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The Blockchain Buzz – What You Need to Know About Blockchain and Libraries

You may have heard mention of the word “blockchain” in a variety of industries lately, even libraries. So, what do you need to know about it? We thought we’d speak to Softlink IC’s General Manager, John Crook to find out more about blockchain, what it can do, and how it may impact libraries.

The term Blockchain is used more and more these days. What is the non-technical explanation of it?

The “block” represents digital information that is stored in a database, “the chain”. Blockchain is literally a chain of these blocks. Each block stores data, information about where it is in the chain, and some checks that prove that the block has not been tampered with. This is one of the first important concepts. The chain is a tamper-proof ledger. Once a block is confirmed and added to the chain, it cannot be undone.

A lot of people associate blockchain with Bitcoin but this is just one practical application of blockchain. With a range of businesses now looking at utilizing applications built on the technology, it could be the dawn of a new revolution that could change the way we do business. This may have as big an impact on businesses as email and the internet have had over the last couple of decades.

What do you think librarians and knowledge managers should be looking to understand about blockchain technology?

The openness, security, and privacy that blockchain offers means it will potentially impact many industries. A greater understanding can guide library staff toward seeing the potential of blockchain in librarianship and in knowledge management.

Librarians and blockchain have a natural affinity. One example may be in digitizing work.

A common way to prove you possess a digital work such as a contract, work of art, or a media recording, is to make a unique electronic fingerprint from it. This digital fingerprint can only ever be produced again from the exact same digital work. When you store this digital fingerprint and associate it with the digital work, you have proof that you possessed the digital work at that time.

Blockchain is the perfect public place to store these digital fingerprints. It is a forensically provable link that you possessed the digital work at a specific time.

What are some examples of practical blockchain use for libraries?

Currently, there are a number of examples in the application of blockchain including interlibrary loans, universal library cards, and management of digital works to name a few.

Strong encryption and security features of blockchain have attracted great interest from both government and corporate libraries.

The areas where blockchain can bring advantages are those that have a need for security, privacy, or efficiency. There are many uses being developed for business around this technology. A number have applications in the library and knowledge management world.

Some may be cautious and skeptical about the uses of blockchain. What would you say to them?

I’d say that’s right, you should be. However, you don’t want to be left behind either. Right now, blockchain is being implemented in almost every sector. We are seeing it in the legal, health, supply chain, and government sectors. Everyone wants to gain benefits from this rapidly evolving technology. So, find some low risk applications and see if blockchain makes sense for your business.

What factors should libraries or businesses consider before implementing a blockchain project?

As with any new technology, research is the key. Make sure that the basics such as security, privacy, total cost of ownership and a real business edge can be gained. Also consider the cost of doing nothing and finding that others may start pulling ahead.

Realizing the potential of blockchain for your business will take more than just the technology itself. It requires a trusted partner to go on the journey with you and present you with blockchain use cases and business applications.

What is Softlink Information Centres doing with blockchain?

As leaders in knowledge management, Softlink is always exploring new technologies and how they can help our customers achieve their goals.

Softlink’s R&D team have already demonstrated proof of possession using blockchain that is suitable for our Liberty and illumin products. As soon as you store a digital asset in Softlink’s Liberty library management system, or receive an inquiry in Softlink’s illumin Research Management System; you can forensically prove what you had and exactly when you had it. There are many applications for this, for example storing contracts, creative works, photos, certificates, and trade secrets.

If you have a preferred blockchain solution, or would like Softlink to integrate with other trusted service providers, get in touch. We would be happy to partner with you.