The signs of change are apparent:
Email efficiently and rapidly links researchers from around the globe. A growing range of other network-based technologies further enhances informal communication.
In nearly every discipline, some scholarship is digital-only or can be fully understood only in digital form.
Most scholarly literature is now created in digital form and online editions of journals are the norm. Back issues of an increasing number of journals and editions of older monographs are being digitized.
Google offers a search for scholars and has cataloged more than eight billion web pages and a billion images, and now is undertaking to digitize books on a scale that previously seemed unthinkable.
Many of yesterday’s limitations on research and learning are being swept away by the Internet. It presents an opportunity for unlimited dissemination of information at virtually no cost beyond that of providing it to the first reader.
As a result, the ways researchers study complex questions and share their data and findings are adapting. For example:
In astronomy, observations from robotic telescopes are creating a virtual observatory that, unlike the powerful telescopes feeding the database, are available to all potential users.
Data and text mining or exploratory data analysis techniques are being used in fields as diverse as literature and chemistry to look for unexpected patterns in large volumes of data. Some scientists base their work not on field observations or experiments, but instead draw on freely accessible data resources such as PubChem at the US National Institutes of Health or earth sciences data collected by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Open digital archives such as arXiv.org, PubMed Central, and hundreds of institution-based repositories enable authors to ensure their works are available on the Internet to a universe of potential users.
Social scientists are developing and sharing research databases such as the Atlas of Inequality using digital data that they and others have amassed.
By seamlessly linking data, knowledge, and scholars, the emerging research environment promises to stimulate and accelerate discovery — and ultimately to fuel advances beyond the realm of scholarship.
The new digital scholarship gives scholars the potential to collaborate in dynamic new ways:
It facilitates interdisciplinary approaches to complex questions by breaking down information silos.
It enables researchers located across multiple time zones to easily share information and work effectively as teams.
It allows the rapid development of new or ad hoc communities of scholars to respond to pressing questions and challenges.
Clearly, a new era of digital scholarship is upon us.