Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure and the Internet

David Bawden (City University London, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 25 July 2008




Bawden, D. (2008), "Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure and the Internet", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 64 No. 4, pp. 630-631.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Many readers will be familiar with Christine Borgman's earlier book on this general topic: From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in the Networked World (MIT Press, 2000). In her preface to the book under review, Borgman explains that the earlier work “provides a point of departure for this one”. What we have here is a new book, and not a second edition, albeit that many of the same issues are addressed, and the treatment updated.

As one might expect from this author, the book is comprehensive, comprehensible and authoritative. Unlike the earlier book, which dealt with information infrastructure generally, and as is title makes plain, it is focused firmly on scholarship, and how it is supported and potentially transformed by digital media.

The book has nine chapters, which Borgman tells us are arranged thematically into three parts, though this division is not made “formal” on the contents page.

The first three chapters, which we told are intended to frame the issues, are entitled “Scholarship at a crossroads”. “Building the scholarly infrastructure”, and “Embedded everywhere”. The first of these emphasises the opportunity to enhance and transform scholarship through adoption of online access to information and data sources, and associated tools and services. The second summarises and exemplifies some of these, with particular focus on e‐science, on e‐research generally, on digital libraries and on cyber‐infrastructure. Wisely, Borgman notes that some of the “grand visions” must claim to be radical departures from the past n order to seem credible, but that in fact complete breaks from the past are rare; we need to recognise the relation between old and new artefacts and ideas. The third chapter refers to a number of theoretical and political frameworks that may help to make sense of developments in e‐research and in information systems; the treatment here, however, is so sketchy as to make this the least satisfactory part of the book.

Chapters 4 through 8 take on the challenge of “identify[ing] the problems to be solved if the vision of an ideal scholarly information infrastructure is to be achieved”. Chapters 4 and 5 deal respectively with the continuity of scholarly communication and with the discontinuity of scholarly publishing. The former sets out what might be considered invariant in the way in which scholarship has been communicated through past centuries, arguing that new technological innovations are likely to be more successful the more they work with the social system of scholarship. The latter looks in some detail at how this might happen, through a consideration of new technology and new business models for scholarly publishing. Chapter 6 examines the new abilities of scholars to generate, store and access massive amounts of digital data of all kinds, and the implications of such access.

Chapter 7 moves on to the building of infrastructures, taking in along the way some issues of human information behaviour, of the representation of knowledge including tacit knowledge, and of mobile information. This is a great deal to fit into less than 30 pages, and though it is admirably summarised it inevitably feels inadequate to fully support the argument. It is very much focused on a “traditional” view of formal academic information behaviour; the challenge of the Amazoogle to formal information provision, and the significance of the emerging “Google generation” now approaching college student age, are mentioned only tangentially.

Chapter 8, “Disciplines, documents and data” addresses what have always been taken as the central concerns of the information specialist. This is a masterly analysis of the changes being brought about in various scholarly areas by the impact of new technologies on traditional information practices. Although necessarily abbreviated in places, this chapter includes a remarkably extensive amount of contextualised fact and comment. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book, and should be read by any information specialist seeking to understand present changes and future outcomes.

The final chapter of the book seeks to bring together all the issues raised in the book, to indulge in some predictions of future trends and outcomes, and to recommend a research agenda to ensure that the outcomes are those that we might desire. It is densely written, and will repay careful study.

Overall, this book may be recommended to anyone – scholar or practitioner – involved in digital information infrastructures and provision. It should be recommended reading for all students of library/information science.

The author has provided a permanent website associated with the book, at However, at the date this review was written, its information was limited to updatable links to the book's extensive set of references; useful enough in themselves, but like many web pages associated with printed books adding relatively little value. Perhaps we misunderstand the situation, if we feel that a book now “needs” its web page to be credible. Maybe a scholarly and readable book, such as this one certainly is, should be left to stand‐alone.

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