Review: Borgman, Scholarship in the Digital Age

Borgman, Christine L. Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet. MIT Press, 2007. Worldcat page, Powell's page (no, I get no kickback).

This calm, clear volume provides a thorough grounding in the practices of academic researchers around their publications and their data, and how the Internet is—and in many cases, isn't—changing those practices.

Copiously researched, accurate, and logically presented, the book starts with a 30,000-foot overview of the current situation, then swoops through technology, law and policy, the existing scholarly-communication system, and the issues and opportunities associated with research data, before tying everything together in a cautious view of possible futures.

This is not a book you read for polemic, nor for original insight; those are not its purpose. (I couldn't tell where Dr. Borgman comes down on many politics and praxis questions dear to my heart. Good for Dr. Borgman.) This is the book you read to figure out where we are, how we got here, and where we might be going, much as you might pick up a review article in the Annual Reviews series. As a quick, objective, comprehensive grounding in 21st-century scholarly communication, I have trouble imagining a better book.

If I have a criticism, and frankly I found it quite difficult to come up with one, it's that Dr. Borgman doesn't convey much of a sense of urgency around the issues she discusses. If you're a librarian or administrator trying to figure out how to apply scarce resources to this constellation of problems, this book will introduce you to the vastness of the landscape, but it won't point you to the low-hanging or scarily-perishable fruit.

Researchers: scholarly communication is the air you breathe, so you owe it to yourselves to read this book for orientation. Librarians and research IT folk: if you're feeling lost in all the ferment, this book will give you confidence. Highly recommended.

Many thanks to my colleague Jim Muehlenberg for letting me borrow his copy as reading for the bus ride to and from ALA. I will be purchasing my own for my bookshelf at work, where I keep books I think people who visit me may need to look at.


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