Ways to Use Blockchain in Libraries

Lightbulb on a chalkboard with idea bubbles drawn branching off from it

What can information professionals do with blockchains?

Blockchains have been used in a number of different applications ranging from managing a new cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, to using Smart Contracts for coding ways to track transactional data between persons. For those who are either familiar with technology or are just taking a look for the first time, there are several ways in which information professionals may be able to adopt and benefit from this technology. The following scenarios are just a few examples to get the conversation started.

Build an enhanced metadata system for libraries, data centers

Building a distributed, permission-less metadata archive has perhaps the most disruptive potential. Because blockchains operate as a type of informational ledger that don’t require a centralized gatekeeping organization, they could be used to build a truly distributed metadata system for libraries and related organizations. A blockchain OCLC, if you will. Such a system would be accessible to any organization who wishes, with no additional expenditures. The system would scale cleanly, while still maintaining quality of data through selective reading/output choice based on hash signing.

Protect Digital First Sale rights

Another potentially disruptive idea for information ecosystems is that of the Digital First Sale as a result of provable ownership and digital scarcity. A rights management system built on blockchains is obvious and at the center of many current blockchain projects. Of interest to libraries, specifically, is the potential for these projects to be a lever for digital first sale rights. Jason Griffey is in the process of researching such an argument with an internationally-regarded copyright expert, and will be working on a paper arguing for such over the summer 2017. While DRM of any sort is not desirable, if by using blockchain-driven DRM we trade for the ability to have recognized digital first sale rights, it may be a worthy bargain for libraries.

For example:

https://decent.ch/en/decent-use-case-for-e-book-blockchain-distribution

Connect to a network of libraries/universities

Libraries and universities might use the blockchain for the Inter-Planetary File System (IPFS), a peer to peer protocol for a future Internet that uses bitTorrent, GIT and Blockchain. IPFS circumvents the gatekeeping of ISPs and large Internet companies. The system would need seeders on the Internet to keep copies of websites on their computers. A network of libraries/universities could serve to validate the credentials of a given copy of any website–similar to what miners do for BitCoin.

Support community-based collections

A protocol for supporting community-based collections and borrowing could extend the traditional library collection beyond its walls into the community. Libraries could deploy a blockchain-based system layered with “smart contract” code to facilitate the indexing and sharing of community items (tools, cars, expertise) in a sharing network. The blockchain would govern who has borrowed items, who originally loaned them, etc. This could be a partnership with software developers and businesses.

Host digital peer-to-peer sharing

Library facilitation of peer-to-peer sharing beyond just books through blockchain technology could help members of the community authenticate the availability of different tools or services for a more efficient sharing economy.

Facilitate partnerships across centers/organizations

Libraries can partner with museums, universities, and government agencies to share MARC records, authority control, and user-generated content through a blockchain framework.

Reexamine expectations for ways public libraries contribute to city service

Examination of civic innovations using blockchain technology and development of a rationale for why the library could be an ideal home for such initiatives. Libraries have strong community trust and citizens will connect the purpose of libraries to the goals of these new innovations.

Give badges for skills training

Blockchain could support “badging” for skills acquired through training. Libraries could authenticate the content of personal skills portfolios.

Future of Libraries 

The American Library Association’s Center for the Future of Libraries explains blockchain (with information from The Economist, Fast Company, Forbes, and other expert sources) http://www.ala.org/tools/future/trends/blockchain

Blockchain for Law Libraries (Debbie Ginsberg)

http://blog.cssis.org/2017/09/08/blockchain-for-law-libraries/

Blockchain 3.0 or Web 3.NO? (Debbie Ginsberg)

http://blogs.kentlaw.iit.edu/islat/2017/10/30/blockchain-3-0-web-3-no/

An Introduction to the Blockchain and Its Implications for Libraries and Medicine (Matthew B. Hoy and Tara J. Brigham)

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02763869.2017.1332261


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[1] “Blockchain Revolution & Higher Education” Educause Review. March/April 2017

[2] Digital Credential Systems “Credentials, Reputation, and the Blockchain” Educause Review. Monday, April 27, 2017