NYUAD Library
A student looking for books in the NYUAD Library.

Arabic Collections Online: A Digital Archive

A digital archive sponsored by NYU Abu Dhabi is repatriating some of the Arab world's written heritage, one book at a time. Some 200 scholarly works are already online, with many more to come.

Arabic Collections Online (ACO), a digital library of public domain Arabic-language content, was the brainchild of NYU's Dean of Libraries Carol Mandel, who conceived the idea during the planning of NYU Abu Dhabi's library facilities. Today the project sponsor is Ginny Danielson, director of libraries at NYUAD.

The goal is to "collect and digitize out-of-copyright books that are no longer available in the Gulf, for the purposes of teachers and students," said Danielson, an Arabic speaker who studied in Egypt for her University of Illinois doctorate in ethnomusicology.

"These are books that university libraries would collect," she went on. "There won't be cookbooks, for example.”

"The Arab world has always had a substantial share of scholars, writers and poets," she added. "The online collection will include many important works of history, and studies of society, religious writings, and more, books with lasting value. There will be some novels, although novels are a newer genre in the Arab world. But there is poetry that goes back thousands of years."

For various reasons, many such academically-important works — in science, business, religion, literature, and more — are not easily available in print in the Arab world, but can be found in certain American university libraries. Although many works of recent decades still have copyright protection, very many others are in the public domain, and so are available to ACO.

"One reason it has taken so long to see results," Danielson said, "is that we had to ask NYU's lawyers to research copyright laws for all of the Arabic-speaking countries … Some parts of the Arab world were relatively late to develop copyright law, so the books we've digitized generally were published before about 1955."

NYU is not the only university outside the Middle East that has an important collection of such material. Officials at the libraries of Columbia, Cornell, and Princeton have provided material for ACO, and the American University of Beirut has now also come on board. Books that are in the US are digitized there and posted on the web on a schedule that is now accelerating. Some 2,200 books have already been scanned, Danielson said, and more than 200 are online already. (Metadata corrections have slowed posting of others, but the plan now is to put as many as 300 additional works in the online archive each month.) It will take "some years," she said, to reach the planned total of 15,000 titles.

Initial reaction to the ACO has been intensely positive, Danielson said. "We've had comments from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, showing great enthusiasm, asking 'how do I search for this?' and 'do you have anything on that?' and so on. One college called to ask if they could use the books for their massive open online courses — and of course they can."

The ACO is particularly timely, Danielson added, because "with the disruptions in Arabic society in the last few years, it's important to support the intellectual output of society."

Arabic academic resources online have only begun to emerge recently, she noted. There is one big Saudi online project, she said, and some online religious resources, so that "you can look up religious texts that you couldn't so easily 10 years ago." Online indexing of Arabic academic articles, too, is still a new field, offering few options so far.

And yet, she said, Middle Eastern academics are finding formal and informal ways to share information and resources and to use the internet for research, just like their counterparts around the world. And now the ACO project promises to become a valuable and much-used tool for future scholarship.

Arabic Collections Online can be found at http://dlib.nyu.edu/aco

The National: http://www.thenational.ae/arts-lifestyle/the-review/new-york-university-abu-dhabi-digitises-arabic-books-for-worldwide-access

Ginny Danielson is director of libraries for NYUAD, responsible for all aspects of library operations including Special Collections, Archiving, and Digital Collections.

Arabic Collections Online (ACO), a digital library of public domain Arabic-language content, was the brainchild of NYU's Dean of Libraries Carol Mandel, who conceived the idea during the planning of NYU Abu Dhabi's library facilities. Today the project sponsor is Ginny Danielson, director of libraries at NYUAD.

The goal is to "collect and digitize out-of-copyright books that are no longer available in the Gulf, for the purposes of teachers and students," said Danielson, an Arabic speaker who studied in Egypt for her University of Illinois doctorate in ethnomusicology.

"These are books that university libraries would collect," she went on. "There won't be cookbooks, for example.”

"The Arab world has always had a substantial share of scholars, writers and poets," she added. "The online collection will include many important works of history, and studies of society, religious writings, and more, books with lasting value. There will be some novels, although novels are a newer genre in the Arab world. But there is poetry that goes back thousands of years."

For various reasons, many such academically-important works — in science, business, religion, literature, and more — are not easily available in print in the Arab world, but can be found in certain American university libraries. Although many works of recent decades still have copyright protection, very many others are in the public domain, and so are available to ACO.

"One reason it has taken so long to see results," Danielson said, "is that we had to ask NYU's lawyers to research copyright laws for all of the Arabic-speaking countries … Some parts of the Arab world were relatively late to develop copyright law, so the books we've digitized generally were published before about 1955."

NYU is not the only university outside the Middle East that has an important collection of such material. Officials at the libraries of Columbia, Cornell, and Princeton have provided material for ACO, and the American University of Beirut has now also come on board. Books that are in the US are digitized there and posted on the web on a schedule that is now accelerating. Some 2,200 books have already been scanned, Danielson said, and more than 200 are online already. (Metadata corrections have slowed posting of others, but the plan now is to put as many as 300 additional works in the online archive each month.) It will take "some years," she said, to reach the planned total of 15,000 titles.

Initial reaction to the ACO has been intensely positive, Danielson said. "We've had comments from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, showing great enthusiasm, asking 'how do I search for this?' and 'do you have anything on that?' and so on. One college called to ask if they could use the books for their massive open online courses — and of course they can."

The ACO is particularly timely, Danielson added, because "with the disruptions in Arabic society in the last few years, it's important to support the intellectual output of society."

Arabic academic resources online have only begun to emerge recently, she noted. There is one big Saudi online project, she said, and some online religious resources, so that "you can look up religious texts that you couldn't so easily 10 years ago." Online indexing of Arabic academic articles, too, is still a new field, offering few options so far.

And yet, she said, Middle Eastern academics are finding formal and informal ways to share information and resources and to use the internet for research, just like their counterparts around the world. And now the ACO project promises to become a valuable and much-used tool for future scholarship.

Arabic Collections Online can be found at http://dlib.nyu.edu/aco

The National: http://www.thenational.ae/arts-lifestyle/the-review/new-york-university-abu-dhabi-digitises-arabic-books-for-worldwide-access

Ginny Danielson is director of libraries for NYUAD, responsible for all aspects of library operations including Special Collections, Archiving, and Digital Collections.