Tag Archives: decentralization

Blockchain & Libraries from Carnegie Mellon – Qatar

This past month I traveled to a place I wasn’t sure I’d ever visit…Doha, Qatar. I was brought to Doha for an awesome reason, to deliver the Gloriana St. Clair Distinguished Lecture in 21st Century Librarianship. The topic that I was asked to prepare remarks on was Blockchain (which I chose to broadly construe as decentralized technologies) and how it (they) might matter to the information professions in the near future. The actual title of my talk was Decentralization & Blockchain: Possibilities & Problematizations for Libraries, and the goal was to explain the technology, but also to bring to light potentials and risks that surround blockchain and decentralization technologies as they relate to libraries and information systems. There is a huge amount of potential in this technology, beyond the fintech hype and insanity of the moment. There is also risk, especially for organizations that are centered around the very notion of centralization of resources.

Here’s my lecture, along with the accompanying slides below it. If your consortium or company is interested in possibilities for blockchain in the information space and are looking for a consultant to help you understand it, I’m available.



A Special Obligation to the Future

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, writing, and editing in the last few months that all revolved around libraries and the future of the Internet. It seems more and more obvious to me that there’s an opportunity for libraries as participants in the growing number of decentralized services on the Internet. These services are multiplying, and it seems to me that the future of communication is likely to be a better one if distributed services were more normalized on the Internet.

I’ve decided to share two essays about this topic. The first is
How Libraries Can Save the Internet of Things from the Web’s Centralized Fate over at BoingBoing, which is the highly edited and polished version of the much longer A Special Obligation to the Future over on Medium. Normally I wouldn’t share two similar pieces, but I feel like the shorter BoingBoing essay is the compressed and focused “official” version and there were things that I liked about the longer, more emotive original. So I’m sharing both here, and you can comment on, share, and critique either or both as you’d like.

I’m hoping these serve as conversation starters, and possibly as inflection points for thinking about the future of libraries in terms of their role as pillars of democracy and freedom. I’m going to be doing more work on this topic, speaking and writing and organizing over the next several months. If you’re interested in helping out and lending a hand, let me know.

And if you’re interested in decentralization in general, I highly recommend checking out Yochai Benkler’s work, especially Degrees of Freedom, Dimensions of Power. Also recommended is Phil Windley’s Decentralization is Hard, Maybe Too Hard.

They are both right, decentralization is amazingly difficult to pull off. This is why it needs help in the form of library infrastructure, political capital, and skills.

Thanks especially to David Weinberger, who was instrumental in both the conception and the editing of this piece. Also thanks to everyone who read and commented on the piece as it developed, you are all awesome.