Using ChatGPT as a Digital/Smart Reference Robot: How May ChatGPT Impact Digital Reference Services?

Using ChatGPT as a Digital/Smart Reference Robot: How May ChatGPT Impact Digital Reference Services?

Hamid Reza Saeidnia
Department of Information Management, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran.

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence-based chatbot developed by OpenAI (1). This chatbot, which was officially released in November 2022, can help people in various fields. ChatGPT is developed by using advanced GPT-3 neural networks (2). In fact, ChatGPT provides suitable answers to your questions, and the charm of the story is that you can ask any question to this intelligent robot and it will receive somewhat comprehensive answers (1). ChatGPT can help people save time and money because it has different abilities, including programming, web page production, or any content production in most fields (1, 3). One of the prominent features of ChatGPT is to support conversations in different fields. In fact, ChatGPT can be used in different fields such as customer support, chatbots, and intelligent conversation with home devices (4). Along with this issue, the easy implementation of ChatGPT having a simple programming interface (API) is also considered an important advantage because it can be easily implemented in many applications and web systems (1, 3). This simplicity of implementation can make information centers (libraries) more productive in any model (1, 5). Most information centers (libraries) have sought to digitize reference services over the past years in order to be able to provide a library reference service online (6). Digital reference services use human experts to provide information to users, which are often Internet-based (6, 7). The emergence of OpenAI Chat technology can replace the human expert because this technology, using machine learning and intelligent algorithms, is able to automatically provide the best answers, which leads to increased productivity and reduced human error. In this study, we will explain to what extent ChatGPT can be used instead of digital services. We answer this question by chatting with ChatGPT.

—Can ChatGPT replace a reference librarian?—

Impact of ChatGPT On Digital Reference Services

The user, the database or knowledge, the information librarian, and the electronic resources (including web resources, CD-based resources, and other digitized materials) are the four basic elements in reference service, which provide reference services in two types: asynchronous virtual reference service and synchronous (8). Email reference services and reference through the web are among the most important methods of asynchronous virtual reference service (7, 8). In the Email reference service, the user specifies information needs in the email, and after a period of time (e.g. one hour to several days), the response to the request is sent to the email (8). This method has a low response speed, but it is cheap and affordable. But reference through the web is somewhat suitable for faster response, in this method, which is more famous as Ask the Librarian, users register their request through a web form and wait for a response from the librarian (6, 8).

Synchronous is also called real-time digital reference service because of its faster response time. One of the most important methods of this type is chat using instant messaging and video-based reference service (6).

The chat method using instant messaging means live communication between the user and the reference librarian. In this method, the human factor (i.e. librarian) is not removed, and in fact, to meet the user’s needs during office hours, you can chat with the librarians and ask questions (6, 9). In the video-based reference service method, voice and video call capability are added and users can ask their questions without being in the reference library, and the user will experience a more personal feeling in receiving answers (6, 8).

In all the previous cases in reference services, the human agent (i.e. reference librarian) must always be present, and in fact, all questions are answered by a human. But the emergence of advanced technology ChatGPT challenges human agency! In this case, the response time will be faster and without limits. The user can ask his question at any hour of the day and receive an accurate answer at a high level.

Questions to ChatGPT about its impact on digital reference services

To further investigate the impact of ChatGPT on digital reference services, the following two questions were asked of ChatGPT. Here Q means to question and R means ChatGPT answer. To repeat these questions or more questions about the impact of ChatGPT on digital reference services, you can access ChatGPT at https://chat.openai.com/chat.

Q: How can ChatGPT be used to improve digital reference services?

R: There are several ways that ChatGPT can be used to improve digital reference services. Here are a few examples:

1. Real-time assistance: ChatGPT can be used to provide real-time assistance to users who have questions or problems. This can help to improve the user experience and increase the likelihood that users will return to the service in the future.

2. Personalized service: ChatGPT can be programmed to provide personalized service to users based on their individual needs and interests. This can help to make users feel valued and increase their satisfaction with the service.

3. Comprehensive knowledgebase: ChatGPT can be designed to be a comprehensive knowledgebase of information that users can access at any time. This can include frequently asked questions, troubleshooting guides, and other helpful resources.

4. Multilingual support: ChatGPT can be programmed to provide support in multiple languages, which can help to increase accessibility and serve a wider range of users.

5. Customer analytics: ChatGPT can be used to collect data on users’ interactions with the service, which can be used to improve the service over time. This can include information on user satisfaction, common problems or questions, and other key metrics.

Q: Can ChatGPT be used as a digital reference librarian?

R: Yes, ChatGPT can be programmed to function as a digital reference librarian. It can provide users with research assistance, answer reference questions, help users navigate databases and other resources, and gather and analyze data on user interactions with the service. However, it should be noted that ChatGPT is an AI-based system and therefore may have limitations in terms of the complexity of questions it can answer and the level of expertise it can provide. As such, it may be necessary to have human librarians available to address more complex or specialized reference questions.


It seems that using ChatGPT is suitable for answering most of the questions raised by the users, but some questions like “Can you help me find reliable sources for my research paper?” are limited to the library environment and ChatGPT may not be able to provide a suitable answer. In some cases, the answers provided by ChatGPT are very general. For example, ChatGPT doesn’t answer the user’s question about the best novel available on the library shelf or electronic archive. But if the question is about the greatest novel all of the time? ChatGPT gives a very general answer and the artificial intelligence only expresses its opinion that, for example, the novel A Tale of Two Cities is the greatest novel in the world for all of the time. For these reasons, the need for human librarians will never disappear. Therefore, the ability and capacity of ChatGPT to answer questions that are not limited to physical information sources or a specific library location is at a suitable and convincing level.


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Cite this article in APA as: Saeidnia, H. R. (2023, May 11). Using ChatGPT as a digital/smart reference robot: How may ChatGPT impact digital reference services? Information Matters, Vol. 3, Issue 5. https://informationmatters.org/2023/05/using-chatgpt-as-digital-smart-reference-robot-how-may-chatgpt-impact-digital-reference-services/

Hamid Reza Saeidnia

Hmidreza Saeidnia currently graduates MIM (master in information management) from the Department of Knowledge and information science, Tarbiat Modares University. his research interests include Information Science, Information Management, Databases, and Webometrics he has also very-interest in Software Development and Android Programming.