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Book Review: Digital Information - Order Or Anarchy?

Muhammad Rafiq offers us a review of a work which examines the future of digital information and emerging patterns of scholarly communication.

Digital Information offers an overview of the digital landscape based on the heterogeneous perspectives of multiple stakeholders contributed by the experts from Higher Education, publishers' community, information professionals, and legal experts.

This overview presents seven well written chapters by an international team of experts who have contributed well to the debate of digital information in the context of order or anarchy.

The book seems to answer the million-dollar question of today's information world:

'Will the present relatively orderly system of scholarly communication survive into the future or will the possibilities that technology affords, create disruption and anarchy? And [will] what is being done today help an orderly transfer to the future?'


In the first chapter, Introduction: digital information, an overview of the landscape, the editors Lorraine Estelle and Hazel Woodward provide the setting for the book and discuss the current and future scenario of digital information landscape in terms of academic library, public library, national library, librarians, book shop, and publishing industry. The editors raise a number of questions about the current and future landscape that is emerging with swift changes largely stimulated by social, political and technological changes, and not least the influence of Google on developments.

Rick Anderson in Chapter 2, Scholarly communication: the view from the library, focuses on searching and finding information, library collections, and pricing. The viewpoint is from a library's perspective. Anderson considers various future scenarios of scholarly communication and calls for significant mission changes in academic and research libraries. The author emphasizes the community-driven acquisition and stresses the need to enhance the skills of librarians.

In Chapter 3, Scholarly communication: the publisher's view, Ian Russell discusses a wide spectrum of scholarly communication with a publisher's lens. Russell's discussion covers: drivers for change; information overload; the formal publication process in scholarly communication; stewardship challenges; costs; copyright; and current business models. Russell considers that future digital information will present an order instead of anarchy, and offers four scenarios in the event of dominance by Open Access (OA): subsistence; subvention; substitution; and subversion.

In Chapter 4, E-books and scholarly communication futures, Colin Steele considers that the development of the e-book is affected largely by the digital revolution, the superficial reading behaviour of readers and changes in publishing settings. Nevertheless, it is true that present-day book publishers may be using digital means for production but still reflect the methods of 'the pre-Internet era' in how they go about distribution. Steele further advises the publishing industry to learn from the music industry. He considers that the book publishing industry is still searching for a viable solution but it needs to think beyond the traditional print book publishing model.

Alastair Dunning, in Chapter 5, Digitizing the past: next steps for public sector digitization, emphasises the role of libraries as information producers. Dunning describes some publicly funded digitisation projects, for example Darwin Online which provides Darwin's published and unpublished writings; Old Bailey Online which provides searchable court proceedings from 1674 to 1912; the Great War Archive, presents 6,500 items contributed by general public about the experience of World War I. Dunning emphasises the power of user-generated content, but also raises the question of long-term sustainability.

In Chapter 6, Resources Discovery, Graham Stone addresses resource discovery, user needs and information seeking. He considers that the digital marketplace occasions chaos and presents challenges to libraries. He also discusses the structuring limitations of library OPACs. He further stresses the need to visualise Amazon's personalisation approach as well as Facebook's system in order to understand the users' information seeking behaviour; an approach that may serve to sustain libraries' existence in the digital paradigm.

Wilma Mossink and Lorraine Estelle in Chapter 7, Who owns the content in the digital environment? discuss intellectual property rights and reveal the current lack of clarity on ownership of digital content. The authors raise questions about the current law which seldom addresses the issues of digital information and mass digitisation projects. The authors further emphasise the balance between the rights of users and those of publishers in this digital world.


The overall coverage of the contents in this book is comprehensive and represents a worthwhile purchase for information professionals including librarians, publishers, journalists, and archivists. The work comprehensively presents academic perspectives on the issue in hand. The chapters are well written and I would say it is essential reading for anyone interested in assessing the current and perceived landscape of digital information.

Author Details

Muhammad Rafiq
PhD Scholar, Dept. of Library & Information Science,
University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan

Senior Librarian
GC University,
Lahore, Pakistan

Email: rafiqfsd@hotmail.com

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