New technologies and decentralization

I’ve recently discovered Peter Van Garderen‘s thoughtful piece exploring the concept of  “Decentralized Autonomous Collections”.


This comment by Van Garderen piqued my interest immediately:

I believe that the emergence of blockchain technology and the concept of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, alongside the maturation of peer-to-peer networks, open library technology architectures, and open-source software practices offers a new approach to the issues of control, privilege, and sustainability that are inherent to many centralized information collections.

This technology and how it is potentially implemented has the potential to disrupt established practice of “exclusive custodians” curating information objects, instead allowing for decentralised control by multiple parties.

This in turn has the potential to disrupt established practice in our memory institutions such as libraries and archives. However, instead of seeing this technology as potentially causing displacement, and even replacing these institutions, I find it exciting to take these ideas and use them to think about how we can transform the traditional roles of custodians and curators into new roles, possibly even as “thought leaders”, as Van Garderen puts forward. Librarians and archivists have in-depth knowledge about how to manage information objects through their entire (continuing) lifecycle, so it stands to reason that they can take this knowledge and incorporate its basic principles and ethical obligations successfully into new ways of thinking and doing, particularly in our current climate that sees increasing surveillance by government, and the growing power and reach of commercial monopolies moving into cultural heritage and knowledge sustainability spaces.

The concept of decentralised autonomous collections brings up interesting new ideas about how to deal with encryption, rights and identity management, and for ensuring the authenticity of digital objects. It also opens up exciting new ideas for implementing digital preservation systems, workflows, and processes in our cultural and research institutions.

For more interesting reading in this area I’m also looking at Denis Nazarov‘s “Bringing Cultural Metadata to Life“, which explores ways in which to simplify and consolidate open cultural data through an open source, decentralized, peer-to-peer network.

And oh, how I wish I was in Vancouver, Canada, on 17 May for ‘The Blockchain and Digital Preservation“!







The National Library of Australia deserves better than this.

This is a backwards step that encourages a return to siloed, hard-to-find resources – not just for Australians, but for a growing worldwide cohort of supporters.

For the last year and a half, I was working to help support the collection and preservation of public policy research for a digital repository called Australian Policy Online (APO) based at Swinburne University of Technology.

The Australian National Innovation and Science Agenda is one of the many resources catalogued at APO. Being exposed to national agendas like this one has made me highly aware that a government that cannot support a significant service like Trove is not a government that supports innovation.

The National Innovation and Science Agenda states that innovation is:


…not just about new ideas, products and business models; innovation is also about creating a culture where we embrace risk, move quickly to back good ideas and learn from mistakes.


In December 2015 I was able to visit the Trove headquarters at the National Library of Australia. I got to see innovative projects being created with passion, dedication, and buckets of enthusiasm by a very small team more than willing to look outside the box when faced with inevitable digital challenges. Challenges that arise when you attempt to aggregate digital content from many disparate cultural sources and systems.

Tim Sherratt points to the value of Trove as being not just a portal, but a platform:


Portals are for visiting, platforms are for building on. All those hundreds of aggregated collections, all those millions of digitised newspaper articles are available in a form computers can understand via an API (Application Programming Interface). That means clever developers, innovative industries, hackers and tinkerers can take Trove’s data and BUILD NEW THINGS. BOOM! Ideas have to start somewhere, and Trove offers plenty to play with.


This lack of support from our political leadership signals a crisis for our nation’s knowledge workers. It will make access to information even harder for those in remote cities and towns, or those who are disadvantaged by social status. It will mean that some of our brightest minds who use the technical capabilities of Trove to improve society will be hampered.

If our government – our leaders – do not recognise the invaluable gateway to knowledge that Trove is, we must make some noise as cultural heroes and make them realise that knowledge is power, and those of us who can wield it will not go out without a fight.