I am very disappointed and upset with the move taken by SBL. I am not sure if any consultation has been carried to seek the opinions of members, particularly members from the Majority World. Neither am I sure who are the committee members that made this decision. The strange thing is that there is hardly any valid justification mentioned in the email as to why this move is necessary. This ill-conceived decision comes at a time when we are seeking to make our knowledge widely available to the public.
Most distressing of all for me is that I find this decision completely ignores the needs of biblical scholars like me in the Majority World. Many of us are operating within a very limited budget when it comes to book acquisition for the library, and reading the reviews in RBL helps us in making wise decision as we attempt to be good stewards in managing our limited resources. Moreover, many of the academic books are priced beyond the means of many institutions and individuals in the Majority World. By limiting RBL to a member-only access, SBL is essentially cutting off a very important source of information for scholars like me in the Majority World that helps us keep ourselves updated in biblical scholarship. Many of us are also unable to attend any of the annual meetings (which I have not been to one as the cost has been very prohibitive and our institutions simply do not have grants or funding for conferences, not to mention the tedious and costly process of applying for a US visa) and international meetings. I am also thinking of many church leaders/pastors who find RBL to be an excellent source of information but are now deprived of any futureaccess.
One may argue that there is reduced membership rate for scholars from the Majority World at US$15 per annum. While this initiative is greatly appreciated, we need to bear in mind that for some parts of the world, US$15 is tantamount to several days of wages. Furthermore, many scholars simply do not have credit cards or banking facilities to make payment for the membership. This is to highlight that the move to restrict access to RBL to members only further causes difficulties and inconveniences to scholars from the Majority World.
In the final analysis, those of us who are in the Majority World have now been cut off from a very valuable and important source of scholarly information. How will this move help SBL achieve its mission of fostering biblical scholarship particularly for scholars in the Majority World? Perhaps one way forward is to allow free access to RBL for scholars from the Majority World, not unlike what has already been practised for the online books currently available under the ICI initiative. I urge all scholars in the Majority World to make your voice count now, and appeal to SBL to reverse this unwise move.