Can libraries and archives benefit from the decentralized web?

By Michael Della Bitta, March 14, 2022.

Dear Friends of DPLA,

In DPLA’s 2019 strategy, we articulated a three-pronged mission-driven approach that guides all of our work. One of these guidelines is our optimism about and belief in the transformational potential of technology for unleashing knowledge and enabling creativity. And, furthermore, we believe that libraries and cultural heritage institutions can and must be active participants as these technologies are created, shared, and used to ensure they are harnessed for the greater good. 

We believe that right now, the most important and potentially transformational technology being created is the decentralized web. Over the past several years, we’ve observed as what began as a murky and abstract concept has begun to take shape. At DPLAfest in 2019, we heard from Matt Zumwalt about the value propositions and use cases for applying the decentralized web to data stewardship. Later that year, our director of technology Michael Della Bitta and executive director John Bracken contributed a chapter to the ALA-published ebook Blockchain about the potential use of blockchain technology for the storage of digital-first content. And, most recently, our technology team worked in partnership with Protocol Labs, and with the collaboration of NARA, on an experiment to test a workflow in which DPLA provides a conduit of openly licensed content to IPFS and the Filecoin storage network. This gave us an opportunity to investigate how distributed web technologies could help make preservation easier and more efficient for a diverse range of organizations, particularly those representing communities who have not been equitably afforded the opportunity to participate in cultural memory efforts. You can read more about this work here.

DPLA is particularly interested in the potential of this technology to help us share our records in a new digital environment built for fixity and permanence; the potential for disaster recovery and continuity of access; and co-designing partnerships to center the preservation needs of underrepresented, under-resourced communities.

Over the past several months, we’ve engaged with nearly a dozen of our partners about what they see as the major opportunities, as well as potential risks, that blockchain technology and the decentralized web present for cultural heritage organizations. We bring to these ongoing conversations about how best to steer and harness this technology some big questions, including ones we are hearing from our partners, about environmental impact; privacy and security; and what decision-making and governance look like in a distributed environment. 

We believe that librarians and archivists are well-positioned to help define the answers to these questions and that in order to ensure that these new technologies truly help make the web more inclusive and more useful to our common goal of equitable access to knowledge for all, libraries and archives must take a leadership role in building this technology. 

These are some of the questions DPLA executive director John Bracken will discuss on March 15th with Kelsey Breseman from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative; Brewster Kahle of Internet Archive; and Yvonne Ng from WITNESS at Community Archiving on the Decentralized Web, a panel discussion presented by Filecoin Foundation about how Web3 technologies are enabling the preservation of information in new ways, and how this might benefit vulnerable or marginalized populations.

If you’re interested in joining our ongoing conversation on these topics, we invite you to our upcoming Network Brown Bag: Libraries, Archives, and the Decentralized Web on Thursday, April 28, at 1p ET, which we envision as an opportunity for all of us to share learnings and questions in a casual conversational format. Note that DPLA Network Brown Bags are held meeting style instead of webinar style to encourage sharing and the free exchange of ideas. You can register for the Brown Bag here

Hope to see you there,

Michael and Shaneé

Michael Della Bitta, Director of Technology, DPLA

Shaneé Yvette Murrain, Director of Community Engagement, DPLA