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

Ross MacDonald (Auckland Museum Library, New Zealand)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 6 June 2008




MacDonald, R. (2008), "Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet", The Electronic Library, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 422-423.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Christine L. Borgman is a familiar name to anyone interested in scholarly information in the age of the internet, and she has written a considerable amount on the future of the information world. Her previous book, From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in the Networked World (MIT Press, 2000), examined digital libraries and other online information resources from the point of view of the users, and asked what can be done to make them better. In Scholarship in the Digital Age, Borgman now takes an historical approach to identify factors that we should consider as a truly Internet‐based scholarly communication system takes shape.

As before, Borgman spends little time on the nuts and bolts of the technology, arguing that developing a technology before clarifying its functions can result in future behaviour being hindered rather than helped by that very technology. She also notes that in, say, 40 years' time the technology and standards in place will almost certainly not be those of today. Instead, she describes how the stages of the information cycle have been served by “traditional” scholarly communication, and assesses how the cycle fares in the current online world. Thus, she considers such factors as: the information needs and practices in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities; how and why the Internet has (or has not) been utilized in these fields; the functions of scholarly publishing; the roles of writers, readers, and publishers; the economics of scholarly journals, institutional repositories, and open journals; and much more. She also identifies changing currents in the scholarly world. For example, although scholarly communication is currently centered on documents, we should also recognize that enabling access to research data – often in stunningly large amounts – is increasingly important. This is in part because there are many ways data can be re‐used, and in part a new way to assess the quality of research.

Borgman ultimately identifies four areas for further investigation if we are to develop a future scholarly information infrastructure that truly reflects the needs and purposes of all its users:

  1. 1.

    the long‐term view of content – what should be kept and how to ensure its use in the future.

  2. 2.

    balancing the specific requirements of particular scholarly communities with the need for global information exchange.

  3. 3.

    separating online content from the tools used to transmit or manipulate its constituent bits and bytes, thus developing an infrastructure for information rather than of it.

  4. 4.

    identifying and establishing the information organization tools to bring coherence to future content plus the legal, social, and economic responsibilities for maintaining these.

This last point alone brings home the importance of initiatives such as the Semantic Web in the scholarly world. Borgman crams an enormous amount into Scholarship in the Digital Age, but in its relatively short length it is not just an excellent summary of the changing state of scholarly communication. It is a book to make scholars, librarians, technologists, and policy‐makers really think about the future of scholarship and the tools that will make it “work”.

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