British library, Qatar Foundation embark upon online content collaboration plan

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The Magnificent Qur’an, also known as Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an, produced in Cairo seven hundred years ago, is the first Islamic manuscript to benefit from the British Library’s Turning the PagesTM technology. Photo – aardvarknet.info

British Library has announced plans to make more than half a million pages of historic documents detailing Arabic history and culture available online for the first time, as part of its ambitious programme to publish more online content.

J.G. Lorimer’s Gazetter, originally compiled in the early 20th century as a handbook for British agents and policymakers in the Middle East and considered by many as one of the most important sources on the Gulf States, is among the works that would be made available accessible.

British Library and the Qatar Foundation on Wednesday said the partnership is aimed at expanding people’s understanding of the history of the Middle East, and the region’s relationship with Britain and the rest of the world.

“This is an opportunity for us to really make all these manuscripts available online and to describe the information … and make it accessible to a wider public,” British Library Curator of Middle Eastern Studies Colin Baker told Reuters.

The $14 million project will feature 25,000 pages of medieval Arabic manuscripts depicting the Arab world’s science and medicine. It also includes publishing of more than half a million documents from the East India Company and India Office as well. These materials could previously only be viewed by visiting the British Library’s Reading Rooms in London.

The ambitious three-year plans involve various stages including photographing each item, enhancing catalogue records in English and Arabic as well as adding geographic locations of origins for further research use.

The collection of the British Library’s includes masterpieces such as the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook and The Beatles manuscripts along with more than 150 million other items. It also receives 3 million new items each year.

The records will be fully searchable and available online for free for the public to use and includes maps, photos, reports and correspondence relating to British and the rest of the world’s involvement in the Gulf.

British Library director Oliver Urquhart Irvine told Reuters the plans to digitise these works are part of a bigger picture to put the library’s entire collection online.

“We are blessed with a particularly large collection, so that would take a very long time. But this is part of a plan of the library to do that.”

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