad functions to match potentials and perils of AI to specific state contexts.

Workforce Development

Workforce development is chosen as the main lens for this initial prospectus because it provides a strong narrative for the utility of librarianship in the face of other issues such as book challenges. Issues of intellectual freedom, new information literacy standards, and democratic protections in an age of AI will also be addressed in the proposed working group as directed by the participating state libraries.

Throughout, proposed activities are grounded in existing successful projects. The projects are listed as a growing level of commitment and needed funding.

The AI Workforce Imperative

Artificial intelligence (AI) has already made a significant impact on the workforce in the last few years, and it has the potential to significantly impact the next generation of workers in both a positive and negative way as AI continues to become more developed. According to the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020”, 85 million jobs globally will be replaced by AI by 2025. The same report also indicates that AI can potentially generate 97 million new roles[1].

However, the types of jobs that AI will create will differ from those being lost. New graduates are embarking into a different type of workforce, and the data entry and processing positions, mostly seen as entry-level positions for graduates and people early in their careers, are now automated through AI. This puts recent graduates in an interesting position while seeking to enter the workforce. The good news is that AI will enhance jobs that require problem-solving, creativity, and empathy to a new level, which will create new opportunities like never before[2].

This shift in the workforce has been underway for several years as specialized AI systems sought to automate tasks and increase the efficiency of manufacturing. However, with the advent of generative AI-systems that produce human-like texts, images, code, and video-the impact of AI is extending beyond the shop floor deep into white collar job functions. Already sectors such as journalism, publishing, and even education are forecasting upheavals from the potential of AI generated information.

AI has the potential to have impact across a diversified business environment:

  • Energy Sector: Advances in automation and smart energy technologies may affect job dynamics in oil, gas, and renewables. As more and more data are generated from the power infrastructure (smart meters, power line sensors, integrated improved weather modeling) AI systems have the opportunity to make power transmission more efficient – and automated.
  • Technology and IT: Cities like Austin are known for their tech hubs. The demand for tech professionals and AI-related jobs will continue to grow, requiring a skilled workforce in these growth enterprises.
  • Healthcare: The healthcare industry will continue to evolve. Telemedicine and healthcare technology may lead to changes in job roles and demand for healthcare IT professionals. AI is already showing direct benefit in medical diagnosis, biotechnological development, and even optimizing clinical practice. AI is being deployed in health insurance as well to minimize costs through targeting wellness initiatives, and better differentiating risks in populations.
  • Manufacturing: Automation and robotics continue to impact manufacturing jobs. Companies invest in advanced manufacturing technologies, potentially requiring workers with new skill sets.
  • Agriculture: In rural areas agriculture remains a significant industry. Automation and precision farming techniques will change the nature of agricultural work and open up opportunities for innovation in better predicting crop-yields, minimizing the application of insecticides, and better predicting market conditions for agricultural products.

For a state to minimize its share of the potential 85 million worker loss and maximizing its portion of the potential 97 million new jobs it must invest in an AI-enabled workforce.

Already universities are busy developing AI innovations, coursework, and full degrees[3]. Startups are rushing to develop, deploy, and market AI-enabled products[4]. However, the workforce support must be as wide ranging, and as broad in potential impact, as the technology itself.

What is needed are a cross-sector effort to engage key workforce players, namely small businesses, across the state. A special attention should be given to rural communities. Urban centers are already well situated to build an AI workforce due both to the concentration of industry, and to local investments in innovation. Rural communities, however, rarely have ready access to expertise, even though the increase in remote work brought on by rural broadband initiatives.

Possible Projects: From Small to Too Big to Fail

 What follows is a series of proposed state library activities. Some wholly within a state library, but could be made better through key partnerships. While each could be seen as a stand-alone project, they are presented more as a series of steps. The outcome of all of these projects, however, should be to strengthen cross-industry partnerships for the library, as well as forging stronger bonds between the commercial information technology sector and libraries in general.

Librarian AI Training and Awareness

Much of the hype and concern around AI can be attributed to a lack of clarity and understanding what comprises “AI.” Terms like general AI, generative AI, machine learning, deep learning, data science, and so on can seem like an impenetrable wall of terminology for librarians and the communities they serve. Further, the dominance of the conversation by ultra-large players like Google, Meta, Apple, and Microsoft can make the ideas of impact or participation in this sector seem impossible.

A forum for librarians to learn about AI and have conversations with peers and experts about the topic is a good first step to building up capacity on the topic in libraries. This can include hybrid speaker series from experts in the field including from the Toronto Public Library Digital Privacy initiative[5], Erik Boekesteijn from the Royal National Library of the Netherlands, and Professor Ken Fleischmann from the University of Texas at Austin. The speaker series should also pull in members of the high-tech industry as a way of building partnerships between industry and libraries.

This general awareness effort should be matched with online training for those who want to directly support small businesses and community members in AI. This training would include learning outcomes in both AI and business development. This awareness work should go beyond passive listening however. The efforts should include an “AI Petting Zoo,” consisting of licensed software tools for text, image, and code creation.

Building an AI Parade

Building awareness and capabilities of librarians in AI and workforce development is only useful if it connects to the workforce itself. The next step would be to translate the librarian training and awareness into a program geared toward the communities served. One excellent model state libraries could use is the Netherlands’ AI Coalition[6] AI Parade initiative  The parade uses libraries as a platform for building awareness and business capacity in artificial intelligence:

The AI Parade is an initiative from the Netherlands AI Coalition’s Culture and Media working group and Human Centric AI building block. Until December 2023, the AI Parade is travelling to 35 libraries across the country, offering debates, workshops and exhibitions. It involves a variety of engaging activities that can reach a broad target audience.

This initiative has already reached 1.5 million people[7]. The group works closely with libraries as they explain:

A library is the ideal spot for the AI Parade: the kind of place anyone can go to with no worries – so it is the right place for making even a complex concept like AI understandable. It’s no coincidence that a fifth of all residents of the Netherlands are library members and that annual visitor numbers for all libraries taken together are around 62 million. Libraries also have an important task in actively helping members of the public to be part of the information society, for instance by providing training and facilitating the public dialogue.

Once again, the objective is to not only build awareness in the community, but to both demonstrate the value of libraries (academic, public, school) in the field and start partnerships with the tech community and state offices.

Building an AI IP Centre

After growing awareness and building a basic foundation knowledge, it is time to seek impact through direct service. State libraries can build specialized services for business, with a focus on small business to prepare these organizations to use AI into their operations.

A model for such a targeted service is the British Library’s Business & IP Centre[8]. The Centre is the result of a rehaul of the business reference function of the national library. The library moved from providing business reference resources to an active organization geared toward entrepreneurs and small businesses. Reference librarians earned business planning certification, reading rooms were replaced with small workgroup spaces. Speakers and mentors were brought on board to make an active space of creation.

The center would have consultative expertise, workshops, product training, and licensed resources for community members to use.

One of the key services of the British Centre and in the proposed AI center is mentorships. Key to supporting the work of small businesses is providing peer support, and advice from experienced businesses. State libraries should partner with industry both shaping the AI space (Tesla, Dell) and companies using AI in sectors such as energy, agriculture, medicine, insurance, and manufacturing to build a mentor matching service.

Library Supported Cohorts in AI

In 2009 the State Library of Illinois sought to increase the technical and leadership capacity of the state’s librarians. They created a project, with the support of IMLS, ILEAD U. Teams of librarians partnered with community members on projects. The librarians had three intensive immersions where they worked on projects, gained hands on experience with technology, learned from peers about leadership.

Using this model, one could envision AI cohorts. Small business people team with librarians around the topic of AI in business. It is a cohort-based program that builds capacity through networking emerging businesses state wide, with a special emphasis on rural communities. It surrounds the cohorts with formal and informal education; mentorships; and a sustaining infrastructure to ensure success. The guiding principle of the project is mobilizing existing expertise and structures in state to ensure sustainable success. The program would look to capitalize on existing state investment in workforce development in government, commerce, and academia.

Being a Forum for Greater Collaboration

To this point the proposed activities and projects, while they would be enriched and expanded when done in partnership with other government agencies and industry, they are not required. Even in the presence of those partnerships, the state library would be the lead. However, state libraries cannot position a state on its own, nor should it. To ensure state-wide impact, state libraries should facilitate a cross-industry parentship.

Where the library sector can make great gains in awareness, and in providing a vital infrastructure for state-wide initiatives, truly preparing the state will take jobs programs, startup funding, formal education programs, internships, research investment, legislation, regulation, and much more.

A state library, particularly with a suite of AI offerings, could facilitate a forum to learn from and coordinate AI workforce activities across the state. Already nearly every urban center, university, and governmental agency is starting to plan for an AI-impacted future. It is the role of libraries (public, academic, state, and school) to inform that work, document that work, and disseminate that work. State libraries can provide the glue to work across the efforts as a trusted partner.

All the proposed activities set up the credibility of the agency to enter this partnership. All these activities can ensure a seat at the table for the state’s vital libraries. These activities and the larger facilitating role are also a natural fit given a state library’s mission.

Beyond the Workforce

Workforce development is presented as a series of positive opportunities in AI. However, it is well understood that AI has significant potential for disruption, disinformation, and embedding negative biases in the inner workings of systems from search engines to image manipulation to education.

How can state libraries play a role in protecting citizens and the governments they serve? First, they must be seen as informed partners. Partners to legislatures seeking to regulate the growing AI industry. Partners to the universities helping to develop AI systems, and to evaluate its impact on the larger society. Partners with industry, small and large, adapting to AI impacts on workforce.

An informed partner does not simply wait and read but engages and explores. There is no doubt that 1. There is great opportunity for state libraries to mitigate the worst kinds of economic and cultural disenfranchisement in a technological paradigm shift, and 2. That developing such expertise and engagement is a cost to already over-extended staff and resources. It is believed that by working together, state libraries can weigh the potential and pitfalls of engagement with a clearer picture of needed investments and/or reprioritization.  That is the goal of the working group, and the partnership with CIRCL.


[2] ibid

[3] Here are just the top 24 programs as ranked by U.S. News and World Report