The Library Basement
Reading under ground

SBL new open access policy

Recently the Society of Biblical Literature informed its membership of a new "Green Open Access" policy for works published in SBL publications (including JBL):

This policy allows the author to post or archive a PDF file of the postprint manuscript in specified types of open-access locations—the author’s institutional repository (IR) and the author’s personal or institutional website—following an eighteen-month embargo from publication date. The complete article citation must be provided as specified by SBL.

So eventually the article can be made available if the author takes action. This is generally a move in the right direction. I think this would work better if the works were openly available from SBL itself, since that would provide a centralized, indexed, and searchable repository. As it stands, the articles would be fairly disparate.

In the full text of the policy [PDF] there is a great synopsis of the enduring importance of centralized academic publishers:

Academic, peer-reviewed publishing uniquely serves higher education by setting standards, vetting content and methodology, and disseminating research. Such publishing is also a means of professional development through credentialing for tenure and promotion. Consequently, academic publishers are an essential component of the higher education ecology.

In spite of the power of internet technologies for self-publishing, JBL and similar journals still serve an important purpose. But following is where I disagree with the SBL:

In order to foster biblical scholarship and scholarly communication, the Society of Biblical Literature allows specific and reasonable dissemination of the results of scholarly research published within its books and journals.

Contrary to the terms of this new "open access policy," the reasonable dissemination of scholarship would involve providing immediate open access to the works, preferably under a permissive license. After all, how better could SBL serve the biblical studies ecosystem than by releasing the results of research to everyone? It could only improve the scholarly dialogue.

I suspect the only reason for closed access is so that SBL can monetize the articles by using restrictive copyright licenses. The selection of candidate articles, peer-review process, editing, and type-setting cost money, after all. However I think it would be best to cover those expenses up-front. I would like to imagine that my SBL dues and JBL subscription fee would be enough to cover these expenses. If they are not, I would be willing to pay more, if it meant that the articles published in JBL had unqualified open access.

This is definitely a positive development, so I hesitate to criticize this fresh policy change. But I think SBL needs to keep moving in the direction of freely-accessible content, for the good of all.