ATLAS: The ATLA Serials Project


On January 1, 1999, the American Theological Library Association created the new Center for Electronic Texts in Religion, based in Atlanta, and one of the editors of Offline (James R. Adair) has been appointed the director of the Center. The purpose of CETR is to disseminate electronic texts of interest to scholars of religion, to promote the publication of original scholarly works in formats compatible with online study and distribution, to support other efforts to move the academic study of religion into the information age, and to remain on the forefront of advances in technology through a commitment to research and development. The first project sponsored by CETR will be ATLAS, the ATLA Serials project. The ATLA is currently speaking to granting agencies about the ATLAS project, and we are confident that the project will be funded.

ATLAS is designed to take 50 religion journals and 50 years' worth of volumes of each, for those that go back that far, digitize them, and make them accessible from the Web. In some cases, where a journal has been in existence for more than 50 years, ATLAS may include the entire run of the journal. Journals will be digitized in two formats: image and XML. Page images with XML envelopes (using Ebind, as with BA) will be made available first, since preparation time is so short--relatively speaking--for this format. High resolution versions of the images will also be archived for preservation purposes.

As soon as the page images are ready, the journals will be encoded in XML, probably in a DTD related to the SGML TEI DTD, though the specific DTD has yet to be determined. We expect that XML browsers will be available for scholars to use as early as 1999, but it is possible that on the fly translation from XML to HTML may be necessary as a short-term solution for scholars whose Web browsers will not read XML.

The specific journals that will be included in the ATLAS project have yet to be determined, but we anticipate that journals from Scholars Press and Sheffield Academic Press will form a core around which to build. One interesting aspect of journal publishing in the field of religion is that unlike fields such as science and medicine, where a single publisher may publish dozens or even hundreds of different journals, only a handful of publishers publish as many as five religion journals. Most journals are published by seminaries, religion departments, consortia, or non-profit organizations whose only serial publication is that one journal. The majority of ATLAS journals will come from "publishers" that publish a single title.

The ATLA indexes almost 600 journals for its Religion Database, and it divides these journals into six broad categories: (1) Bible, Archaeology, and Antiquities; (2) Theology, Philosophy, and Ethics; (3) Religions and Religious Studies; (4) Pastoral Ministry; (5) History, Missions, and Ecumenism; and (6) Human Culture and Society. Each of these areas of study will be represented in ATLAS, and scholars whose expertise lies in each of these fields will be consulted for suggestions concerning which journals to include.

The fact that all of the journals included in the ATLAS project are directly related to the academic study of religion is of obvious interest to religion scholars. Association of the project with the ATLA, which has produced the definitive index of religion journals for the past fifty years, is another plus. Scholars will be able to search journals using simple and complex full-text searches and searches based on commonly used meta-data fields (author, title, date of publication, etc.), but they will also be able to search using the ATLA's own detailed, comprehensive indexing references. For example, a full-text search for "Qumran" will undoubtedly return a large number of articles, but a search using the ATLA's fields will return only those articles that deal in some detail with Qumran (i.e., they don't just mention it in passing), even if the term "Dead Sea Scrolls" rather than "Qumran" is used throughout the article! The ATLA also indexes the biblical passages included in an article, so a search for Luke 15:11-32 will return all those articles that deal with the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Like the other large online journal collections mentioned above, ATLAS will charge a fee for access to its database, since one of the goals of the project is to become self-supporting. Scholars and students who have access to campus computers will be able to view ATLAS journals from the library, their offices, or their dorm rooms. However, ATLAS offers something for individual scholars as well. People who are members of participating scholarly organizations like AAR and SBL will be able to purchase an individual license to access ATLAS journals for an affordable annual fee. In this way professors at home, students who live off-campus, and independent scholars without institutional affiliation will all be able to do research in a significant number of scholarly religion journals without having to be physically present at a university with a site license for ATLAS.

From: "OFFLINE 64: Online Print Journal Collections and the Academic Study of Religion," published in Religious Studies News Volume 14, Number 1 (February 1999). American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. See Offline Online!