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Cornell University Library To Go Inside Algorithms

Cornell University Library

Now this is cool!

Algorithms dictate how many of us live our lives these days, setting parameters for automated tasks as diverse as recommending movies on Netflix and books to buy on Amazon to helping drivers navigate with GPS. But what are algorithms exactly and how do they work?

Cornell University Library in Ithaca, New York, is going to be making huge strides in helping the public learn about algorithms thanks to a grant it received from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS). The grant will support an 18-month project aimed at creating open educational resources on algorithmic literacy—building the public’s knowledge about what algorithms are, how they function, and how they shape modern life.

“Algorithms are pieces of code used to solve problems,” Reanna Esmail, lead librarian for instruction at Cornell University Library and a co-leader of the project, told the Cornell Chronicle. “Unfortunately, a lot of them tend to be ‘black box’ algorithms whose code and processes are obscured from public understanding, and sometimes even the understanding of those working on the algorithm. And so part of the aim of the project is to unpack that and ask, ‘How do algorithms impact our everyday lives?’”

Algorithms are made by people and are susceptible to biases, especially against historically marginalized groups. “We need to build public awareness so that there is accountability for discriminatory algorithmic systems, and so that we aren’t just subject to Big Tech’s whims,” said Iliana Burgos, emerging data practices librarian and a co-leader of the project. “Knowledge is power in that sense.”

We can't wait to read the results of this project!

Photo: The A.D. White Library within Uris Library at Cornell University, courtesy of Cornell University

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