Basics: What is Blockchain Technology?

A blockchain is exactly what it is named, a chain of blocks. Each block contains a record of information, such as a deed for a house, the metadata for an image, or potentially, a bibliographic record. The chain that links these blocks together means that if someone wants to change the information in one block of the blockchain without that change being obvious, they would also need to change each individual block that comes before it in the chain. The blockchain is also set up to be distributed, which means that it is copied many times and each copy is located on different computers at different locations. This also contributes to securing the information on the blockchain because if one copy is altered, then comparing that copy to all the other copies of the same blockchain will make it easy to see the alteration. If one copy of the blockchain has been altered, either intentionally or as a computer error, it is easy to simply delete that copy of the blockchain and replace it with a new copy made from one of the correct blockchains.

You may also hear blockchains referred to as decentralized. What this means is that the blockchain can be accessed and added to by anyone with the correct software without needing permission from a central company that owns blockchain technology. Although it is possible to create private or company owned versions of a single blockchain, blockchain technology in general is based on the idea that it will be decentralized and distributed over many computer networks which mean no-one company or individual has control over the entire blockchain. The single individual blockchain can be created and used by a company for internal use, but unless the company can provide multiple computers and networks to distribute the blockchain across, they will lose much of the security benefits of using a blockchain.

Blockchain technology is being considered for use in many different industries currently. This technology may be brought into libraries through vendor’s using smart contracts, through local government using blockchain to track budget use, or in the future through the process of hiring a new staff member whose transcripts are now located on a blockchain instead of with their individual university. If nothing else, blockchain is a technology that will touch the lives of our users as we provide them with new information literacy skills. Libraries may also use blockchains to establish a metadata catalog similar to OCLC which would be accessible and writable to every library, or to track first sale of an e-book which could potentially allow e-books to be resold as a used item or even donated to a library. Review this list of potential blockchain uses in libraries.

There are many potential future uses of blockchain technology that could benefit libraries and other information professionals. Currently, blockchain technology appears to be something with enough potential that we all should be keeping an eye on its progress.

Basic/General Articles About Blockchains

Demystifying the Blockchain: A Basic User Guide
by Philippa Ryan, on (Government Technology)
A quick Question and Answer session about what blockchain can do.

The Ultimate, 3500-Word, Plain English Guide to Blockchain
by Mohit Mamoria, on
A simple but long, computer-less explanation of blockchain.

A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain
by Bernard Marr, on
How blockchain works and why blockchain is important.

NIST Report on Blockchain Technology Aims to go Beyond the Hype
by National Institute of Standards and Technology (
Explanation and link to the NIST report which explains and defines blockchain, lists some possible uses and discusses broader implications of blockchain adoption.

The Truth About Blockchain
by Marco Iansiti and Karim R Lakhani, on Harvard Business Review (

Blockchain – What You Need to Know
by Karim Lakhani, on Harvard Business Review (
Harvard Business Review: An audio clip and transcript of an interview with a Harvard business school professor explaining blockchain technology and its possible effects on various industries. Read the full abstract.

Blockchain: Could Libraries and Open Science Benefit From This Technology?
by Jason Griffey on ZBW Mediatalk
Jason Griffey answers questions about how Blockchain could affect libraries in the future.

2018: The Year of the Cryptocurrency Craze
by Scott Rosenberg

Blockchain’s Future: Nine Predictions
by Cynthia Harvey,
Nine predictions about the future of blockchain development. Read the full abstract.

When Blockchain Meets Big Data, the Payoff Will be Huge
This article was adapted from The CMO Primer for the Blockchain World by Jeremy Epstein, located on Read the full abstract.

How Will Blockchain Change the Economy?
by Samantha Radocchia on
Ideas on using blockchain to encourage the future of sharing economy.

One Place Where Blockchain Could Really Help: Voting
by Mike Montgomery on
The future of voting may include using blockchains to record votes and prevent tampering.

How Blockchain Can Build Communities Completely Free of Hierarchy
by Mohit Mamoria on
A blockchain serves as a community of people from all over the world who are unified in wanting to provide transparency, trust and decentralization to the world. Read the full abstract.

Programmable Blockchains in Context: Ethereum’s Future
by Vinay Gupta
Vinay Gupta provides an explanation of the history of the database and how evolving technology in database management has led to the creation of blockchains, Bitcoin and Ethereum. Read the full abstract.

An Introduction to Ethereum and Smart Contracts: Bitcoin & the Blockchain
by Sebastián Peyrott (Part 1 of a 3-part blog series)
Microsoft’s next step for Blockchain as a Service: Making it more usable by businesses from ZDNet, a Flipboard magazine by ZDNet, Microsoft is looking to make its Blockchain-as-a-Service offering easier to use in real-world scenarios. Read the full abstract.

An Infographic on the History of Ethereum
by Clayton Jacobs

Forget Bitcoin: It’s Blockchain That Might Change Everything
by Lloyd Alter

Have You Tried These Popular Blockchain Games?
by on
And for some fun, our examples of online games that use and promote blockchain technology.

Bitcoin Wiki Page
Bitcoin Basics in understanding the system and economy.

Currently Using Blockchains

Digital Science Award Special Blockchain Technology Catalyst Grants
by Cameron Shepherd on

Colorado Lawmakers Push for Blockchain in Government
by Michelai A. Graham on

New York Neighbours Power-Up Blockchain-Based Brooklyn Microgrid
by Hubertus Breuer on

3 Use Cases of How Blockchain Technology is Already Unlocking Value
by Tom Serres
The article spotlights three companies using blockchains. Read the full abstract.

Hyperledger Fabric
Through contributions by IBM and Digital Asset, Hyperledger Fabric was developed as a blockchain framework for other applications. Read the full abstract.

How Blockchain is Changing the Way We Invest
by Daan Pepijn
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether have grown in value making it easier for traders to exchange that value for paper currency. Read the full abstract.

Smart Dubai Office and 1776 Partner to Launch First Blockchain Challenge in Dubai
January 2017
The city of Dubai launched its Blockchain Challenge on Feb. 5, 2017, inviting startups and businesses to contribute ideas on how Dubai can achieve its goal of integrating blockchain technology into the city. Read the full abstract.

The Trump Administration is Buying into Blockchain Tech
by Aaron Stanley on
Officials in the Trump Administration are interested in blockchain technology for its potential to streamline bureaucracy, empower consumers with the ability to control their information and drive economic growth. Read the full abstract.

Using Blockchain to Keep Public Data Public
by Brian Forde on Harvard Business Review (
Details how both government and companies can gain back public trust by using public blockchains to increase their transparency.

Illinois Releases its First Official Government Report on Blockchain
by News Staff on (Government Technology)
A consortium of Illinois state and county agencies, known as the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, has released its first report on blockchain potential in government. Of interest in the report is using blockchain for digital identities and universal access to government benefits.

Blockchain Rewriting the Way Government Does Business
by Leonard Brody on

Articles About Using Blockchain for Learning, Knowledge, and Cultural Institutions

Public Libraries/Information Centers

Blockchain can Make Social Networks More Private Networks More Private – And More Profitable for You
by Daan Pepijn on
This is on a website called The Next Web. This site also has a number of other blockchain articles of interest. This article discusses using blockchain to decentralize social networking.
Read the full abstract.

Accenture and Microsoft Plan Digital IDs for Millions of Refugees
by BBC News (
The broader idea is a digital ID network using blockchain technology to connect public and commercial records so people have access to their information from anywhere. Read the full abstract.

Academic Libraries/Higher Education

Innovation in Education: Exploring Infrastructure Through Blockchain and Emerging Technology
by the Department of Education, Colorado 

Sony Wants to Digitize Education Records Using Blockchain
by Jon Russell
This article talks about how the Sony company wants to use blockchain as a ledger for a “digital transcript.” Read the full abstract.

Schools are Recording Students Results on the Blockchain
by Luke Graham

Blockchain Revolution & Higher Education
by Dan Tapscott and Alex Tapscott, Educause Review March/April 2017
Educause Review (why IT matters to higher education): “What if there was an Internet of value — a global, distributed, highly secure platform, ledger, or database where we could store and exchange things of value and where we could trust each other without powerful intermediaries? That is the blockchain.” Read the full abstract.

Credentials, Reputation and the Blockchain
by J. Philipp Schmidt, Educause Review Monday, April 27, 2017
Digital credentials include formal diplomas and degrees as well as a broader range of achievements such as participation in online communities, after-school programs, certificates on the job, etc. Read the full abstract.

School Media Centers

Blockchain Technology Promises Innovation in K-12 Record Keeping
by Erin Brereton

Special Information Centers: Medical

An Introduction to the Blockchain and its Implications for Libraries and Medicine
by Matthew B. Hoy
Full article requires a valid login, can be accessed through SJSU student login in the SJSU library collection. Academic Journal: Medical Reference Services Quarterly. This article gives a brief description of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Read the full abstract.

Blockchain Innovation in Healthcare and Life SciencesB
by Vala Afshar on

Special Information Centers: Legal

Blockchain 3.0 or Web 3.No?
by Debbie Ginsberg, AALL Spectrum, September/October 2017 issue, Volume 22, No. 1, P. 36 -39
The article begins with a quick introduction to blockchains including a comic representation. Read the full abstract.

Special Information Centers: Museums/Archives

This Startup Wants to Use Blockchains to Track Every Image on the Internet
by Joon Ian Wong

Blockchain Videos, Webinars, and Recorded Conferences

C-Lab: Colorado Education Work Lab
The Department of Higher Education in Colorado is not just a goal but also a want to have a well educated work force. This has led to the involvement of using blockchain as well as creating a way for those to get connected to through C-Lab.

Putting Public Records on the Blockchain (Video)

How Libraries Might Change
This is an article on a good sized blog created by an academic librarian in Singapore. This post includes sections on the possible future effects on libraries by advances in machine learning, AI, linked data and blockchains. Read the full abstract.

DC Blockchain Summit, Chamber of Digital Commerce, March 2017
The DC Blockchain Summit, held at Georgetown University in March 2017, featured keynote speakers from the Blockchain Caucus as well as several industry professionals. Video recordings of each speaker can be found in a video gallery. Read the full abstract.

Business of Blockchain Conference, MIT Media Lab, April 2017
MIT’s Media Lab and the Technology Review hosted the Business of Blockchain Conference on April 18, 2017 to discuss how blockchains, or distributed ledgers, could be the key to let people do business across borders and continents, safely and securely without relying on third parties. Read the full abstract.

Blockchain Conference in DC (Recap)
In this recap of the second annual Blockchain D.C. conference, common questions about blockchains were answered. Read the full abstract.