Endangered Archives

EAP119: Preservation of historical periodical collections (1900-1950) at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library in East Jerusalem

Mr Qasem Abu Harb, Council for British Research in the Levant
2007 award - Major project
£50,200 for 12 months

Archival partner: Al-Aqsa Mosque Library

VIEW FILES FROM THIS PROJECT

Project Overview

The main goal of this project is to digitise the historical periodical collection located at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library in order to create archival quality digital copies of the deteriorating newspapers and magazines. In addition, the project intends to create multiple derivative copies to extend access of these rare materials to scholars, students and the general public. The original collection includes 20 sets of historical materials that document the history of Palestine in the first half of the 20th century. This unique collection of periodicals represents an irreplaceable source of information about Palestine and its people. Digitization will help to preserve these historical newspapers and magazines for current and future generations.

The collection is an important source of information about Palestine, its history, and people in the first half of the twentieth century. The newspapers provide access to primary sources about the Arab nationalist movement and Palestinian reaction towards Jewish immigration and the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. They cover many important historical events and political movements, such as the Balfor declaration, the Al-buraq events of 1929, the Alqassam revolution of 1931, Palestinians political parties, the Palestinians armed forces, the 1936 strike, 1936-1939 revolution, and British policy against Arab leaders.

In addition, the collection documents the development of the Arab press during the British Mandate Period of 1917-48. Many of the titles included in the collection were published at the beginning of the twentieth century and are particularly rare as they represent the only copies available in the region.

This digitisation project provides an opportunity to preserve these historical periodicals and share them with a wider community of scholars and students. The newspapers and magazines held at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library are endangered not only because of the risks that many historical periodical collections face, such as poor quality of paper and the lack of environmental control, but also because of the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library in the occupied territory and the unstable political situation in East Jerusalem. Many of the titles included in the collection are particularly rare as they represent the only known copies of these unique periodicals.

Project Outcome

During the project 24 historical publications, including 13 newspapers and 11 journals and magazines, were converted into digital format. Most of the periodicals were published in Palestine during the British Mandate Period (1917-1948), but among the titles selected for the project there was also a publication from the time of the Ottoman Empire, Al-Jinan (1874), and a few publications from the pre-war period, such as Al-Mahaba (1901), Al Hasna (1909-1912), Tazwir Afkar (1909), and Al-Muqtabas (1908-1916). The project resulted in the digitisation of 24 titles, 6,699 issues and 53,783 pages.

The digitisation process was conducted in-house on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Library. The images created as a direct result of the image capture process represent preservation quality digital masters. Two copies of each digital master in TIFF format were created for this project. The first set of archival TIFF files is stored on the dedicated external drive at the Al-Aqsa Library. The second set was burned on DVDs and deposited at the British Library. The accompanying documentation on the collection, project, publisher, and series level was also created and deposited at the British Library. By assuming a use-neutral approach and following digitisation standards and best practices, the project created two sets of preservation quality digital copies of the historical Palestinian newspapers and magazines.

Derivative files were created from the digital master files for access, in PDF format. The digitisation project also offered an unprecedented opportunity to research the history of the Palestinian press under the British Mandate and prepare an extensive documentation of the digitised publications. The original print publications remain in the holdings of the library at the Al-Aqsa Library.

The project faced a number of challenges due to external factors as well as those directly related to undertaking a large digitisation project of historical newspapers. The quality of the original papers, including different text characters, irregular fonts, text density, torn or smudged pages, and a variety in layout posed many challenges during the image capture process. The project team also realised that the digitisation process for long-term preservation is very challenging and time-consuming, taking much longer to scan and create digital master files than originally expected.

In an effort to publicise the project, the project consultant, Krystyna Matusiak, and the project coordinator, Qasem Abu Harb, wrote a paper about the project Digitising the Historical Periodical Collection at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library in East Jerusalem. The paper was presented at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Milan, Italy in August 2009, as part of the conference panel on Newspapers in the Mediterranean and the Evolution of the Modern State. The presenters believe that the conference presentation as well as the publication of the paper will raise awareness of the historical collection at the Al Aqsa Library and help promote the digitisation project.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP119/1 Periodical collection of the al-Aqsa Mosque Library (1874-1955)

The catalogue is available here.