Dead Sea Scrolls Online

September 26, 2011

Just after I finished writing the post about Princeton’s new policy of making all scholarly papers available to the public, I came across a story at the BBC News site, which reports that Google has worked together with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to put facsimiles of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls online.   The Scrolls, originally discovered at Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, preserve the oldest existing copies of some parts of the Hebrew Bible, as well as some other texts.  The scrolls that have been made available so far include:

  • The Temple Scroll
  • The Great Isaiah Scroll
  • The War Scroll
  • The Community Rule Scroll
  • The Commentary of Habakkuk Scroll

The online edition contains very high resolution images of the scrolls (1200 megapixel), so that users can inspect the text in detail.  Additional scrolls may be added in the future.  More details are available on the museum site.

This is another aspect of Google’s project to make more of the world’s cultural heritage available online.  I’ve written before about the Google Art project, and about some of the work done on the Google Books project.  It’s good to see some of the positive potential of the Web realized.

The Official Google Blog also has a post on this project.

Princeton Will Make All Research Available

September 26, 2011

One of the benefits of the Internet is, at least in theory, that it makes a large amount of accumulated knowledge available to a much wider audience, analogous to the “democratization” of books due to the invention of the printing press.   There are obvious examples of this, like Wikipedia; I’ve written  here about a few others, like the decision of the National Academies Press to make PDF editions of its books available at no cost, and Yale University’s effort to put all of the public-domain works from its collections online.

Today, the Freedom to Tinker blog from Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy has an announcement, from Professor Andrew Appel, reporting that future scholarly publications by members of the faculty will be made openly available to the public.

In its September 2011 meeting, the Faculty of Princeton University voted unanimously for a policy of open access to scholarly publications:

In essence, this means that faculty members who publish scholarly papers will no longer enter into publication agreements that prevent the author or the University from making the papers available to the public, either on the faculty member’s Web site, or on the University’s public access site.

As Prof. Appel notes, many publishers already have agreements that are compatible with open access.  There are still some holdouts, though.

…  some publishers in the sciences, in engineering, and in the humanities have more restrictive policies. Action like this by Princeton’s faculty (and by the faculties at more than a dozen other universities in 2009-10) will help push those publishers into the 21st century.

At one time, not so very long ago, the economic rents extracted by the publishers of academic journals could be justified, at least partially, on the grounds that assembling, editing, and printing the journals involved a non-trivial expense, which the publishers could not hope to recoup via mass-market sales.  Today, though, while the refereeing and editing process still has value, the cost of publication in digital form is dramatically lower.  The entertainment companies are still in the process of learning that the economic realities of their business have changed; it’s now school time for the academic publishers.

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