I heard about an interesting new job while at Computers in Libraries 2023 (great conference, by the way!) – an AI prompt engineer.
What’s a prompt engineer? Here’s a description (from Computer Hope):
The idea of a “prompt engineer” came in response to AI text and image generators, which people noticed would produce higher-quality content when users give specifically-phrased prompts, as opposed to just asking naturally. The title describes people who are supposedly skilled at selecting the right phrasing so that AI tools generate the most accurate and relevant responses.
As the speaker talked about prompt engineers, and then moved on, I started thinking – hey, isn’t that sorta what librarians do? Sometimes, we just help find the answer … but often, our role is to help our customers ask a better question. Heck, some of us even have whole pages on our websites devoted to how to ask better questions.
We are trained to broaden, narrow, and refine a customer’s question, so that they can hone in on the answer they were looking for. To me … that kinda sounds like a prompt engineer.
And yes, I know – it’s not a complete picture. A “real” AI prompt engineer helps the large language model refine its output, so answers are accurate, sound conversational, and sounds like a human.
But the librarian-sounding parts, to me, seem like a pretty traditional librarian job. We help people figure out what they’re really looking for through refinement of their questions, by helping them narrow down a broad topic, or by adding important details to their search. Through the reference interview.
This is one reason I’m not too worried about our soon-to-be AI future when our search engines are also a type of answer engine. They’re only giving answers to the things people input into the system. In this new AI world, librarians will still be serving a very traditional role – helping to refine the question. And with generative AI tools, we might just be able to see the answers getting formed, as well.
Go forth and generate better questions!
Image: Generated from this prompt: “Cool-looking futuristic librarian answering a patron’s question” from Stable Diffusion Online