Your Name and Title: Kris Joseph, MA/MLIS Candidate

Library, School, or Organization Name: University of Alberta

Co-Presenter Name(s): N/A

Area of the World from Which You Will Present: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Language in Which You Will Present: English

Target Audience(s): Anyone interested in the application of blockchain technology to libraries

Short Session Description (one line): Are blockchains really the best solution for the challenges faced by libraries, museums and archives? This session is a critical examination of decentralized ledgers as a fit-for-purpose tool for libraries.

Full Session Description (as long as you would like):

Interest in decentralized technologies and blockchains has exploded in recent years: cynically, this interest correlates closely to the price of Bitcoin, as suggested by data from Google Trends. A technology that was initially created to disrupt centralized monetary systems (Nakamoto, 2008) is now a panacea that can absolve humanity of the need for trust and state-based governance (Atzori, 2017; Thornton, 2017). Above the tumult of gushing blockchain discourse and the ongoing evolution of blockchain technologies are voices like that of Kai Stinchcombe (2017, 2018) who claim that blockchains do not solve any problem at all.

Of course, blockchains are not monolithic. There are varying models for transaction verification and consensus (Zheng, Xie, Dai, Chen, & Wang, 2017); purpose-built blockchains and general-purpose platforms (Wood, 2018); and meta-blockchain technologies intended to facilitate the movement of state information and data between different implementations (Poon & Buterin, 2017). The question of what blockchains can and cannot do, in what context, is not simple to address.

Into this turbid ecosystem enters the humble library, an institution dedicated to the service of the public good in the form of equitable access to information resources. We are right to investigate this disruptive technology in an environment where blockchains have been applied to everything from identity management (https://sovrin.org/) and content distribution (https://lbry.io/) to digital rights management (https://www.rightsledger.io/) and data transparency (https://www.factom.com/). However, we must ask a fundamental question when considering the application of blockchains to libraries, museums, and archives: does a decentralized, trustless, unalterable ledger of data add value to our practice, or are other models still better-suited for the challenges we face?

Following the work of Raval (2016) and Gerard (2017), this session will suggest a set of criteria for assessing the suitability of blockchain technologies for specific purposes. These include eliminating single points of failure, resisting centralization of control, and enabling transactions between agents who do not have a foundation of trust.

This work is a component of my Master’s thesis, just getting underway, which explores the suitability of blockchain technology for shared library cataloging.

Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session:
N/A

References:

Atzori, M. (2017). Blockchain technology and decentralized governance: is the state still necessary? Journal of Governance and Regulation, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.22495/jgr_v6_i1_p5

Gerard, D. (2017). Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum and Smart Contracts. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Nakamoto, S. (2008, October 31). Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. Retrieved from https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

Poon, J., & Buterin, V. (2017, August 11). Plasma: Scalable Autonomous Smart Contracts. Retrieved from http://plasma.io/plasma.pdf

Raval, S. (2016). Decentralized Applications: Harnessing Bitcoin’s Blockchain Technology (First edition). Sebastopol, California: O’Reilly Media.

Stinchcombe, K. (2017, December 22). Ten years in, nobody has come up with a use for blockchain. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://hackernoon.com/ten-years-in-nobody-has-come-up-with-a-use-c...

Stinchcombe, K. (2018, April 5). Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://medium.com/@kaistinchcombe/decentralized-and-trustless-cryp...

Thornton, J. (2017). Blockchain on the books: If trust and transactions are a major part of an organisation’s work, it could benefit from secure shared records created using blockchain technology. Public Finance, (9), 43–43.

Wood, G. (2018, April 7). Ethereum: A Secure Decentralised Generalised Transaction Ledger. Retrieved from https://github.com/ethereum/yellowpaper

Zheng, Z., Xie, S., Dai, H., Chen, X., & Wang, H. (2017). An Overview of Blockchain Technology: Architecture, Consensus, and Future Trends (pp. 557–564). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/BigDataCongress.2017.85

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