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Detecting AI Created Essays

February 28, 2023

Like many people within higher education, I’ve been watching the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT tool with trepidation. The ChatGPT software is a marvel of software development. A few weeks ago, I prompted ChatGPT to write a one page essay about the life of George Washington, only to see it immediately write a paper that would receive a passing grade in most classes. While ChatGPT has been reported to sometimes give inaccurate statements, there were none in this essay. The writing, though simple in style, would be perfectly acceptable in most classes. The ease with which this could be used to cheat was my immediate concern. How would this affect student learning? Would there still be a point in assigning essays for students if they were merely going to use AI to write for them?

Those questions are still open to debate, but at least options to combat ChatGPT are starting to emerge. This morning I came across an NPR story that mentions a tool for detecting AI generated writing, it’s called GPTZero. GPTZero attempts to detect portions of a paper that are AI generated and render a score for how much of the document is AI written, which seems similar to how Turnitin delivers a score for content that is copied. While I haven’t tested GPTZero yet, I’ve already shared it with a few professors. As we get closer to finals I’m curious if we start to see papers appearing that faculty suspect are AI created. If so, this might be our best way to spot them.

We Were Made for This

February 27, 2023

This semester the focus on our institution has been all about budget cuts. I imagine most of you are facing similar struggles with your own organizations. It has been disheartening to be told things like, “Even some of the good things we’re doing will have to go.” For example, I have written in the past about a free pantry I help to operate out of our library, which provides students with food, personal hygiene, and health items. We have just been told that until we come up with a way to get some of the items donated, we can only afford to purchase food items. One thing I have observed in every library I have worked at is the deep compassion and care we librarians have for our patrons.

Libraries are not just about caring for the information needs of our users. We all care so deeply about nurturing the whole person. Something that has given me comfort during these times of significant budget cuts is that this is not a new challenge for us. Libraries have always had to be resourceful and attempt to provide the most on the least. In a sense, we were made for times like these. While many of the meetings I attend with colleagues from across campus are a bit depressing as they all are about the budget cuts, I also find I am constantly brewing with ideas of how to make this work. I refuse to follow the advice of even the good things will have to go.

Our entire profession is dedicated to research and operating with all the information in hand. I believe we can use these strengths to be a beacon of hope in our institutions right now. Our university is currently on a hiring freeze, as are many right now. This has left many people feeling exhausted and overworked as they deal with increasing workloads and no hope of vacant positions ever being filled. I have been encouraging my colleagues to take advantage of our students. I have been urging my colleagues to offer more work study positions and internships in their offices. While it is not ethical to expect our students to take the place of full-time staff members, there are certainly projects and tasks we can hand off to them or have them assist with. I’m currently working on a collection review and diversity audit of our children’s literature collection, and I’ve hired a student worker, who wants to work as a children’s librarian, to assist with checking to see if titles are on the shelf and looking are their physical condition. This has freed me up for the more complex work of meeting with the Education faculty and researching what we have and what we need.

As our organizations call on us to make cuts, we need to help our colleagues in other departments who may not be as familiar with operating on less. This is a great time to lean on our strengths as information professionals and help support our institutions through these tough times. We are all so resourceful, and now, our colleagues from across campus need our resourcefulness. Let’s get to work!

Connect & Communicate: Collecting Pennsylvania Political Twitter Data recording available now!

February 23, 2023

The session recording for the February Connect & Communicate Series presentation on collecting Pennsylvania political Twitter data is now available on the C&CS YouTube channel. Thanks to John Russell and Andrew Dudash from Penn State University for an informative session.

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A Book Request Odyssey

February 22, 2023

From time to time, I receive book purchase requests from faculty in my liaison departments. These are often straightforward affairs, but a recent request turned out to be anything but ordinary. In early February, me and a colleague in our acquisitions department received an email via a Yahoo account from Dr. Samantha Schmidt, who stated that she was a new DAAD Post-Doctoral Fellow at Pitt. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, the DAAD is an organization that facilitates academic exchange between US and German universities. I have worked with DAAD fellows in our history department, so I’d heard of the organization before. Dr. Schmidt was writing to ask that we purchase eight titles from a particular vendor in Germany. This vendor, who I will call Dr. Jones, was copied on the message and Dr. Schmidt described him as having “really cheap prices.” It was unusual for a faculty member to request titles from a particular vendor, but I chalked this oddity up to possible cultural/organizational differences.

After discussing this request with several acquisitions colleagues over multiple emails, we decided we would pursue the purchases, but via our standard avenues and not the suggested vendor. My email to Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Jones informing them of our decision was met with immediate blowback from them both. Dr. Schmidt said that “it is not frank to buy books from other vendor, as I received the offers from him. He is a nice person, whom I met at many international conferences…” After receiving these messages, I was now wary of getting off on the wrong foot with Dr. Schmidt, so I asked our head of Technical Services to offer her opinion. She pointed out that it was odd that Dr. Schmidt didn’t have a Pitt email address and that her initial message was a sales pitch for Mr. Smith. I had previously asked Dr. Schmidt for her Pitt email, but she said she was still in the process of receiving one. This was admittedly odd, but not alarmingly so. Another colleague noted that Samantha Schmidt didn’t show up in any kind of Google search nor was she listed on the DAAD website. Dr. Schmidt also didn’t show up in our Pitt directory search.

Seeing all of these facts put together led me to the “crazy thought” that Samantha Schmidt didn’t actually exist and that she was a fiction created by Mr. Smith to sell some books. I thought that was an awful lot of work to set up a con just to sell a few books, so I still wasn’t entirely convinced that Samantha wasn’t real lest I offend her. I happened to mention this saga to a coworker and she said, “did you receive an email from Dr. Schmidt?” I said, “yes, how did you know about that?!” It turns out that Mark Robison at Notre Dame posted on the ACRL University Libraries Section listserv that he received a message from Dr. Schmidt with the exact same characteristics. It had taken him and his colleagues a bit to realize what was going on, so he was warning other libraries. He had a follow-up post in which several other libraries had gotten the same message. My “crazy thought” turned out to be quite sane; this whole thing was a sophisticated con. I admire the complexity, specificity, and audacity of this scam, but I still feel like an idiot for buying it for a second. No harm since we didn’t purchase any titles, but I wasted a lot of my (and colleagues’) time on this, so it’s still disappointing. I thought I was immune from scams, but apparently even I can be taken in. I’m glad I reached out to colleagues about this and I encourage you to do the same if you have any doubts. Caveat emptor!

Connect and Communicate Presents

February 15, 2023

Collecting Pennsylvania Political Twitter Data

Presented by 

John Russell and Andrew Dudash

Wednesday, February 22 at 2:00 pm EST

Registration Link

This presentation will review efforts to collect election-related Twitter data from Pennsylvania-specific accounts and hashtags for 2018 and 2020 in the run-up and aftermath of both election cycles and what was learned from the process. The presenters will also discuss the work that goes into building social media data collections and some tools that can be used to support such work for platforms beyond Twitter.

John Russell is the Digital Humanities Librarian at Penn State University Libraries, University Park. Andrew Dudash is the Social Sciences Librarian at Penn State University Libraries, University Park.

We will mute participants on entry into the Zoom room. Session will be recorded and available on YouTube after the session. We will enable Zoom’s Live Transcription feature during the session.

If you would like to present with C&CS, please contact the C&CS team.

This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, Governor.