The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Category education

To whom are sales of biblical studies books marketed?

I read a post recently about a topic which is near and dear to me - the ridiculous cost of some works of biblical scholarship. Larry Hurtado's solution was to plead with the publishers for better pricing, which is a nice gesture, though unlikely to be effective. I, being me, suggested that authors freely-license their works and then publishers can compete on the quality of their offering, not based on an exclusive copyright license. There were others in the thread who had the same basic stance as me, which was encouraging. But I digress from my intended topic.

Part of the reason why academic publishers can get away with very high prices on limited runs is that they are marketing first and foremost to libraries. A research library will pay a heavy sum for a new hardback, knowing that the value will be reaped by many patrons who might use that work in the future. My first thought on this was that it was sort of shameful that biblical scholarship is marketed mostly to libraries (and doesn't that say something interesting about the nature of current scholarship?).

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that marketing scholarship has many positive arguments in its favor.

Sustainability - The ego of the author or the investors of a publisher might want to see high sales numbers, but printing one copy of a book for each time it will be read is a silly waste of resources. Better to print the book once to be shared among many future readers, so as to earn the best return on the natural resources invested in the printing.

Practicality - When I first thought of books marketed to libraries, reference books came to mind. But then I realized that reference books are the works which scholars use regularly and perennially, and so could make good use of a private copy. It is the individual texts, commentaries, and topical studies which a scholar will need to consult for only a season. The library lends itself perfectly to the ebbs and flows of scholarship. It's just too expensive to buy each of the works I would need to thoroughly research a proposition.

Community - Nothing symbolizes epistemic openness better than the library. The benefit of one location having all the books you might need is that it also has books which may argue against your point, or merely interest you. And there are other people at the library who can share their learning and opinions as well. If I am a scholar building a personal library of books which suit my own interest, I run the risk of submersing myself in bias.

So fear not, biblical scholars. It is true that some books are so expensive, only libraries can afford them. But that is not such a bad thing!

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Category: education

Most Experts Agree

From now on, whenever I hear or read "most experts believe" used rhetorically, I am going to ask "how many out of how many?" Here is why: - I do not believe the veracity such claims unless I see actual data backing them up. - I believe that such a survey of expert opinions is practically impossible due to boundaries of time, location, language, persistence of publishing, and the ephemeral nature of opinions. - I do not believe there is an equitable or sensible solution as to which votes to count and which to exclude in a survey of expert opinions. - Such statements are an [appeal to authority fallacy][] if used rhetorically. In other words, I find it unlikely that anyone can actually authoritatively say "most experts believe" anything, and I think the matter of expert opinion is irrelevant in any case. So why are such rhetorical phrases used so frequently? **Note:** This article of mine was previously published on another site.

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Category: education

Now an SBL member

Yesterday I noticed a pilots' organization magazine belonging to my brother-in-law, and it lit a fuse in my brain. I should be a member of a "trade" association for my field.

So I signed up for the Society of Biblical Literature. It is obviously a pertinent choice for my studies of the Bible. The main benefit for me is access to their journal JBL. However, it will also be helpful to be a bit more "plugged-in" to the field than I have been. I signed up for the cheaper associate membership, since I don't expect to be submitting papers in the next year. Hopefully it is worth the money.

Expensive scholarly works

Many published works of Christian scholarship are incredibly expensive to purchase. That and being in dead-tree form makes the data less useful to those whom it is intended to benefit. Ulrich Schmid expresses frustration:

Concerning the pricing of scholarly literature in Biblical studies it is time that scholars themselves start to think about their roles as content providers. It's not just that the books are so expensive, but all the work that goes into publishing such literature is basically done by the scholars as well. Sky-high prizing despite having the manuscripts delivered camera-ready is a situation that I am increasingly fed up with. What do other content providers think about that?

Maurice Robinson seems to have the same sentiment I do:

I seriously wonder what all the publishers of those ridiculously expensive limited-print volumes would do if the various scholarly writers (who often get little or no payment or royalty for such works) would eschew such costly publication formats, and get together to offer at a common website free PDF downloads of their camera-ready scholarly works. That way -- bypassing the print media entirely -- a wider audience could be had, even offering the material in printed hardback or paperback format through the various low-cost on-demand publishing entities such as Lulu or Lightning Source. Something to think about, certainly.

I would go farther than Robinson. I think the source files of the work should be distributed as well, since this makes the scholarship easier to convert for various uses. Also, I would ensure that the works are libre and not just gratis.

Thesis Success

Today I had my thesis oral exam. It went well and I was awarded a passing grade! This means that I have finished my M.A. (apart from paying any outstanding library fines).

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Category: education

A Free Software Thesis

Last year I set out to produce my master's thesis using only free software. Having turned in my final copy today, I can report a qualified success.

Despite some early interest in using Lyx (maybe someday in another life), I ended up going with a standard word processor in the form of OpenOffice (and its cousin NeoOffice). The downside in doing so is that I would have to deal directly with formatting issues. Thankfully OpenOffice has some versatile formatting styles which allowed me to satisfy the crazy formatting requirements (seriously - can I have a type-setting degree too?).

As for operating system, I was split between Gentoo Linux (free software) and Mac OS X (decidedly un-free software), where I did the majority of the actual typing. This is where the qualified yes comes in. It has nothing to do with any deficiency of Gentoo or OpenOffice. Rather I only had one machine available, and it had to be running Mac OS X for another reason, so it was just a matter of convenience. As it turned out, some font rendering problems in NeoOffice brought me back to Gentoo, which is the platform upon which I produced the final form of my thesis.

It all worked out in the end. So yes, it is possible to craft a big, important paper using free software tools.

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Category: education

Thesis Done

I have finished revision and formatting and proofreading and polishing, and I am ready to turn my thesis in tomorrow. Finally! It feels good to have that monkey off my back. Will post the final result soon.

In other news, I think we heard an escaped monkey in the wetlands. I am not making this up.

Thesis First Draft Done

I have completed the first draft of my thesis Short Goliath, which is an examination in the textual discrepency between the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Old Greek (a.k.a. Septuagint) accounts of the story of David and Goliath.  This feels really good, because it has been a long time coming, including a break from working on it for most of last semester.  Now I will start the revision process, which will be fairly involved.  The final draft is due the first week of April.  Once I have the paper in a form I like, I will be posting it here under a Creative Commons license. Here are some gory details:

  • 83 pages
  • 23,656 words
  • File saved: 477 times
  • Total edit time: over 45 hours (just on this one document - doesn't even come close to total time committed)
  • File created: April 22, 2008

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