Blockchain and Ohio law

 

Blockchain by Frühstück from the Noun Project

In my capacity as the University’s Records Manager, I’m on a statewide group called the Ohio Electronic Records Committee (Ohio ERC). Ohio ERC consist of professionals from Ohio’s public entities (including archivists, record managers, IT professionals, lawyers) who have an interest in electronic records. We meet quarterly, and produce resources of interest to other public employees, such as best practices tip sheets based on Ohio-specific concerns and annual workshops. It’s a great way to stay up to date with what’s happening within state government, since what is decided in Columbus can impact records management at UC.

At our last meeting, the topic of blockchain in state government came up. It turns out that there was legislation in the last General Assembly concerning blockchain. You can see information about the bill here. Blockchain is a distributed digital ledger system that is protected through cryptographic measures, and which records all changes, transactions, and modifications to the file or object in question. Blockchain’s most famous implementation is the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. While there is a lot of tech futurist excitement about blockchain, many others caution blockchain suffers from a lack of uniform standards, and others criticize the technology’s voracious energy usage. The reason blockchain is associated with high levels of energy use is because significant computing resources are used to generate its cryptographic verification. As a result, “bitcoin mining” tends to take place in areas with the cheapest electricity. For some time, this included places with extremely cheap coal-generated electricity like China, but this may be changing as renewable sources of cheap power come online.
During the meeting, we took a look at the full text of the bill (SB 300). Something that jumped out to many of us in the room was the definition of blockchain. The bill defined it in the following manner:
“Blockchain technology” means distributed ledger technology that uses a distributed, decentralized, shared, and replicated ledger, which may be public or private, permissioned or permissionless, or driven by tokenized crypto economics or tokenless. The data on the ledger is protected with cryptography, is immutable and auditable, and provides an uncensored truth.”
As I read this, something seemed a little off – the language seemed a little too bombastic to be written by state legislators, which made me think it was likely a form of model legislation. So I did some searching, and found that indeed, the phrase “uncensored truth” was part of similar legislation introduced in at least two other states, including Arizona and Tennessee. In other words, SB300 was model legislation, though it still isn’t clear who is shopping this around to state legislators. In 2018, eighteen states had some kind of legislative activity related to blockchain.
As it turns out, SB 300 was not passed, however language pertaining to blockchain (minus some of the colorful descriptions like “uncensored truth”) was part of another bill and is now part of the Ohio Revised Code (i.e. state law). It is in the section pertaining to commercial code and electronic transactions:
“(G) “Electronic record” means a record created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means. A record or contract that is secured through blockchain technology is considered to be in an electronic form and to be an electronic record.
(H) “Electronic signature” means an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record . A signature that is secured through blockchain technology is considered to be in an electronic form and to be an electronic signature.”
Incidentally, earlier this month, a top aide of Governor Kasich (who recently left office due to term-limits) reportedly left state government “to work for a Cleveland tech company that’s developing ways to use blockchain to store and record government records.” It seems likely that we’re going to start hearing a lot more about blockchain in Ohio soon.

Announcing Katie Foran-Mulcahy as the Director of the CECH Library

Katie Foran-Mulcahy
Katie Foran-Mulcahy

On January 22, Katie Foran-Mulcahy started work as head of the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services (CECH) Library.

Katie is not new to the university. She began her tenure at UC Clermont in 2010 as a beginning librarian, assuming the position of interim library director in 2014.  Since then, she has focused on strategic planning and data-driven, student-centered facilities projects. Katie was appointed as library director in 2015, and awarded tenure and promotion to the rank of associate senior librarian in 2016.

“Katie’s background is an excellent fit for serving the needs of the CECH community and contributing to the University of Cincinnati Libraries’ strategic priorities,” said Brad Warren, associate dean of public services. “Her professional interests and publications revolve around librarian-faculty collaboration, teaching and instructional technology.”

Katie holds a Master of Science in Library Science and a BA in education from the University of Kentucky. She has a strong publication, presentation and teaching background in her various positions at UC Clermont where she made tremendous and significant accomplishments in improving the facilities, collections and services of the UC Clermont College Library. Katie also has relevant experience serving children and teens in her previous work in public libraries and as an instructional services librarian at Berea College.

“I am tremendously excited to contribute to the dynamic strategic direction of UC Libraries and to the vibrant CECH community, supporting their diverse student, faculty and program needs,” said Katie.

Welcome, Katie, in your new role as the head of the CECH Library!

Mark Chalmers Joins UC Libraries as Science and Engineering Librarian

Mark Chalmers began work in UC Libraries on Oct. 22 as the science and engineering librarian where he will develop research and instructional programs for the UC STEM populations: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. His work will include research consultations, teaching and workshops, collection development and liaison responsibility for designated science and engineering disciplines (to be announced at a future date).  Mark will also support new and emerging initiatives such as Research and Data Services, repository outreach and connecting the libraries to UC’s innovation agenda.

Mark received his MLIS in May 2018 from Kent State University, and he holds a BA in astrophysics from Ohio Wesleyan University. While at Kent State, Mark worked as a graduate assistant in Dr. Emad Khazraee’s Data Science Research Lab and completed projects in text mining and the analysis of Twitter feed data. While studying for his BA, he was active in undergraduate research, conference presentations and tutoring in physics and astronomy.

Welcome, Mark, to UC Libraries!

Erin Rinto Joins UC Libraries as Teaching and Research Librarian

Today, Erin Rinto began work at UC Libraries as the new teaching and research librarian in the Research and Teaching Services Department located in the Walter C. Langsam Library. Erin comes to UC from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where she was the teaching and learning librarian.  Over the past six years at UNLV, she worked to integrate information literacy outcomes into the general education program via sustainable, evidence-based approaches, thus providing her with extensive teaching and research experience. Erin’s primary responsibility will be working with the English Composition program, including serving on the cross-jurisdictional English Composition Committee.

Welcome to UC Libraries, Erin.

 

Hannah Stitzlein Joins UC Libraries as Metadata Librarian

Today, Hannah Stitzlein began work at the University of Cincinnati Libraries as the metadata librarian. Hannah was previously visiting metadata services specialist for the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In this role, she developed best practices for the Illinois Digital Heritage Hub, taught metadata workshops, assessed digital collection metadata and developed workflows. Prior to her visiting position, Hannah spent three years with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Her library experience also includes internships with Wisconsin Library Services, the Lloyd Library and Museum and the Henry R. Winkler Center for the History of the Health Professions. Hannah holds an MLS from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art.

In the role of metadata librarian, Hannah will be responsible for providing leadership and guidance in the development and implementation of metadata and data management strategies to support discovery, access, management and preservation of the libraries physical and digital collections.

Welcome back to Cincinnati and to UC, Hannah!

Margaux Patel Joins UC Libraries as the Business and Data Analytics Librarian

On Monday, May 14, Margaux (Maggie) Patel started work at the University of Cincinnati Libraries as the business and data analytics librarian. She will be a part of the Walter C. Langsam Library’s Research and Teaching Service Department.

Maggie comes to UC from the American Financial Group in downtown Cincinnati where she was a research specialist.  At American Financial she prepared reports for the other staff at the company using many of the business databases we also have at UC Libraries.  She worked with data and helped the staff organize and analyze their data.  She taught instruction workshops, and made e-learning objects using Articulate Storyline software.  Maggie taught at Brown Macke College and worked at law firms before American Financial.

Welcome to UC Libraries, Maggie!

Libraries’ Proposal to Encourage Diversity in the Library Profession Awarded an Equity & Inclusion Incentive Grant

regina bourne
Regina Bourne (center), Library Human Resources and Organizational Development Director, is presented with the grant award. UC/ Joseph Fuqua II

The University of Cincinnati Libraries were awarded an Equity & Inclusion Incentive Grant for the proposal “Exploring the Diverse Career Paths within Libraries,” which aims to introduce and educate minority high school students to the academic library profession for the purpose of attracting them into the profession.

Submitted by UC Libraries, in collaboration with Cincinnati Public Schools, University of Cincinnati Admissions, and partners within the library, the grant will support the creation of two half-day programs for up to 60 college-bound high school minority students from local area schools. Throughout the course of the day, the students will: take a tour of the library; meet faculty and staff with a range of skills and educational backgrounds; engage in learning activities related to library professions; learn about the experiences of student workers currently employed by the library; and gain an understanding of the multitude of career options the library has to offer.

This outreach initiative will address the current trend of retiring librarians, introduce students to diverse disciplines and cultivate interest in the library profession among the visiting students. It will also show how IT skills can be used in the library profession and educate the student visitors about library student worker jobs. Student visitors will be given flash drives uploaded with additional information about libraries to continue to engage them after the day is over.

UC Libraries’ faculty, staff and student workers who help to facilitate the program will gain valuable experience and professional development in diversity and inclusion.

The university’s Equity & Inclusion Incentive Grant program seeks to support collaborative efforts between colleges and units to enhance diversity and inclusion through innovative practices that align with the goals and objectives in the Diversity Plan.

UC Librarians and Staff Member Selected to Participate in Library Leadership Ohio 2018

Congratulations to UC’s Hong Cheng, Craig Person and Michelle McKinney on their selection to participate in Library Leadership Ohio 2018!

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The State Library of Ohio and OhioNET are pleased to announce the cohort of developing leaders selected to participate in Library Leadership Ohio 2018. Participants were carefully chosen based on their outstanding leadership potential; excellent communication skills; successful library employment experience; initiative, commitment and reasonable risk taking; forward-thinking approach to problem solving; and commitment to the profession.

“Library Leadership Ohio has long been recognized as Ohio’s premier institute for helping future leaders identify and develop their skills.  It is gratifying to look around the state and see LLO graduates in key leadership positions throughout Ohio’s library community,” expressed State Librarian Beverly Cain. “I look forward to meeting the 2018 Library Leadership Ohio class and working with them to lead Ohio’s libraries to even greater levels of achievement.”

“OhioNET is pleased to partner again with the State Library of Ohio to facilitate development of the next generation of library leaders in Ohio.  We have been working since last fall to make sure that LLO 2018 gives the greatest opportunities for invited attendees to learn from—and with—each other, and to further develop strong ties across library types,” said OhioNET Executive Director/CEO Michael P. Butler.  “Library Leadership Ohio is a tremendous example of what collaboration can do for the benefit of the entire Ohio library community, and I am grateful to all who have helped to make LLO 2018 a reality.” Continue reading UC Librarians and Staff Member Selected to Participate in Library Leadership Ohio 2018

Sunlight as the best disinfectant?

Sunrise over Yellowstone Lake, US Geological Survey. Photo credit: Philip Sandstorm, Montana State University.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously stated that “sunlight was the best disinfectant,” enshrining a principle of transparency as a cornerstone for open democracy and good governance. The United States passed the Freedom of Information Act following Watergate in 1974, and many states subsequently adopted their own freedom of information (FOI) laws (often times referred to as sunshine, open records, or right to know laws). Freedom of information laws give the public broad rights to access records, however the burden to obtain the information still falls on the individual.

Since the passage of FOI laws, there has also been a movement towards what is known as proactive disclosure. This is when public entities proactively share information, data, and records with the public. The internet has made proactive disclosure cheaper and easier, and has given rise to many efforts towards what is known as “open government,” in which data sets from the government are made available to the public.

Transparency of information is an idea that most people agree on in principle, but in practice, the implementation is very uneven. Furthermore, there isn’t conclusive evidence that transparency leads to improvement for the public. In “Transparency With(out) Accountability,” Shkabatur (2012) notes that voluminous amounts of government information are now available, however a lack of context around that data, agency discretion over what to release, and a lack of enforcement has not led to government accountability.

An example of this paradox of transparency can be seen with environmental information. State and federal environmental laws require the disclosure of massive amounts of environmental information. On the other hand, that information is often not contextualized and agencies are not necessarily required to make information easy to find and understand, as long as it is available somewhere. In other words, Ohio may release information related to where gas wells are located, but it does not have to share other information that would make this information meaningful to the general public, such as how many complaints have been filed in proximity to a given well.

In this example, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources can technically say they are being “transparent” – after all, they are providing information about wells on a website accessible to the public. But unless you are a subject specialist, many of the available well records are incomprehensible to the general public. The records show evidence of actions that an agency took (approving construction and ongoing production of a well), but few of the records shed any light on the broader policy decisions and directions of the agency.

 

The recordkeeping of energy infrastructure

Natural gas pipeline capacity out of Ohio

When people think of the energy industry, they often picture heavy industrial equipment – pipelines criss-crossing prairies, oil rigs along coastlines, or earthmovers pushing mountaintop overburden into valleys below. But what about the invisible equipment? How do we visualize the caverns that store nuclear energy production waste? How do we know where the underground  piping is that connects us to the grid? How can we tell when there are wells nearby?

We cannot see invisible infrastructure, and even visible infrastructure blends into the background of our daily lives. But we can see the outlines of all infrastructure by inspecting the records associated with it. Some recordkeeping associated with the energy industry’s infrastructure is available to the public – permits that must be filed with state and federal agencies, for example. Other recordkeeping conducted for internal corporate administration is considered private business information. Some business information may be shared with the public if an energy company is a public company, but other forms of information may be proprietary.

One of the fastest growing sectors of domestic energy production is hydraulic fracturing of shale formations, better known as fracking. Ohio is located in a major shale formation and is the 7th largest producer of natural gas. According to the Energy Information Agency, “[t]he Utica Shale has contributed to the rapid increase in natural gas production in Ohio, which was almost 19 times greater in 2016 than 2011.” Ohio’s neighbors of West Virginia and Pennsylvania are part of the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations, and also rank highly for natural gas production (Pennsylvania is the #2 domestic producer, West Virginia is #8).

Most oil and gas activities are regulated at the state-level, and therefore different states have varying regulations around fracking. As a result, the impacts from fracking are experienced differently depending on where you live. Since there is a different regulatory landscape from state to state, this means that the information and records concerning fracking vary across state lines. To put it another way, this means that the public has different levels of information about fracking depending on where it’s carried out.

An illuminating example can be found with disclosure of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing. Many states use the registry FracFocus for chemical disclosure. However, a recent study of FracFocus showed that 92% of submitted chemical disclosures for wells “withheld at least one ingredient record” by classifying it as a trade secret, confidential or proprietary business information (Konschnik and Dayalu, 2016, p. 508).

This issue will almost certainly continue to be of regional importance for both industry and concerned citizens. Ohio and Pennsylvania increased their production of natural gas more than any other states between 2015-2016, and the Energy Information Agency “projects that natural gas production will increase in both 2017 and 2018 as natural gas prices rise.” As the federal government and many states continue to embrace domestic fossil-fuel production over renewable energy, this is a topic that deserves our attention.