Studying at the McGill Library: Expectations vs Reality

When I started my first year at McGill, I had many presumptions about a library and its uses. I had a clear picture in my head of what the McGill Library would be; a quiet place to study surrounded by barely used books. However, after visiting the libraries and seeing the atmosphere, my expectations of the Library were off. Here is a short list of a few expectations possibly many other students have about studying at McGill, compared to the reality of it all!

The Methods of Research

Growing up, students were often told stories about the “good old days” by their parents. One variation of these stories was that they would have to physically go to a library to research for their projects, scanning through hundreds of books to find the perfect source. This deemed libraries as old-fashioned and useless now that we can access search engines like Google.

After studying for a few months at the McGill Library, it is clear that this is only sometimes the case. Although we do still have access to the thousands of valuable books within the libraries, we also have access to so many more sources. Students can access many resources through the McGill Library website, such as ebooks, videos, articles, guides, and more! No matter the project, the Library makes it easy for students to find exactly what they want.

The Librarians

In fiction, librarians are often portrayed in a mostly negative way. They’re just the strict old ladies that shush everyone in sight. These depictions are seen in most television programs, causing students to dislike these workers when they go to the Library. Librarians, however, are not at all like this. In reality, the librarians at McGill are the complete opposite! They care about all of their students and are always there to help. Whether it be to find the right resource, check out a book, or get help with a paper, the various librarians at the McGill Library ensure that students have a sound support system in their academic journey.

The Different Aspects of the Library

Although I have already mentioned the expectations of the research done within a library, there are also notable differences regarding the reality of the role of a library itself. Many people believe that the only thing a library is used for is studying and researching for projects.

The McGill Library offers many events and fun things for students and the community. These include monthly activities, such as Game Nights, various workshops on a multitude of topics, hosting events, and many more! There is always something interesting going on in the Library, making it much more purposeful than we make it out to be.

Study Spaces

Lastly, it is often expected that libraries are tranquil places to study. Students are usually limited to complete silence so as not to disturb people around them, making it difficult for people who prefer to study in a busier environment or want to do group projects with their peers.

To allow for a wider variety of study spaces, the McGill Library offers various study spaces for students to choose from. Whether you prefer complete silence, an area with some talking or a private room to study with your friends, the Library has you covered! Many Study Spaces are available for students all over campus, so you’re sure to find the perfect one for you!

ChatGPT and the Curious Case of Missing Papers

A recent innovation has the academic community abuzz with debates. If you’re on any social media or are generally not living under a rock, you have probably come across the innovation that is ChatGPT. Since its launch in November last year, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot has stirred up conversations left and right, ranging from discussions on technological utopias to those on AI ethics and the effects of such technology on employment. 

But we’re not here to ponder upon questions so profound. Rather, we are here to investigate the curious case of missing papers and the implications this case has on adapting ChatGPT in academia. And with the recent release of GPT-4 (the Large Language Model used to train the chatbot), it is easy to see how this technology could be used by students and professors alike. Before we move on to that, let’s learn more about this AI-powered bot.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that generates human-like responses based on inputs/prompts given by users. Created by OpenAI, a research and development company in AI technology, ChatGPT was estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users in January, just two months after its launch (Reuters). To learn more about the bot, check out our guide on ChatGPT. For now, let’s move on to the phenomenon that has made users weary of the chatbot. 

More on the Curious Case of Missing Papers

With the public just recently discovering the potentials of AI technology in everyday life and the constant experiments at play, the bot has inevitably left the academic world in a bit of a stir. As academics, we look at the best ways to adopt such technology into our world. Eager attempts are being made to restructure conventional evaluative methods and create policies for the informed use of AI technology (spec. ChatGPT) in academia. Criticism, though, is to be expected, especially when the AI-powered bot has listed a few of its own limitations on its interface. Modest, that one.

A screenshot of the ChatGPT interface showcases a list of potential questions you could ask the bot, the capabilities it is equipped with and the limitations that constrain its function.

Now the Curious Case of Missing Papers I speak of did not simply emerge one fine day to the public eye, nor is it restricted to just one occasion. Rather, over the past two months, as ChatGPT has seen more active users, it has simultaneously gained more weary “consumers,” mainly in the form of students (or other learners) and professors (or other evaluators). Students working on assignments and professors have written on various social media platforms (such as Twitter, Reddit and other academic forums) and created articles claiming that ChatGPT tends to produce references that do not exist in real life. They say that when asked about a particular topic (given a prompt), the bot does give a legitimate-sounding answer (a response). But then, when asked to reference the information it has produced, it tends to create nonexistent academic sources, often a mix of names within the field or a set of numbers in a link that go to articles about similar topics. Sometimes though, it cites sources which have absolutely no reliable background.

Why is the bot producing such seemingly “fake” information? Well, this phenomenon is not altogether unheard of and has been an avid topic of discussion in AI for quite some time. Some experts call the phenomenon ‘Hallucinations,’ with the word holding much the same meaning it does when it comes to human psychology. A hallucination occurs in AI when the AI model generates output that deviates from what would be considered normal or expected based on the training data it has seen. Other experts claim that it is “AI confabulation” (another term borrowed from human psychology) or “stochastic parroting” due to predictive modelling. It seems, then, that while reasons for the missing or nonexistent sources differ, the result is pretty much the same, namely, a greater risk of misunderstanding and misinformation. 

But what is the point of a source that one cannot trace back? Is it reliable when it doesn’t even exist? What is the point of research that does not contribute to one’s knowledge of the topic or the larger literature? And what are the more daunting implications we are yet to discover? While the answers to each of these questions are unique to our work and specific aims, it is undeniable that such cases create a great conundrum for users seeking more than just inspiration from the bot. 

What Can We Do Moving Forward? 

It seems then that with seemingly abundant knowledge available at a single click, the merits of the technology are evident and laudable. The impact it will have on the academic world, too, is inevitable. However, as users of novel technology, it becomes our responsibility to be wise “consumers” and make well-informed decisions. A best practice would be to learn more about the tools we use during the research process and, for as long as possible, to rely more heavily on self-conducted (but well-assisted) research. 

That was our take on ChatGPT and the Curious Case(s) of Missing Papers, do let us know what you think in the comments!

March Madness 2023 in the Library – Week 3

It’s Monday and you know what that means… Another week in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library March Madness!

This week we said goodbye to some amazing competitors (Sea of Tranquility, House of Sky and Breath, The Final Gambit, and I’m Glad My Mom Died) and welcomed in our official Final Four (listed below). Folks have until Sunday, March 26th to add a tally to the brackets and mark their favourites.

You can vote by visiting the McLennan-Redpath Library Building and heading toward the Redpath Exhibition Case and Book Display on the mainfloor.

Book bracket showing competitors. The Final four are listed below.

Final Four Competitors

Corrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller
Heartstopper (Volume 4) by Alice Oseman

Don’t forget to check back in on Monday, March 27th to see which of your favourites make it to the Top Two!