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The Fine Line Between Exploration and Self-Destruction

by Rachelle Brandel

Before this institute, I, like most people, thought of AI as humanoid robots and super computers. So, when my idea of creating a program to help students improve search skills by comparing search queries to the subsequent chosen resource came to mind, it seemed relatively doable in comparison. (Spoiler: It wasn’t)

As I attended each session, learning about ethics, text analyzers, algorithms, and more, it soon became very clear that the project I was considering required complex methods that were too much for the skill set I currently had. This wasn’t a complete surprise, as my skill level with AI and machine learning is firmly set to beginner, but I began to believe that the opportunity of attending this institute meant that I should aim for lofty heights instead of obtainable ones, so I continued to aim for my lofty goal.

As you can probably guess, I pivoted (and pivoted) trying to find a way to accomplish my original goal, despite the fact that it was firmly beyond the time and expertise I had to give it. I struggled to let go of my original idea, not because it was greatly innovative or desperately needed, but because of an obsessive need to prove my worthiness as an information professional by knowing and using these emerging technologies. I didn’t realize until it was almost too late that I was jeopardizing the successfulness of my project because of a false sense of worthlessness in the skills I currently employed.

As information professionals, we walk a fine line between exploration and self-destruction. My institutional fellows and I struggled throughout the week to come up with innovative and useful AI projects that were within the scope of our skill sets. We failed to realize, until our institutional leaders helped us to see, that simply having the desire to learn, improve, and adapt with these new technologies, was more than enough to create something innovative and useful within our roles as information professionals.

This institute, among so many other things, taught me that pushing myself and seeking to challenge my limits, is just as important as realizing where those limits reside. We, as information professionals, have a lot riding on the acquisition and incorporation of new technologies, but we can’t acquire or incorporate them if we can’t achieve the goals we set. As we acquire new skills and incorporate them into our professions, we’ll soon realize that what we know now is so much more than what we knew when we started out. And the technologies we once thought were impossible to understand, have now become integral to the everyday work that we do.

What I’d like to leave with is this: don’t be afraid to go after new and innovative technologies, methods, and ideas. Simply knowing where your boundaries reside and knowing that they will grow over time will give you the confidence to learn new things, accomplish new goals, and change the profession for the better. And wonderful leaders will be there to help you along the way.