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  • Writer's pictureMadhumita Chakraborty

Blockchain-Based Digital Libraries: Reshaping Access to Knowledge

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Blockchain technology is primarily utilized to facilitate secure digital trading by validating and securely storing transaction records in a decentralized and chronologically ordered manner. Nonetheless, the potential applications of blockchain technology extend beyond trading. Its inherent redundancy and distribution make it challenging for transactions to be counterfeited, duplicated, or manipulated. This article delves into the functioning of blockchain technology and explores its current and future innovative applications within the realm of libraries.


Blockchain technology is poised to revolutionize the way we access and exchange information. By leveraging a combination of cryptographic techniques, peer-to-peer networks, smart contracts, and consensus mechanisms, it introduces a novel form of database. While blockchain's association with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum is well-known, its applications extend far beyond digital trading. Industries such as finance, medicine, and government are actively investing in and exploring the transformative potential of blockchain.

Blockchain ensures secure digital trading by verifying and storing transaction records in a distributed and time-stamped manner. It goes beyond recording the details of participants, dates, and contractual aspects of transactions. This technology holds promise not only in the financial domain but also in various non-financial domains, like education and specifically in libraries. As a catalyst for development, blockchain possesses unique qualities. It operates in a distributed and open manner, as opposed to being centralized and hidden. It fosters inclusivity rather than exclusivity, ensures immutability instead of alterability, and provides a high level of security. These attributes grant blockchain unprecedented capabilities to create and exchange value within society.

How Blockchain Technology works

In general, a block mainly consists of three things: Data, Hash and Hash of the previous block. So every block in a chain consists of the cryptographic hash of its own as well as of the previous one to stay connected in that particular chain. A hash is a unique alphanumeric number which is being calculated based on Data of its own, a hash of the previous one and its timestamp. In order to add a block into the chain, one must create a new wallet by generating a public key and private key. This key is generated through asymmetric encryption. The public key can be shared to have a transaction, but the private key as name suggests is meant to be kept secret. When any transaction happens on the Blockchain that transaction is recorded in a block and that block must be validated before adding it into the chain. The authenticity of a block must be verified through a consensus algorithm (proof of stack) in which the majority of nodes as well as the nodes having the highest stack in the chain of the distributed network, must validate the block before adding to it in a chain. After the validation of the block, a unique and identifying code is generated which is called a hash. By doing this, we do not need any third-party interference to validate or to do transactions.

how blockchain technology works

Features of Blockchain

Blockchain is a decentralized and distributed ledger technology that allows multiple parties to maintain a shared and tamper-proof record of transactions.

Here are some of the key features of blockchain:

Decentralization: Blockchain operates on a peer-to-peer network where multiple participants, known as nodes, maintain and validate the ledger collectively. There is no central authority controlling the network, making it decentralized and resistant to single points of failure.

Transparency: The ledger in a blockchain is transparent and accessible to all participants. Each transaction is recorded in a block and added to the chain, creating an immutable history. This transparency enhances trust and accountability among participants.

Security: Blockchain uses advanced cryptographic techniques to secure the data stored in the ledger. Transactions are verified and validated through consensus mechanisms, such as proof-of-work (PoW) or proof-of-stake (PoS), ensuring the integrity and immutability of the recorded information.

Immutability: Once a transaction is recorded on the blockchain, it is extremely difficult to alter or delete. The blocks are linked together using cryptographic hashes, creating an immutable chain of transactions. This feature enhances trust and prevents fraud or unauthorized modifications.

Distributed Consensus: Blockchain employs consensus algorithms to agree on the validity and order of transactions. Different consensus mechanisms, such as PoW, PoS, or Byzantine Fault Tolerance (BFT), ensure that all participants reach a consensus on the state of the ledger, even in the presence of malicious actors.

Smart Contracts: Smart contracts are self-executing agreements written in code that automatically execute predefined conditions and actions when triggered by events or transactions. They enable the automation and facilitation of complex business processes, eliminating the need for intermediaries and reducing costs.

Privacy: While blockchain provides transparency, it also allows participants to maintain varying levels of privacy. Public blockchains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, make transaction details accessible to anyone, while private or permissioned blockchains restrict access to authorized participants.

Scalability: Traditional blockchain implementations, such as Bitcoin, have faced scalability challenges due to the consensus mechanisms and the need for all nodes to validate every transaction. However, various solutions and advancements, such as sharding, sidechains, and off-chain protocols, are being developed to improve blockchain scalability.

Interoperability: Blockchain technology has the potential to enable interoperability between different networks and systems. Efforts are underway to develop standards and protocols that facilitate the seamless exchange of information and assets across multiple blockchain platforms.

Tokenization: Blockchain allows the representation of real-world assets or digital assets as tokens on the blockchain. These tokens can be easily transferred, traded, and fractionalized, enabling new possibilities for asset ownership, investment, and liquidity.

These features collectively contribute to the unique characteristics of blockchain technology, making it suitable for various applications beyond cryptocurrencies, such as supply chain management, financial services, healthcare, voting systems, and more.

Advantages of Blockchain

Blockchain technology offers numerous advantages that have made it increasingly popular across various industries. Here are some of the key advantages of blockchain:

Settlement in real time: Blockchain allows for real-time settlement of transactions without the need for intermediaries, such as banks or clearinghouses. This reduces the time and cost associated with traditional transaction settlement processes, which can often take days or even weeks.

Cost saving: By eliminating intermediaries and streamlining processes, blockchain significantly reduces transaction costs. It removes the need for third-party verification, auditing, and reconciliation, resulting in cost savings for businesses and individuals alike.

User pseudonymity: Blockchain provides a level of privacy and pseudonymity to its users. While the transactions are transparent and traceable, the identities of the participants can remain anonymous or pseudo-anonymous, depending on the blockchain design. This feature offers privacy benefits while maintaining transparency and trust.

Security and resilience: Blockchain employs advanced cryptographic techniques and a decentralized network architecture to ensure the security and integrity of data. The use of consensus mechanisms, such as proof of work or proof of stake, makes it extremely difficult for malicious actors to manipulate or tamper with the data stored on the blockchain. Additionally, the decentralized nature of blockchain makes it highly resistant to single points of failure or attacks.

Immutability: Once data is recorded on the blockchain, it becomes nearly impossible to alter or delete. This immutability feature ensures the integrity and trustworthiness of the data stored on the blockchain. It is particularly valuable for applications where tamper-proof records and audit trails are crucial, such as supply chain management, voting systems, or financial transactions.

These advantages make blockchain a transformative technology with a wide range of applications. It has the potential to revolutionize industries such as finance, supply chain management, healthcare, and more by improving efficiency, reducing costs, enhancing security, and enabling new business models. However, it is important to consider the limitations and challenges associated with blockchain, such as scalability, energy consumption, and regulatory considerations, when implementing it in real-world scenarios.

Utilizing Blockchain Technology in Libraries

digital rights management

The active participation of librarians is vital in influencing the application of this technology across content creation, storage, and distribution. Failing to do so may expose them to potential disruptions. In the not-so-distant future, we might witness the emergence of decentralized libraries, where patrons' records are securely stored on a blockchain instead of a centralized database maintained by the library. This innovative approach grants users the autonomy to manage their circulation records and borrowing histories. Moreover, it paves the way for new economies to flourish, where library users can be rewarded for willingly sharing their data with libraries. The advent of blockchain technology has sparked a wave of transformation within libraries, empowering them to harness its potential for their benefit.

a) Promoting the Publication of E-Books and Safeguarding Digital First Sale Rights

In the realm of e-books, the presence of third-party interference often hinders libraries and users alike, as they are compelled to pay for entire packages rather than only the portions they require. Moreover, authors often lack complete control over their creations. However, thanks to the emergence of Publica, a platform that enables anyone to publish their book, these issues can be overcome. Here's how it works: authors can utilize smart contracts to outline the terms and conditions for utilizing their books. These smart contracts generate an Ethereum network, allowing individuals to purchase books using book tokens. Publica introduces a novel feature called crowdfunding or Book ICO, wherein creators can presell their tokens, thus raising funds to cover initial expenses. This innovative approach empowers authors, readers, and libraries by providing greater flexibility, control, and financial opportunities within the e-book landscape.

b) Blockchain-Based Network for Research Institutions

Private blockchain technology offers a groundbreaking solution for sharing research among institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). It enables the publication of essential research materials such as grey literature and lab papers that don't fit traditional publishing formats. Through a private blockchain, researchers can share their inventions and findings with every IIT, fostering collaboration and minimizing parallel research efforts. The blockchain ensures data immutability, eliminating concerns about digital rights, data counterfeiting, and data erasure. This transformative approach promotes seamless knowledge exchange, collaborative add-ons, and efficient research dissemination. It empowers researchers to focus on their work while facilitating universal access to research, driving innovation and collective progress in an environment that values intellectual property protection and data integrity.

c) Peer-to-Peer or Library-to-User Lending

One of the most promising applications of blockchain technology is its ability to facilitate book lending without the need for physical library visits. LibChain, a Distributed Library Management System built on blockchain, revolutionizes the process of borrowing books from libraries. With LibChain, patrons can lend books directly to other library users without having to return them to the library physically. The only requirement is that the patron must be a valid member of the library. Furthermore, LibChain supports inter-library borrowing, enabling seamless sharing of resources between libraries. The ultimate goal of LibChain is to enhance popular library services and create an ecosystem where patrons can access their desired services efficiently, comfortably, and securely. This innovative approach transforms the traditional library experience, making book lending more convenient and expanding access to library resources.

d) Digital Rights Management for Scholarly Publications

The current publishing model for academic papers is heavily publisher-centric, with publishers holding all the rights and creators often remaining obscure. Orvium, however, presents a solution to address these issues by leveraging a cutting-edge blockchain platform for scholarly publishing. On Orvium, anyone can register using a user-friendly graphical interface (GUI), and scholars can utilize their ORCiD ID for registration. When creators publish their work on Orvium, they receive tokens that can be used to facilitate the peer review process, which can be conducted in either a blind or open manner.

The tamper-resistant nature of blockchain technology also proves beneficial for storing information in libraries, and its potential extends to science communication and publication. Blockchain can create time-stamped, verifiable versions of journal articles, revolutionizing the way scientific findings are recorded and shared. Furthermore, blockchain technology finds utility in the realm of Digital Rights Management, providing a unique and accessible record that ensures proof of scarcity for digital resources.

Blockchain technology has emerged as a reliable and decentralized method for confirming transactions, verifying their content, and recording the date and time of submission without the need for third-party verification. While still in its early stages, blockchain holds great potential for various fields, including libraries and smart libraries. Libraries, which are responsible for gathering, storing, and disseminating authoritative information, can benefit from blockchain's distributed and time stamped approach, enabling verification of creation and ownership records. However, the implementation of new technologies in library and academic environments tends to be slower compared to the tech world.

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Jun 07, 2023
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