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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2008

Book Reviews

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

Ibironke Lawal
Engineering & Science Librarian
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond, Virginia

Copyright 2008, Ibironke Lawal. Used with permission.

Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure and the Internet, Christine L. Borgman. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007. xxiv, 336pp. ISBN:9780262026192

Christine Borgman starts her book by bringing to the forefront, the enormous impact of the Internet technologies on scholarship. It is needless to say that the original use of the Internet was for communication of research findings among scholars, information that was scholarly and free. At that time, the network was used and controlled by a closed community of researchers and their staff. With advances in technology and increase in bandwidth, the Internet is now used for various purposes including commerce. Online information today is more than scholarly information. It consists of what Borgman calls "stuff," verifiable and unverifiable data and web sites. Some of these still contain valuable information for scholarship. Sites such as those of daily newspapers around the world, preprint servers, scholarly online journals available even before the print is released, mailing lists and blogs enable rapid and free access to important information to support scholarship. Borgman’s earlier book, From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure (2000), offers background and developments through the 1990s, of information infrastructure issues outside the realm of scholarship.

One cannot tell the story of scholarship in the 21st century without tracing the history of the Internet, scholarly infrastructure and their effects on scholarly communication.  In this book, Borgman traces development from the latter part of the twentieth century to the present. While dissemination, access to, and preservation of online information have remained relatively stable, the means by which these functions are accomplished have metamorphosed through the use of networked information technologies. Computers have evolved from the giant mainframes to lightweight palm tops that hold the same amount of data or more.  Networked information systems have made global information accessible. Borgman cited Neelameghan (1985) who believed that global information originated in the fifteenth century, with the opening of the intercontinental sea routes and the invention of printing. The concept of a global information system has gradually evolved since then, with several attempts being made at establishing such networks. Borgman describes a few of these.

In her discussion of building scholarly infrastructure, Borgman expresses the fact that modern society is more complex than that of the fifteenth century and needs an infrastructure that is equally advanced. She describes the national and international initiatives on scholarly infrastructure such as E-Science and E-Research. Information infrastructure of the 21st century must support the dissemination, access, curation and preservation of various kinds of digital information. For example, some content only exists in digital format. Preservation and digital content management are challenges to be addressed in building an advanced information infrastructure for scholarly applications. Scholars and librarians are worried about archiving and future access to archived information. Borgman cites preservation literature copiously. This forms the backbone to her discussion on preservation. One reference of note, Bekaer & Van de Sonpel, (2006), focused on the definition of common and standardized access interfaces that could be deployed across such diverse digital repository and archival systems. The proposed interfaces are based on the two formal specifications that have recently emerged from the Data Library Community. The Open Archive Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) and the NISO Open URL framework for context-sensitive services (Open URL Standard).

If scholars and librarians are worried about archiving and access to proprietary information, those that are more worrisome are the open access ones. The reason is that most of them are run by volunteers. It is not an understatement to say that data are the foundation of scholarship, because they are outputs of research and inputs into scholarly publications and subsequent research and learning. The body of scientific and technical data and information in the public domain is massive and has contributed immensely to the economic, social, and intellectual vibrancy. Borgman refers to the notion of Open Science which dates back to St. Augustine in the 4th & 5th centuries. Today, open access publishing is restating the fundamental principle of Open Science. Open Science meets the needs of modern market based societies. It is based on the premise that scholarly information is a “public good”. The infrastructure of the 21st century must be built to support and manage these massive free data.

Another area examined by Borgman is communication. Scholars in the 21st century communicate through a myriad ways including personal web sites, preprint archives and institutional repositories. An information infrastructure must facilitate these myriad means. She traces the history of information infrastructure and its public policy implications and describes the concept of information infrastructure as that which incorporates people, technology, content and the interactions between them. Building scholarly information infrastructure also involves the technical, social, legal, and economic aspects most suitable for the twenty-first century. She describes how information technologies will foster global communication, commerce and learning. She talks about convergence of tasks and technologies, blurring the lines between work and play.

In Chapter 5, Borgman contrasts the print scholarly publishing with the digital scholarly publishing discussing the legitimization, dissemination access, preservation and curation of each format. Perhaps an interesting point she brings up is that publishing in printed format will remain a viable market, at least for certain kinds of content. This contrasts popular beliefs that the print will become extinct. Borgman closes that chapter by discussing the new business models that are developing with the emergence of digital publishing. As we have seen and as the author rightly mentions, the business models of book publishing may follow the leased bundles models of journals. Some publishers are already taking this route.

Another major point Borgman discusses in the book, is collaboration and data sharing. She devotes a chapter to data input and output. Researchers across the world are collaborating in research and producing enormous amount of data. These data are made available over the Internet and shared with other researchers across the globe. Sharing data is not always seen as a positive in some disciplines and the proliferation of digital content not being freely shared may have contributed to the scholarly communication crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. Scholars' participation in self-archiving and institutional repositories may be low now and data sharing as the norm only in a few fields, but all in all it is very important to have a scholarly infrastructure in place for use by scholars whenever they want.

On building scholarly infrastructure, she devotes chapter seven to the requirements of building information infrastructure, for example, making knowledge mobile, collaboration and social networks. She distinguishes between building a framework to support any kind of information regardless of its meaning, that is, an infrastructure of information and building a framework to provide context for the interpretation, use of and reuse of content, that is, an infrastructure for information. In this stance, it is necessary to understand who the users are and how they conduct their research. She touches on information seeking behavior of scholars in several disciplines.

In the last chapter she emphasizes that the real value of information infrastructure is in the information and building. She contends that building the content layer is the greatest challenge but also the payoff of programs such as E-Science and E-research.

The tone of this book is technical and specialized, which may limit the audience to scholars, librarians, other information professionals and computer specialists. Perhaps it may have benefited from a small glossary for the sake of those not in the fields. The twenty-first century is truly a digital age and Borgman does a marvelous job of creating an awareness of the requirements of a scholarly information infrastructure that will benefit not only science and technical disciplines but all fields. With fifty-one pages of references, Borgman draws on the literature from many different disciplines and specialties. One of the strengths of this book is the permanent web site that goes with it, making available just by clicks of the mouse, several cited references. It is a well written book suitable for libraries and individuals. It could serve as both a read-through or, a reference book.


Bekaert, J., and Van de Sompel, H. 2006. Access Interfaces for Open Archival   Information Systems Based on the OAI-PMH and the OpenURL Framework for Context-Sensitive Services. In PV 2005: Ensuring Long-term Preservation and Adding Value to Scientific and Technical Data. Edinburgh: Royal Society. [Online]. Available: [Accessed February 6, 2008].

Borgman, C. L. 2000. From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in the Networked World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Neelameghan, A., and Tocatlian, J. 1985. International cooperation in information systems and services. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 36 (3): 153-163.

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