Catagora: Shared Library Cataloguing on the Ethereum Blockchain

  • Author / Creator
    Joseph, Kris
  • The 2008 debut of Bitcoin marked the first large-scale implementation of blockchain technology, and its decentralized approach to monetary systems has since been abstracted to more generalized purposes like distributed computing. Platforms like Ethereum, which function as a global, decentralized computing and data storage system, promise to bring the cost of decentralized knowledge production in line with the efficiencies afforded by the centralized, integrated computing systems that currently dominate the knowledge economy.

    Blockchain technologies have been investigated for a wide range of information management purposes, but their exploration within the realm of library and information studies has largely been nascent. Though many applications within the field have been envisioned, few have been explored in depth. Among the many functions performed in the field of librarianship, the work of cataloguers—which has always been performed in a decentralized manner—represents an intriguing use case. A review of current shared-cataloguing practices reveals that catalogues have become largely-centralized, divorced from public participation, dominated by an ethos of efficiency at the cost of quality, and essentially unaltered since the shift from physical to electronic catalogue storage more than 40 years ago.

    The evolution of blockchain technologies, paired with an intentional approach to shared catalogues that is open for use, transparency, and public participation, is explored in a conceptual framework and design based on the Ethereum platform. A theoretical design scheme grounded in the affordances of Ethereum, shaped by the principles of open source software development, and guided by the best practices of existing social information production systems results in a proposal for Catagora: an open source, open-for-use, transparent and participatory shared-cataloguing platform that reverses the trend towards architectural and political centralization and promises novel catalogue features such as complete revision history and distributed collaboration on the content and quality of catalogue entries.

    Blockchain technology, alone, cannot disrupt shared cataloguing practices; such a shift involves the voluntary and eager participation of cataloguers and members of the public in order to sustain and grow the system. The Catagora design concept presented in this thesis incorporates accessibility, collaboration and reputational systems that are intended to foster open participation, but these alone cannot guarantee a thriving, shared-cataloguing alternative to existing systems. Further exploration, in the form of a live implementation, is warranted; and lessons from existing large-scale library technology projects suggest that a centrally-coordinated implementation, targeting key cataloguing partners and driven by a passionate project champion, may provide a more complete picture of the blockchain’s potential to support open, shared cataloguing for the benefit of information seekers.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts/Master of Library and Information Studies
  • DOI
  • License
    Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.