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The move toward Open Access (OA) journals is arguably one of the most important trends in academia today. It is motivated by the desire to make scholarship available to as broad a constituency as possible (especially where library budgets are increasing strained) and to scholars in the developing world. As a large and influential body of scholars, SBL members are uniquely positioned to participate in this crucial endeavor.

Most of the OA discussion has focused on science journals, which are generally very expensive (and getting more so) and therefore difficult for libraries, especially in the third world, to subscribe to, especially in their online versions. In addition, even online access does not always translate to free distribution. Rightly understood, copyright law severely restricts reproduction of journal articles unless some form of Open Access is overtly stated online.

One response to this situation has been the Public Library of Science (PLoS), founded in 2002 as "a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource." PLoS publishes a number of peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals that are freely available online "to read, download, copy, distribute, and use (with attribution)." These journals are protected under a Creative Commons license (see below).

How successful has PLoS been? Library Journal reported, "In its second year of publication, Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology had an impact factor of 13.9, making it the highest ranked general biology journal in the world, and five OA journals from BioMed Central ranked in the top five journals in their specialties. These successes are backed by research showing that OA articles generate between 25% and 250% more citations than non-OA articles in the same journal from the same year" (Issue of April 15, 2006).

The need for broader access exists in the humanities as well.[1] Keeping in mind that the scholarly community does not consist only of a small cadre of researchers in relatively wealthy universities but many thousands of institutional and independent scholars world-wide, access to current research in the humanities is restricted by financial barriers. Access to peer-reviewed journal articles in disciplines in which the SBL takes an interest is severely limited. In the field of early Judaism, for example, the online versions of even the most respected journals that publish in the field, such as the Journal of Jewish Studies, are available to relatively few. Jewish studies are burgeoning in unlikely places. See, for example, "In China, a Growing Interest in All Things Jewish" in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Issue of August 11, 2006), and the remarkable growth of academic Jewish studies in Eastern Europe. In these regions, library resources are understandably limited. Open Access is the quickest way to make humanities research available for scholars everywhere, but especially in the developing world.

I would like to discuss two OA journals that can serve as models of OA humanities journals — the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and the Jewish Studies, An Internet Journal — and then look at ways that SBL scholars can promote Open Access in their respective fields. But I would be remiss were I not to mention that our own Journal of Biblical Literature operates on a hybrid OA model. JBL has a moving window of Open Access. Aside from the current issue, the past three years of JBL are openly available to the public in PDF form on the SBL website. Previous issues, back to 1881, are available in the JSTOR Arts and Sciences III collection. (Beginning in 2007, JBL will also be available as part of the MetaPress online collection — free to SBL members and by subscription to nonmembers and institutions such as libraries.) Although this is limited OA, it is an important step for an established and respected journal.

The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (JHS) and the Jewish Studies, An Internet Journal (JSIJ) are among a number of first rate, peer-review journals that serve as examples of the growing OA phenomenon.

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures
According to its founder and General Editor, Ehud Ben Zvi, JHS "is based on the premise that critical, academic scholarship should be available and disseminated in a reliable form in a way that takes no account of the financial ability of the individual or institution desiring to retrieve it. The journal was established therefore to communicate critical, academic scholarship in the relevant area free of charge, fast, reliably available twenty-four hours seven days a week from anywhere." Articles are available on the journal website and also through the National Library of Canada. JHS articles are indexed in the ATLA Religion Database, RAMBI, BiBIL, and THEOLDI. Their abstracts appear in Religious and Theological Abstracts.

Ben Zvi is careful to give credit to the many individuals who volunteered the extensive time and effort necessary to ensure the journal's viability and success. Establishing an online, OA journal also required overcoming perceptions in the academic world. Ben Zvi comments, "All e-journals in the 90s faced in one way or another the problem of credibility, and for some, particularly young scholars of the way in which publication in the journal might come to be seen by hiring or tenure committees. We addressed these matters by creating from the outset a respected editorial board and a process of blind peer review. Social and cultural changes during and since the 90s have eased preconceptions about e-journals and e-publication in general, in most quarters, and have been extremely helpful for the journal." Like similar print journals, JHS has a blind peer review system. The list of editorial board members and published articles bears out the quality of the entire process. Until recently, JHS was published primarily through the volunteer efforts mentioned above, with financial support from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Alberta and diverse institutions within it, and the invaluable work of its technical advisor, Terry Butler.

While volunteer work will remain a central component in the publishing of JHS, recent grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta will enable JHS to enhance substantially the (free) digital publication of the journal. Ben Zvi and Butler will talk about what this enhanced digital publication may involve in a session at the upcoming SBL meeting in Washington.[2] In addition to its continued online Open Access, Gorgias Press will be publishing a subscription hard copy version that will, of course, not be free of charge.

Jewish Studies, An Internet Journal
JSIJ is a peer-reviewed, electronic journal that publishes in all fields of Jewish studies. It is distributed free of charge on the Internet. The website states the journal's goals as follows: "By publishing articles electronically via the Internet, JSIJ seeks to disseminate articles much faster than is possible with paper publication, and to make these articles readily and conveniently accessible to a wide variety of readers at all times."

In its first four issues, almost half of the articles in JSIJ have focused on early Judaism (the Tannaitic and Amoraic eras). They have been written by significant scholars in the field. JSIJ seems to have experienced few difficulties attracting top scholars from the very beginning, perhaps because by the time it was established in 2002, perceptions of online journals were beginning to change.

Leib Moskovitz was the initiator of JSIJ, working together with Yosef Rivlin, then department chair of the Talmud Department at Bar-Ilan University. Along with other volunteer help and impressive board membership, they have overcome what can be considered typical obstacles in establishing and running a journal: technical problems, meeting peer-review and copy-editing deadlines, and the like. Journal costs have been underwritten by Bar-Ilan University. JSIJ articles are indexed in RAMBI, and their abstracts appear in Religious and Theological Abstracts. JSIJ is archived on the BIU servers, which should guarantee long-term access.

JHS and JSIJ share many similarities. Both were conceived by an individual who elicited the help of a core group of fellow scholars and a larger circle of secondary, but still vital, volunteers. Both Ehud Ben Zvi and Leib Moskovitz saw Open Access as a primary characteristic of the journals they wished to establish. Both journals have received financial support from the University, although JHS is now expanding its financial base.[3] Although Ben Zvi and his colleagues had to overcome early skepticism about online journals, both journals eventually succeeded in attracting significant scholars on the editorial and research sides. As a more mature journal, JHS now has a print publisher. We should not be surprised if JSIJ appears in a print version before long.

Avenues to Open Access
Having given this brief overview of two Open Access, online journals, I would like to step back and examine how scholars can become involved in the Open Access movement to make research more accessible to institutions and scholars that are less able, or simply unable, to pay for it.[4]

There are two primary vehicles for delivering Open Access to research articles, OA journals and OA archives. We have already looked at two examples of OA journals. This literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. OA is compatible with peer review, print, preservation, prestige, career advancement, indexing, and other features associated with conventional scholarly literature. Because OA uses copyright-holder consent, it does not require the abolition, reform, or infringement of copyright law. Nor does it require that copyright holders waive their rights under copyright law. On the other hand, an increasingly common way for scholars both to retain rights and give consent for Open Access is to use one of the Creative Commons licenses.[5]

It is important to note that journals that do not wish to convert to OA, or to provide their own OA content, can still support OA by permitting their authors to deposit postprints of their articles in OA archives. Some journals already contractually permit scholars to make their articles available in a number ways. Some allow the author to retain copyright ownership, if not of journal articles than of reviews. Others require the author to assign them full copyright ownership, restricting author usage in various ways. Some journals allow postprint archiving on a scholar's personal webpage or an institutional webpage. Others restrict it to a secure institutional site (i.e., so students, but not the outside public, can access the material). A very few allow broad posting. Some require a delay before online posting. Some allow online viewing, while others also allow downloading and printing. Even journals that are otherwise highly restrictive allow authors to retain "their right to reuse the material in other publications written or edited by themselves and due to be published at least one year after initial publication in the journal."[6] This is not an invitation to circumvent copyright restrictions on reproducing journal articles, but acknowledges authors' rights to use their research and ideas in new articles for open access. It is important for SBL scholars to "read the fine print" of the contributor's policy of print journals in which they publish to determine exactly what the publisher allows. The bottom line is that those scholars who publish only in print journals may still be able to take advantage of their publisher's policies to make their research more widely available.[7]

Although a number of Open Access archives are organized by discipline (e.g., arXiv for physics), many universities have established archives for their own scholars. Scholars should become informed about the archival activities of their institution. These archives may be limited to e-prints (electronic preprints or postprints of journal articles) or may also include theses and dissertations, course materials, learning objects, data files, audio and video files, institutional records, or any other kind of digital file. Such archives can provide OA by default to all their contents or can let authors control the degree of accessibility to their works.

Open Access archives are economically sustainable because they are inexpensive and easy to maintain. There are many systems of open-source software available to build and maintain them. Depositing new articles takes only a few minutes and is done by individual authors, not archive managers. Finally, when universities host OA archives, they are usually committed just as much to long-term preservation as to Open Access.

Open Access is here to stay. It is growing in academic favor every day on every continent.[8] Beyond publishing in OA journals and depositing research in OA archives, SBL scholars can serve on the editorial boards of OA journals, contend for the full inclusion of peer-reviewed OA journal articles in the tenure process, and encourage departmental and institutional support of OA. By making the effort to become informed about their OA options, SBL scholars will position themselves to contribute to the OA movement in significant ways.

Carl Kinbar, University of South Africa


[1] See this excellent overview of Open Access in the humanities by Linda Hutcheon of the University of Toronto:

[2] Session 20-61 on Monday afternoon, 1:00 pm — 3:30 pm.

[3] Fully online journals may be less expensive, but producing journals in any form costs money. The cost of the journal has been moved from subscriber to another source, thus removing the financial barrier to access.

[4] The following section is adapted from Peter Suber's Open Access Overview (at

[5] Creative Commons provides alternatives to copyright agreements that offer a range of protections and freedoms that they call a "some rights reserved" approach, which improves on the access found under copyright's "all rights reserved." For more information, go to:

[6] This is the policy of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. See

[7] Some helpful suggestions on how to make your research more widely available can be found on the OhioLINK website ( See the entry for August 30, 2006.

[8] The most comprehensive study of OA publishing is John Willinsky's The Access Principle (MIT Press, 2005). Due to the generosity of MIT Press, the book is available by free download at

For almost daily updates on OA developments around the world, see Peter Suber's weblog, Open Access News (

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Citation: Carl Kinbar, " Open Access and the SBL," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Aug 2006]. Online:


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