Imagine a member of your school’s faculty doing research for a scholarly article. Not too long ago, that professor might have stood in front of library shelves, holding index cards with library call numbers written on them. After finding the right books, that scholar might have placed strips of paper or sticky notes onto the correct pages, getting ready for a trip to the copy machine on another floor of the library. From initial search to pile of copies, the research for one article might have taken hours or even days. The professor might even have hired a student to do the legwork.
Research is obviously different now — different than it was just 10 or 15 years ago. Scholars use databases powered by natural language processing, and these databases are available not just in the library’s reference room, but in the office, on the road, and at home. Within theological education, Bible software is an important part of the research revolution. And it’s so much more than the searchable text of the Scripture, which anyone can find online at sites like BibleGateway.com.
Bible software programs go further, saving scholars time and money by reducing the practical rigors of library research and even writing. They work in conjunction with tools for collaborative research and teaching. Bible software makes basic research possible for junior scholars, but it also enhances the productivity of senior faculty. Software packages include the biblical text in multiple languages, including the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. But they also include commentaries, atlases, and lexicons.
Is Bible software something that faculty and students should purchase on their own? Maybe not. Increasingly, seminary libraries are providing access to this software for faculty and students alike.
All but the smallest academic libraries are already embracing all kinds of electronic resources — students and faculty are demanding them, and they’re becoming more available in both online versions and in proprietary formats like Kindle, Nook, and iBook. The publishers of the most up-to-date commentaries, lexicons, and other biblical scholarship have embraced the electronic revolution and bundle their products into some of the most popular software programs. In some cases, even course materials unique to individual seminaries can be integrated into the personal library of a user.
But the price of these resources can be significant. Costs are generally declining, but they can still be hundreds of dollars per enrolled student or affiliated faculty. Is the increased productivity worth the high cost?
I may be biased, but I think so, at least in many cases. Biblical scholarship has always been a communal and interactive process. Students learn from the great scholars of the past, from their teachers, and from their fellow students. In turn, they pass along their knowledge to other students and to ordinary people in the pews. Bible software offers scholars, students, and pastors a unique opportunity to research, teach, and collaborate. Many seminary libraries have already decided that providing their students and faculty with Bible software is part of their mandate.
Andrew Peterson is vice president for educational innovation and global outreach at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Digital Vistas Carolina, his consulting firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina, helps seminaries and businesses find and use appropriate educational technology. Peterson is an independent consultant for Logos Bible Software.