Staying Current with Disruptive Issues and Technologies: Beacons, Blockchain, Privacy, Wearables


Published: May 26, 2017 by Sue Alman

Urban or rural, public or private, large or small, libraries are living in a moment in which they are juxtaposed between their traditional role as a respected historical institution and their emerging role as a platform for progress. In an age where innovation occurs at the speed of thought, how can libraries embrace technology as well as employ it to build stronger communities? (Excerpt from The Aspen Institute – Libraries in the Exponential Age: Moving from the Edge of Innovation to the Center of Community, 2016.)

Take a minute to really think about the quote above and what it means for our profession. The landscape is changing rapidly all around us—physically, virtually, politically, economically, educationally, and technologically. The SJSU iSchool faculty members continue to be early adopters of new educational pedagogies and technologies that help to prepare our students entering the information profession. There are many examples of relevant and exciting new courses in our curriculum covering topics such as political advocacy, public communications campaign, RDA, social network management, Scratch, Gamifying, Cybersecurity, and the Maker Movement, and they are offered in virtual spaces that include video presentations, asynchronous voice conversations among faculty and students, blogs, and virtual worlds. However, topics that are current this term may be outmoded tomorrow.  How do we prepare ourselves and our students to watch the horizon and utilize it for the betterment of the communities we serve?

Many of the courses focus on strategic planning and forecasting methods that provide a guide for organizational direction. Additionally, students are encouraged to keep up with the literature and network with experts in their areas of specialization. Students enrolled in the Emerging Future: Technology Issues and Trends course follow current trends and flip new publications and reports to a series of community Flipboard Magazines. Topics that were popular this term included Machine Learning and Open Access Repositories, AI, Blockchain and BeaconTechnologies, Privacy, Intellectual Freedom, Transportation, and Wearables. Several examples of their work were added to the Student Showcase housed on the iSchool website.

Blockchain technology has the potential to enhance the role played by libraries within their communities, however, there are many questions yet to be answered about how specifically blockchain technology might be used and how much value it would add to library services and the communities they serve. In the first few months of 2017 there have been several major conferences and projects that addressed the ways blockchain technology can be integrated into the public sectors.,  In a May 2017 Gartner, Inc. webinar, Enterprise Blockchain: Current Pitfalls, Future Potential, the following statement points to the uncertainty of how this technology can be harnessed. (Gartner, Inc. Website)

Blockchain enthusiasm continues unabated across many organizations in multiple industry sectors. The potential is undeniable, but there is still much misunderstanding about this emerging technology. The result is significant misalignment between solution requirements and technology capabilities. (Gartner, Inc. Website)

There are instances, however, of blockchain technology projects being developed in areas where libraries could also have a role. The recent Smart Dubai and Illinois Blockchain Initiative projects involving community and state governments provide models that warrant further exploration. Smart Dubai intends to achieve the goal of  “becoming the world’s first blockchain powered city by 2020”  by migrating diverse agencies such as “Dubai Tourism, the Dubai Health Authority and the Dubai Police.”  IBM and ConsenSys will collaborate on this initiative. The Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) formed a consortium of state and county agencies to explore the uses of blockchain and distributed ledgers.

The goal of the initiative is to determine if this groundbreaking technology can be leveraged to create more efficient, integrated and trusted state services, while providing a welcoming environment for the Blockchain community. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services, redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust, and make a leading contribution to the State’s digital transformation. (Blockchain in Illinois)

Libraries and information centers need to take a proactive role in these early discussions in order to secure a seat at the table when community decisions are discussed and implemented. Including libraries in these collaborative projects could add new dimensions and roles for library/community partnerships. Librarians bring expertise in IT, community trust, and information organization and distribution, and blockchain technology has the potential to enhance the role played by libraries within their communities.

An advisory group, convened at our iSchool has members from the ALA, Aspen Institute, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, American Planning Association, and other organizations, has been working for the past 6 months on developing ideas for blockchain usage in libraries with the hope that IMLS will fund a national forum to investigate the feasibility of community partnerships using blockchain technology.  Look here for updates on the blockchain project!

Additional References:

DC Blockchain Summit, Chamber of Digital Commerce, March 15-17, 2017.

Business of Blockchain Conference, MIT Media Lab, April 18, 2017.

“Smart Dubai Office and 1776 Partner to Launch First Blockchain Challenge in Dubai.” January 2017.


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