Friday, December 12, 2008

CHE: Bringing Tenure Into The Digital Age: Q&A With Christine L. Borgman

Bringing Tenure Into the Digital Age
New tools for analyzing information are arriving every day, but that doesn’t mean scholars who use them well are being rewarded, says Christine L. Borgman, a professor of information studies at the University of California at Los Angeles. She contends that the new “scholarly information infrastructure” must be shaped with collaborative, interdisciplinary research.

Q. In your recent book, “Scholarship in the Digital Age,” you contend that the tenure system needs to reward people for contributions to collaborative digital projects instead of recognizing only those who publish books and articles. Why?

A. Data is becoming a first-class object. In the days of completely paper publication, the article or book was the end of the line. And once the book was in libraries, the data were often thrown away or allowed to deteriorate.

Now we’re in a massive shift. Data become resources. They are no longer just a byproduct of research. And that changes the nature of publishing, how we think about what we do, and how we educate our graduate students. The accumulation of that data should be considered a scholarly act as well as the publication that comes out of it.


Q. Do you have any tips for the young scholar who feels deluged and overwhelmed?

A. Look for good data that have already been generated and are available. It’s the old saw about how an hour in the library can keep you from spending 60 hours in the lab. It’s similar in research nowadays. Finding good data that someone else has done, that you can build upon, is time well spent. [And] find partners that complement your expertise.

Q. What is your prescription when it comes to building infrastructure that makes all this information available?

A. We need a new conversation. We need to determine what we should be building, instead of just figuring if we build it, they will come. We’ve spent a lot of money on the technology without asking a lot of questions about the nature of scholarship.

When we do ask those questions, we will come up against entrenched interests, like the way we publish and get tenure. So we need to consider the policies and incentives for the reward system and for the use and reuse of information. These will need to change. —Lisa Guernsey


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