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What is Blockchain Technology?

Have you heard the term blockchain and wondered what it meant? It’s a brilliant concept when explained properly, and Stephen Sawyer of Narritiv (an innovation lab created by Access Copyright) explained it properly, in a recent Special Libraries Association (SLA) Toronto Chapter seminar on “Blockchain Technology & Smart Contracts.”

Stephen began by discussing Bitcoin, the first and most successful blockchain application, noting that Bitcoin and blockchain are not the same thing.

Bitcoin and Blockchain
Bitcoin is a digital asset, a token representing currency, a cryptocurrency, that can be traded in a system of digital financial transactions (a blockchain), peer to peer, without a centralized bank.

Stephen explained that a certain number of approved transactions within a time period form a block, and the blocks are sequenced chronologically to form a chain, so blockchain.

Blockchain has potential applications for information professionals, including in records management and in library resource (such as eBooks) sharing. As Stephen pointed out, blockchains are about transactions, and so are libraries. Particularly intriguing for my own work, blockchain may have implications for scholarly journal article sharing and distribution (which is where it suddenly made sense to me why Access Copyright was interested). I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it.

Here are selected resources to learn more.

For Starters

Guardian Animations: Bitcoin Explained and Made Simple

  • This short (3:24) animation touches on many of the ideas mentioned in Stephen’s excellent presentation. (Furthermore, it suggests that you can buy pints in London with Bitcoin. Note to self to look into that next time, for research purposes.)
  • Also from The Guardian, Blockchain is This Year’s Buzzword – But Can it Outlive the Hype? (January 30, 2018)

TED Talks

Dan Tapscott on How the Blockchain is Changing Money and Business (18:49)

Bettina Warburg on How the Blockchain will Radically Transform the Economy (14:57)

The What, How, and Why of Blockchain for Libraries

  • A 2016 presentation (53:02) by Jason Griffey for METRO Libraries of New York City on possible ways that blockchain technology could be used for libraries.

Additional Reading

The following links are from the SLA Philadelphia & Pittsburgh Chapters’ Blockchain Bibliography (courtesy of SLA Philadelphia President Elect Leigh Milligan).

Blockchain from the Center for the Future of Libraries, an initiative of the American Library Association. How it’s developing and why it matters. Blockchain as a future trend among others to which libraries should pay attention, including gamification, virtual reality, and the internet of things.

The Truth About Blockchain from Harvard Business Review, by Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani. Includes a description of five basic principles underlying blockchain technology: distributed database, peer-to-peer transmission, transparency with pseudonymity, irreversibility of records, and computational logic.

What is Blockchain Technology? A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners from Blockgeeks, featuring some helpful infographics.

What is Bitcoin? What is Blockchain? on the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering website, by Eliezer Kanal.

How Blockchain Just May Transform Online Copyright Protection on the Above the Law website, by Tom Kulik.

Blockchain: A Technical Primer from the Deloitte Insights website.


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