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Blockchain and the Information Professions

Introduction, Speculative Applications, and Research Materials


What follows is a sampling of speculative visions for how blockchain could support the core work of libraries — and potentially transform society. 

Blockchain is currently an unproven technology for the information profession, with many advocates, skeptics, and opponents. As a next step, models could be used to indicate if applications in LIS settings are feasible and scalable. 

Credentials for Displaced or Stateless Individuals

Societal changes have created groups of people who are away from their residency on a permanent or temporary basis due to homelessness, statelessness, employment, or travel. In most cases these circumstances prevent individuals from obtaining a library card, borrowing library materials, and utilizing other library services. Ideally, access to information as provided by libraries should move with these individuals (via a “universal” card), and the blockchain technology could be used to make that happen. 

Self-sovereign identity, as described in the following articles, is the concept at the center of this application.

How Blockchain Makes Self-Sovereign Identities Possible

The Identity Revolution: Self Sovereign Powered by Blockchain​

Facilitate Partnerships Across Centers and Organizations

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

Community-Based Collections

Community-based collections and borrowing could extend the traditional library collection beyond its walls into the community. Libraries might deploy a blockchain-based system layered with “smart contract” code to facilitate the indexing and sharing of community items — tools, cars, expertise — in a local network. The blockchain would govern who has borrowed items, who originally loaned them, and so forth.

Community-based collections could build off models like this:

What Is a Tool-Lending Library: Benefits & How to Start Your Own

Badges for Skills Training

Blockchain could support a “badging” system used to record and authenticate skills that patrons or staff acquire via training programs.

​Digital First Sale Rights

Blockchain could make true ownership of electronic materials possible. The purchaser of, say, an e-book could prove that the item belongs to them on a public blockchain, and could then sell or gift or loan it to someone else. That cannot be done as of right now; e-books are simply licensed and have DRM limitations that prevent transfer. Digital first sale — the concept behind signing over ownership — would need to be arbitrated in the courts, but if it were secured, it would be extremely beneficial to libraries.

Read more about the technology’s potential effects on e-publishing:

Can Blockchain Disrupt The E-Book Market? Two Startups Will Find Out

Blockchain and Potential Implications for International Book Publishing

Blockchain Technology May Lead to True E-book Ownership

Blockchain In Publishing: 8 Possible Use Cases

International Interlibrary Loan

Blockchain would lend itself well to international interlibrary loan as it makes foreign financial exchanges easier and because of the technology’s strong recordkeeping.​

For more on possible uses of blockchain in the information professions, visit the SJSU webpage on this topic.

What might a blockchain-powered world look like? The thinkers in these videos share their visions of what could be.

19 Industries The Blockchain Will Disrupt
by Future Thinkers

The Future of Universities in a Blockchain World 
by Diane Sieber

Decentralized Future: What Is It and How Do We Not Screw It Up?
by Juan Benet

The Next Web of Open, Linked Data
by Tim Berners-Lee