Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reporting from SBL - E-Publish or Perish

Here are some rough notes from the E-Publish or Perish seminar at the 2010 SBL meeting.

The session was introduced by Charles Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World who described the 30 or so years of work he has done as a librarian. He’s both encouraged and discouraged by online developments. Check out some of the work Jones has done at Abzu ("Abzu is a guide to networked open access data relevant to the study and public presentation of the Ancient Near East and the Ancient Mediterranean world") and AWOL (Ancient World Online).

Christian Brady at Penn State, well-known online as the blog author of Targuman and also the online editor for the Newsletter for Targumic and Cognate Studies, talked about his experiences as an academic who has been active on the Internet. (He encouraged scholars to participate in Academia.edu as a kind of Facebook for academics.)
He used the example of the iPad app Elements as a ki
nd of engaging instructional resource that we should be imagining for biblically related materials. He recognized the amount of time required for producing online resources. From his experience, publishing with online journals is generally recognized as a valid and tenure-worthy form of publication. Other types of online sharing still face some scrutiny.

Ehud Ben Zvi of the University of Alberta and author of more books and online material than can be summarized spoke next. E-publication of journal articles has become an acceptable commonplace. More problematic is the e-publication of monographs. He sees that it will likely become an acceptable standard, but there are challenges and opportunities. One aspect he emphasized is that knowledge is part of the common good, but what does this mean in terms of open access? He is especially concerned about a global openness that makes the common knowledge available to the 80% of the world that does not have access to it now. To this end, check out the open access project, International Voices in Biblical Studies that specifically addresses this need. This project does not want to assume that the model is simply one of the privileged providing sharing with the needy. Hcnce, there is also an incentive to get scholars from the 80% world to publish as well.

Caroline Vander Stichele of the Universiteit van Amsterdam who has worked with the online journal lectio difficilior (European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis) spoke next and described how she got started in online publishing in 1998. With others, she quickly realized the atractiveness of publishing an online journal: lower costs, global access, and fast and effective publication. Those are all good reasons for why one would start an ejournal, and it also allows us to think of experimental directions we might take in terms of topics, interactions, multilinguality, media, etc. So how does one start an ejournal? Her first step was to obtain institutional support for both financial and technological assistance. Institutional cooperation provides some security for a journal’s longevity and legitimacy while also giving publicity to the institution. The issue of control is a challenge—observing copyrights, protecting from plagiarism—but has been addressed in part by preserving physical copies of the online publications.

Ian Scott of Tyndale University College and Seminary (Ontario) and co-editor with Ken Penner of the Online Critical Pseudepigrapha (OCP) was next. His frustration finding texts prompted him to begin the creation of the site. He wanted, however, not simply to provide the most conveniently available out of copyright texts (oftentimes inferior ones) but to make the best primary texts available. Why would we not publish the best critical editions online with open access? We do want to be aware of the rapid technological changes that even allow us to ask this question. With the advent of the printing press arose all sorts of issues regarding intellectual property, paying for publications, etc. The Internet poses even more significant issues. The primary costs for physical printing are in the actual production of the artifact, not in the writing, editing, and peer review. The OCP shows the kind of possibilities for a dynamic and ‘dense’ document. Still, there are costs. The biggest costs for OCP involve platform and software development. Scott would like for academics to adopt a common platform, and to that end they will soon (next week?) be releasing the Grammateus Reader which will be freely available. The Grammateus Reader is flexible and extensible and once installed (Drupal setup), scholars will be able to upload documents and have them available. They are also planning to develop an online editor that scholars will be able to use without technical training. One major challenge is obtaining permission to print texts held in copyright by publishing houses. The SBL is an example of a positive interaction in that they both identified OCP as a SBL endorsed ‘publisher’ and have provided permissions for copyrighted texts that are therefore being released in both print and online versions.

It was an interesting seminar, and we all are benefiting from the work these participants have done. I am especially excited about Scott's announcement of the forthcoming Grammateus Reader. I have often made good use of the OCP site, and this looks to enhance it even further. Thanks!

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