communications is coming into focus that is capable of providing open online access to the work of scholars without payment; online repositories of high-quality, certified materials; and a stable economic model to sustain these resources.

This will pose a particular challenge to libraries, shifting them from a focus on collecting and archiving knowledge resources, to assisting scholars in navigating these resources. Today, the campus library has become somewhat less central to researchers' lives. The library has evolved from a place into a utility. It too is becoming a part of the Internet.

Legal and policy issues are the second major issue area. It is clear that the emerging digital infrastructure imperils a great many of our existing practices, policies, and laws that have served intellectual activity in this country and globally so well over the past two centuries, forcing the rethinking of some fundamental premises and practices associated with intellectual property. Indeed, there is a concern that many of these will be challenged to the bedrock.

The third topic concerns the evolution of digital technology. In 2000 the National Academies created a study group chosen from industry, higher education, and federal policy development to understand better what the implications of digital technology were for the research university, and even more broadly, for the research enterprise.3 The concern was that although the opportunities and challenges of this technology were important, many of the most significant issues were neither well recognized nor understood. Among the early conclusions of this effort was that the recognition that the extraordinary evolutionary pace of digital technology shows no sign of slowing, with some aspects such as storage and wireless bandwidth evolving at superexponential rates

The second conclusion was that the impact of the technology on the university will be profound, rapid, unpredictable, discontinuous, and disruptive. It will affect all of the activities of the university–teaching, research, outreach, its organization, financing, governance, even the definition of its faculty and students. Procrastination and inaction are the most dangerous courses of all during a time of rampant technological change.

The report’s third major conclusion, and an interesting one, was that universities should begin the development of strategies for facing this kind of technology-driven change with a firm understanding of those key values, missions, and roles that need to be protected and preserved during a time of transformation. These include traditions such as openness, academic freedom, and the rigorous of academic inquiry.

A fourth area of concern is the commercialization of academic output, as the soaring commercial value of much of the intellectual property produced on the campuses raises very significant challenges to traditions such as openness and academic freedom.

Finally, there are the issues of national security, which again call into the question of balancing scientific openness and with the restrictions on public information necessary for homeland security.

As we address these complex issues, we might well keep in mind the well known observation of Thomas Jefferson:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess, as long as he keeps it to himself. But the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and the improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature when she made them like fire, expansible over all space without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.


See National Research Council. 2003. Issues for Science and Engineering Researchers in the Digital Age, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement