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Thinking beyond the manuscripts digitisation in the Arab world

Penser au-delà de la numérisation des manuscrits dans le monde arabe
التفكير فيما بعد رقمنة المخطوطات في العالم العربي
Walid Ghali
p. 57-70


La numérisation des collections d'archives et de manuscrits est devenue une tendance soutenue institutionnellement tant au niveau international que national. Toutefois, si l'on examine l'état de la numérisation au Moyen-Orient au cours des dix dernières années, il apparaît que ce tournant n’a pas suscité le même intérêt que sur d’autres continents. Cela a donc affecté l'accessibilité de ces matériaux patrimoniaux, qui ont été détruits ou perdus pour différentes raisons. Cet article vise donc à répondre à une question fondamentale : pourquoi la numérisation des collections de manuscrits dans les pays arabes ne progresse-t-elle pas comme elle le devrait et qu'est-ce que cela signifie au-delà de la numérisation ?

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1In their article, “The Tragedy of Arabic Manuscripts”, Mahmûd Thâbit and Michael Albin state: “Islamic and Arabic manuscripts, considered either for their scientific value which forms part of Arabic heritage or for their physical stature as antiquities, are a national treasure. If some experts estimate the world's manuscript riches in the millions, then Islamic and Arabic civilisation enjoys the lion’s share of this heritage which the world's largest museums have vied to unearth and acquire.” (Mahmûd, Albin 1977: 16). Although this article was written in 1977, one may argue that the only change is that more manuscript collections were discovered. However, the tragedy still exists, in my opinion.

2Although the digitisation of archival and manuscript collections has become an endorsed trend equally in the international and national levels, it appears that it has not been receiving the same level of interest in the Arab world than elsewhere. Apart from projects by a handful of institutions, there still are significant collections, either institutional or in private ownership that require further attention. With the current political situation in the Middle East, digitisation should stand as a compulsory undertaking by either governmental and non-governmental institutions.

3Although there are many digitisation projects that have never been completed in the Middle East for various reasons, there is a noticeable shift in attitude towards digitisation in the last two decades (Nasr 2016). Institutions have become more convinced of the benefits of digitisation that is probably the only solution if they wanted to preserve the cultural heritage in general and manuscripts traditions in particular. This paper aims to shed light on the importance of the digitisation with a focus on the desired outcomes of these projects. Digitisation on its own should not be the ultimate goal but become a channel to enhance research and make the heritage available for societies. The paper will also focus on the critical aspects in the field of manuscript digitisation beyond the technical and functional elements such as the metadata and image scanning, which have been heavily researched in the last few years.

Is digitisation important?

4Digitisation of an archive or manuscript collection is a significant, time consuming and expensive task. However, to justify this painstaking, we should think about the benefits of digitisation. For instance, digitisation for preservation tends to be used for collections which are either heavily utilised, such as parish registers used by family historians (archive), or for collections which are in bad condition or extremely hard to access in the original, which is the case in some medieval manuscripts. As for the access, digitisation can be done in one of two forms. The first is the ad hoc digitisation to send files to people who cannot access due to geographical or financial barriers. This also means that digitisation would be undertaken on a case by case basis in response to specific demands. This process usually involves a risk assessment on the contents of the files being made available, along with an assessment on the fact that once digitised and emailed to a researcher, that researcher could then email the file to another unknown set of people. Creating policies and adopting the best practice is vital to tackle this challenge.

5The second form is the large scale digitisation of a collection or parts of it in anticipation of global interest, which is presented on a purpose-built website. The full process for a large scale digitisation project involves selection criteria that will affect whether partial or full digitisation of the collection is undertaken. Consequently, it will affect the design and purpose of the website designed to promote the collection. Also, a worthwhile project will need a highly defined business purpose. The idea of simply putting the archive or manuscripts online is not the best practice due to the costs and complexity of such a project.

6Another consideration that should be accounted for in the large scale digitisation projects is the number of pages to be scanned. It should be calculated to assess the capacity of the system that will handle the enormous quantity of data and images. In both cases, high levels of storage and IT infrastructure will be needed to deliver the project. Another consideration is digital preservation of the collection: once created the digital files, there will be a need to actively manage and upgrade the systems over time to ensure continued access. This is the most costly part of any digitisation project as we will explore in the next section. Constant follow up, and monitoring of the archive or the online collection access is crucial for any digitisation project to assess demand.

7Moving to the Arab world, the attitude towards digitisation in some countries is worth examining, too. Resisting the digitisation as a global direction, blocking of information, and obstacles to implementing workflows are among the challenges and considerations that affect digitisation projects. In some cases, rejection of digitisation comes from curators and managers who are in charge of manuscript libraries because they believe that using technological equipment will harm the original manuscripts. Perhaps this was true in the early projects where ordinary scanners have been used. But this has changed in the later stages projects with the existence of overhead and book scanners.

8The rejection and delay of adopting manuscript digitisation in some countries, especially those who have a rich cultural heritage such as Egypt and Morocco, affected not only the accessibility of these collections but also exposed this heritage to different types of risks, as I will explore in the following section.

Heritage at risk!

  • 1 It was established in 1798 as a learning academy, formed by Napoleon Bonaparte to carry out resear (...)

9In most of the digitisation plans, there should be a mention of the risks that threaten the collection that will be digitised. Islamic manuscripts have been, and still are, subject to deliberate or non-deliberate destruction either due to periods of unrest or because of illegal looting. The devastation that happened in modern history is also significant because of the various conflicts in the area. The burning of manuscripts in Zanzibar in the sixties, and in Sarajevo during the nineties, as well as the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other countries during the recent upheavals are evidence of how endangered the manuscripts are. For instance, two incidents that took place in Egypt during and after January 2011 explain this point. The first was the burning of the Egyptian Scientific Society (Majma‘ al-Ilmi al-Masri)1 where many rare books were burned, including a rare copy of Description de l’Égypte. The second accident occurred in 2014 near to the Egyptian national library in Bâb al-Khalq, when a large number of explosions was planted near the library. On top of the above, looting manuscripts is hard to be traced and stopped due to lack of legislation and law enforcement in most of the Arab countries.

10In addition to the destruction of manuscripts because of wars and conflicts, there is another kind of danger, which is the deteriorating condition of manuscripts in some libraries and archives because of the preservation and keeping methods. A related issue to the storage problem is the way these manuscripts are handled for cataloguing, reproduction, or research purposes. Most of the manuscript libraries with a small budget cannot afford to acquire the handling tools, such as support cushions, ribbons, or cotton gloves. Moreover, neither the staff who deal with manuscripts in these libraries nor the users, have been given training or instruction on how they should deal with the physical manuscripts daily.

11The current investment in the creation of digital asset and digitisation is threatened by the rapid change in computer software and hardware technologies, thereby jeopardising the objectives of digitisation. It is worth mentioning that private collections of archives and manuscripts are not risk-free either. In addition to the keeping condition that might not be adequate, the way that families treat these collections as an inheritance after the owner’s demise in some cases is problematic (Gbaje, Bot 2009: 10).

12Beagrie (Beagrie 2004), and Rosenthal (Rosenthal et al. 2005), have identified some major risks to digital information and assets, including the fact that storage medium deteriorate overtime; hardware cannot be replaced when it has become obsolete; file formats become obsolete in the course of software evolution; and even when these are available, older versions of software, may not work on new hardware or operating systems.

Beyond digitisation: worldwide directions

13The previous section shed light on some challenges and considerations in the field of heritage digitisation. In response to that, the following section aims to demonstrate the advancement of the heritage preservation field. It is worth mentionning that digitisation, for most of the heritage institutions, is no longer the ultimate goal. Making the heritage available to support research and communities is the higher objective. In doing so, there have been significant developments in different research fields and tools such as digital humanities, Open access and digital preservation that play a vital role in today’s international digitisation initiatives.

  • 2 Commercial & Industrial Security Corporation (Cisco) is a US technology company that is best known (...)
  • 3 “Beyond Digitization: Kevin Bandy’s Three Guiding Principles”, published on 10/01/2019, URL: https (...)

14The former chief digital officer at Cisco2 believes that digitisation is not about an end game. Instead, it is an ongoing effort that requires process re-engineering, adaptive technology and an open mind. He adds “Digitisation is not a one-time project, it is an ongoing cross-functional process”. Companies, for example, need to evaluate and reinvent to meet customer changing needs. New technologies are emerging faster than ever, which, in turn, means more opportunities – in some cases, imperatives – to transform. In my viewpoint, being digital does not mean being generic; there should be strategies, processes and policies that are planned well in advance to start and manage any digitisation projects.3

Open Access

15Open access means different things to different organisations. The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) defines Open Knowledge as “what open data becomes when it is useful, usable and used”. The key features of Open Knowledge, as described by OKF, are Availability and access; reuse and universal redistribution participation (Kapsalis 2016: 4).

16There is no one-size-fits-all definition of what constitutes open access in cultural heritage institutions. However, Effie Kapsalis identifies some essential general standards for open access: For materials in the public domain: “open access generally means full access and use without restriction.” For copyrighted materials: “open access means to access and use only when consistent with fair use” (ibid.: 2).

17As Merete Sanderhoff discusses, regardless of the platform a museum uses to house its open access content, by providing free access to the digital heritage the institution is ultimately making the collection available to the more than 3.5 billion people worldwide who can access the Internet. It also invites a participatory experience, allowing the public to access collection information not only to learn but also be inspired and ultimately to create new content. This engagement is what will enable museums to maintain their cultural relevance in an increasingly digital world (Sanderhoff 2016).

18The benefits of hosting an open-access collection interface on the main museum or special collection website include increased search engine optimisation (SEO) for the core website, which in turn leads to increased website traffic. It also can lead to heightened brand recognition for the museum as more audiences, and potential visitors become aware of the collection and available related content. This serves to establish the museum website as a source for information, whether for academic researchers, or casual learners. However, not every museum has the necessary digital asset management or technological infrastructure to support this type of web hosting. Additionally, museums may decide that sharing open access images or data on partner websites is beneficial in addition to having a full collection website (Paqua 2018).

19It is important to note that there is increasingly a direct monetary impetus for institutions to consider open access as well. As Kapsalis points out, funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are beginning to require that projects completed with their funding include open access content in some capacity (ibid.).

20Open access projects can be implemented on a small scale and still have a sizeable digital impact. For instance, there are many museums and libraries parenting with Google Arts & Culture to host high-resolution images from their collection. These user-generated works exemplify the potential of open access collections to inspire creative collaborations with individuals outside the institution. The success of this project has had a transformative effect on The Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) in Denmark, with the museum's mission now aiming “to be a catalyst for users' creativity and learning” (ibid.).

21One key benefit to having open access materials is the ability to collaborate with other institutions, whether with other museums, consortiums such as Europeana, or major organisations outside the sector such as Google Arts & Culture and Wikipedia. This type of collaboration raises the overall profile and visibility of the institution while also insulating smaller museums from the added technical costs associated with hosting the collection on the museum website. Additionally, users can access the content from the platforms they are already comfortable with, providing more opportunities to reach new viewers beyond the traditional museum website audiences (ibid.).

Digital Humanities

22The second important and progressing area relating to heritage digitisation is Digital Humanities. Some claim that the story started when the University of Virginia in 1986 hired Jerome McGann, who is now credited with defining the emerging field of DH. When McGann sought the assistance of computer technology to extend his work, the SpecLab at the University of Virginia was created. Scholars in this laboratory designed the prototypes for projects such as the Rossetti Archive, a digital archive of all of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and “The Ivanhoe Game,” a textual analysis role-playing game. These developments were responsible for the rebranding of Humanities Computing as DH, and the establishment of its core concern as textual scholarship.

23Later, many organisations and conferences were dedicated to DH. The largest is the Alliance of DH (ADHO), which encompasses the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH), the Canadian Society for DH, and the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computers (ALLC). The ALLC gives the Roberto Busa Award once every three years in recognition of outstanding lifetime achievements in the application of computer and information technologies to humanities research. ADHO holds an annual international conference (Jenkins 2019).

24In 2006, the Modern Language Association (MLA) published Electronic Textual Editing, a volume of essays concerned with both practical technical advice and theoretical questions about the significance of the shift from print to electronic media. The volume offers an emerging consensus about the fundamental issues of electronic textual editing. It provides practical advice and faces theoretical questions. It comprises twenty-four essays dealing with a wide range of topics such as markup coding and procedures, electronic archive administration, use of standards (such as Unicode), rights and permissions, and the changing and challenging environment of the Internet (Burnard, O’Keeffe, Unsworth 2006).

  • 4 European Research Council.

25In their ERC4 funded project, José Haro Peralta and Peter Verkinderen have built a data-mining toolkit for Arabic texts. The open-source textual analysis toolkit was released under the name “Jedli”. It was developed within the framework of the research project “The Early Islamic Empire at Work: The View from the Regions Toward the Center”. This project aims at providing a better understanding of the political and economic structures of the Islamic Empire during its first three centuries by looking at the working mechanisms of five key regions: Fâris, Ifrîqiya, al-Jazîra, Khurâsân, and al-Shâm (Haro, Verkinderen 2016).

  • 5 Python is an interpreted, high-level and general-purpose programming language. Created by Guido va (...)

26They used the programming language, Python5 to develop the toolkit to achieve three functions; an indexer, a context search function, and a highlighter. In general, Python offers the advantage of being a dynamic language which means that a piece of code can be written and tested immediately, allowing for an interactive development experience of trial and error that eases the learning curve considerably. Python also contains several modules that are very suitable for textual analysis (Haro, Verkinderen 2016: 199).

27On a similar note, Maxim Romanov pointed out that the currently available collections of digital texts are ill-suited for computational analysis. They aim at reproducing physical books rather than creating truly digital editions of the texts. In addition, their scope is limited, often on an ideological basis; the grouping into literary genres is inflexible and sometimes unhelpful, and metadata is incomplete and cannot be updated. We could add that the quality of the digitisation is variable and not always based on high-quality editions. Moreover, the critical apparatus and footnotes are not dealt with consistently (Romanov 2014).

28What Romanov was referring to is the collections of digitised Arabic texts that began to appear in the 1990s including the largest and most developed collection available on Al-Maktaba al-Shamela6 which has been online since 2005. Not only does Al-Maktaba al-Shamela have the largest collection of books, but it also has an online platform (, which allows a basic search across all the books within a specific category, and a dedicated desktop program, developed to read and search the collection. The desktop program offers an advanced search engine, which allows users to search for multiple words at a time, using OR and AND operators, in one or more books in the library (Muhanna 2016: 200).

29Another experiment on Digital Humanities is a large-scale project called the Open Islamicate Texts Initiative (OpenITI), which is a multi-institutional effort to construct the first machine-actionable scholarly corpus of pre-modern Islamicate texts. The project is led by researchers at the Aga Khan University (AKU), University of Vienna (UV), Leipzig University (LU), the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland (College Park) and an interdisciplinary advisory board of leading digital humanists and Islamic, Persian, and Arabic studies scholars (Romanov, Seydi 2019).

30The corpus, named KITAB aims to provide the essential textual infrastructure in Arabic, Persian and other Islamicate languages to establish new forms of textual analysis and digital scholarship. It also enables new synergies between Digital Humanities and the inter-related Islamicate fields of Islamic, Persian, and Arabic Studies. Scholars working in Arabic can now download the entire corpus through Zenodo, an Open Source platform that supports open access. Thus, the project is committed to publishing all major versions of the corpus, as well as analytical datasets generated with different methods on Zenodo (Romanov 2014).

Digital Preservation

31Gbaje and Bot offer three different strategies for digital preservation. The first strategy is the preservation of the original technology used to create a digital asset to preserve the functionality of the product. This is a “museum-style” approach, which is probably only suitable as a short-term solution. The second strategy is Technology Emulation which is based on the need to preserve the technological environment and therefore, original functionality. So, in this strategy, the current technology is used to mimic the original environment, hence the preservation. This might involve emulation of the original software or the original hardware (in this case the original software and operating system are stored along with the digital object itself). The third strategy is Data migration, that focuses on maintaining digital material in current formats. Data migration means the material is maintained in the archive in a currently useable format. As digital collections increase in size, the process of migration may become too time-consuming and costly, and it could become an almost continuous process (Gbaje, Bot 2009: 11).

32Choice of strategy must reflect fitness for purpose. Certain technical factors will impact on this choice: the basic data types employed in each category; the application programs used to create them; the structures applied to them; the systems used to manage or distribute them before deposit (ibid.: 12). For instance, Granger (Granger 2000) points out that migration is currently the only practical strategy open to large-scale digital archives

33In my view, the past and current projects in the Arab countries should integrate the three previous strategies. The reasons are that some of these projects have relied on technologies (mainly hardware) that have become obsolete. So, in case these technologies have not been successfully stored, it becomes urgent to emulate the previous environments to retore the images and data. As for the new project, the data should be prepared for future migration. This can be guaranteed by using the different metadata schemas. Having discussed the importance of digitisation in preserving the cultural heritage in the Arab world, and what are the critical trends beyond the digitisation nowadays, the final section of this paper addresses ways of establishing digital collections of archival and manuscripts collections. This final section, however, does not look at the aspect from a technical point of view, but rather focuses on how to strategise or plan the digitisation project.

Building manuscript digital collections

34The following are some considerations that should be taken into account when we plan for any digitisation project. It is worth to mention that the dominant principle in any digitisation project is to move from pure digitisation to digitalisation, and without going into so many linguistic details, it suffices to say that digitalisation means the project moves up the digital transformation maturity ladder. In other words, we need to move from a pure digitisation situation and/or project towards the conditions which are needed for digitalisation and digital transformation.7

35Another aspect is designing the expected objectives from the project, which means making the business case for the digitisation projects that does not look at the immediate needs and goals but also looks at how to leverage data to serve users better and build new offerings. These projects will (ou would) also come up with new schemas as discussed in the previous section – working with forward-thinking partners and other departments, whereby you look at examples of successful digitalisation and transformation initiatives such as Digital Humanities applications.

  • 8 Ibid.

36Systems infrastructure is another significant aspect in the digitisation projects, but it should be capable of delivering the goals of the project today and in the future. In practice, this among others means looking at web-based solutions, at the cloud, at systems of insight and systems of engagement (not just the traditional systems of records that are still present in the capture and digitisation market) and probably at mobile and open data architectures with a focus on connectivity and data exchange.8

37Discussing Mobile applications in this context might sound off track, but here is one example of using this technology to promote and make available selections of manuscripts. Bavarian State Library was the world’s first library to present digital copies of most valuable, outstanding items from its collections in the form of an App for iPads and iPhones. Oriental Treasures of the Bavarian State Library, contains precious and remarkable books and manuscripts of the library’s famous and internationally renowned oriental collection. Twenty items can be downloaded free of charge in the Apple App store and can be browsed from the first to the last page on the brilliant colour displays of iPads and iPhones. Oriental treasures which so far were hidden in vaults and usually were accessible for the interested public only rarely in exhibitions can now be admired anytime and anywhere (Salamon 2011).

Collaboration is the key strategy

  • 9 Arabic Scientific Manuscripts of the British Library (official website).

38Cultural heritage institutions around the world are digitising vast archives containing hundreds of thousands of pages of manuscript collections. The ability to make these works fully text-searchable has the potential to transform research. Computer scientists are working on this challenge through building systems that can automatically transcribe images of handwritten text.9 Most of these endeavours are based on collaboration across institutions. Choosing the collaborator who will work in your digitisation project is a milestone in its own right. This type of cross-institution cooperation was recently identified as a long-term trend by NMC Horizon Report: Museum Edition (2016). This would not only have a positive impact on the public perception of an institution but could be used to sustain and support various institutions in the face of emerging challenges. In the Islamic and Arabic heritage field, several collaborative projects aim to document, digitise, preserve and disseminate historical archives and manuscripts.

  • 10 Ibid.

39The first example is the cooperative cataloguing project at Michigan University that was established in December 2008. The library was awarded a grant from the Council of Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) to catalogue the Islamic manuscripts collection. The project took four years to complete approximately 1,100 manuscripts dating from the 8th to the 20th century CE. Scholars and librarians volunteered to create the metadata records remotely. Based on an open-source platform, the website was fully integrated with the library’s central bibliographic information system (Library Catalog Search) and with HathiTrust, a shared digital repository that provides persistent, high-availability storage for digitised book and journal content from the collections of the University of Michigan and other partnering research institutions and libraries.10

40The second example of the same nature is the Arabic Scientific Manuscripts of the British Library. In this project, they used a software “Use From The Page” for transcribing documents and collaborating on transcriptions with others. This software is used for everything from simple, plain-text transcription projects to bilingual digital scholarly editions with annotations. Forty-five collaborators worked together to transcribe and translate line by line a group of scientific manuscripts from the British Library collections.

  • 11 “Endangered” means material that is at risk of loss or decay and is located in countries where res (...)
  • 12 Endangered Archives Programme, URL:

41Another project belonging to the British Library is The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) that seeks to preserve cultural heritage and make it available to an as broad audience as possible. In doing so, they work with other institutions to provide grants to digitise and document endangered archives11. The Programme primarily funds digitisation projects to record and preserve the content of archives. The project creates digital material in a format that facilitates long-term preservation, and at least two copies of these are stored (an original copy that remains at an appropriate repository in the country of origin, and a secondary copy held at the British Library). In return, the digital material held at the British Library is made fully and freely available online through the EAP website. The Programme aims to encourage and facilitate the use of these digital collections for research, education and enjoyment. The principal goal is to ensure that the values of the people and communities from which the archives have come are respected and that they are consulted in any significant re-use of the digital material.12


42The benefits of digitisation are undeniable; it is probably the only solution available to preserve the cultural heritage in general and manuscripts traditions in particular. Similar to the risks to the physical assets of manuscripts, digitised items might also be at risk due to the rapid changes in technologies. This paper, however, did not attempt to discuss the technical requirements of digitisation of archives and manuscripts in the Arab world; the focus was on how these projects could be successful after completion. Access is one of the significant points to measure the success of any digitisation project. Also, taking into account the future changes in technologies is crucial in planning for digital assets preservation. Finally, making the digital assets available for research and analysis through the Digital Humanities platforms would make the digitisation of manuscripts reach its ultimate goals.

43My aim in the paper was to draw attention not only to the benefits of digitisation but also to the importance of planning and managing of these projects. Some of the projects in the Arab world have been done in an ad hoc basis, and subsequent outcomes were not satisfactory. Projects such as al-Azhar Manuscripts Online took significant efforts to be completed, but there is no access available to this important collection that has been entirely digitised. The reason for this failure, in my opinion, was due to lack of planning.

44Along with digital preservation and open access, Digital Humanities have become a vital tool to utilise the digital assets of manuscripts and archives. Feeding these digital copies into the DH platform and running the algorithm to analyse these texts will lead to a new arena of research in the Islamic and Arabic studies. Finally, a major theme that permeates any discussion of digitisation is the concept of collaboration. There are many international projects and initiatives demonstrating the partnership in the field of digitisation and metadata. The advantages of these projects are numerous: developing best practices and strategies, overcoming the different challenges, and funding are some of the common advantages.


45Beagrie N. 2004. “The Continuing Access and Digital Preservation Strategy for the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)”, D-Lib Magazine, vol. 10, no. 7/8, URL:​dlib/​july04/​beagrie/​07beagrie.html, consulted on 06/12/2020.

46Burnard L., O’Keeffe K.O., Unsworth J. (eds), 2006, Electronic Textual Editing, New York: Modern Language Association of America, 419 p.

47Gbaje E.S., Bot N.G., 2009, “Beyond digitisation: Access and preservation”, Information Manager (The), vol. 9, no. 1, URL:​10.4314/​tim.v9i1.55476, consulted on 06/12/2020.

48Ghali W., 2016, “The State of Manuscript Digitization Projects in Some Egyptian Libraries and Their Challenges”, Library and Information Science in the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Amanda B. Click, Sumayya Ahmed, Jacob Hill and John D. Martin III, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Saur, p. 302-318. DOI:​10.1515/​9783110341782-017.

49Granger S., 2000, “Emulation as a Digital Preservation Strategy”, URL:​dlib/​october00/​granger/​10granger.html, consulted on 10/11/2008.

50Haro J., Verkinderen P., 2016, “‘Find for Me!’: Building a Context-Based Search Tool Using Python”, p. 199 in Muhanna E., The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

51Herdrich P., 2018, “The Digital Library of the Middle East and Implementing International Cultural Heritage Preservation Policy”, KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies 2(1), p. 18. URL:​10.5334/​kula.38.

52Jenkins J. MA., 2019, “Digital humanities (DH)” in Salem Press Encyclopedia, New York: Salem Press.

53Kapsalis E., 2016, “The Impact of Open Access on Galleries, Libraries, Museums, & Archives”, URL:​sites/​default/​files/​pdfs/​2016_03_10_OpenCollections_Public.pdf, consulted on 06/12/2020.

54Mahmûd Th., Albin M.W., 1977, MELA notes, “The Tragedy of Arabic Manuscripts”, no. 12, p. 16-19, Middle East Librarians Association Stable, URL:​stable/​29785032, consulted on 06/12/2020.

55Muhanna E., 2016, The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, URL:​10.1515/​9783110376517.

56Paqua M., 2018, “Beyond Digitisation: Planning for Open Access Collections”, URL:​beyond-digitization-planning-for-open-access-collections-fb7325163f5d, consulted on 24/07/2019.

57Romanov M., 2014, “Collections of Text vs. Textual Corpora, or What We Have and What We Need”, at the Textual Corpora and the Digital Islamic Humanities Workshop, Brown university.

58Romanov M., Seydi M., 2019, “OpenITI: A Machine-Readable Corpus of Islamicate Texts”, Zenodo, URL:​10.5281/​zenodo.3082464.

59Rosenthal D.S.H. et al., 2005, “Requirements for Digital Preservation Systems”, D-Lib Magazine, vol. 11 no. 11, URL:​dlib/​november05/​rosenthal/​11rosenthal.html, consulted on 29/07/2019.

60Salamon A., “The App ‘Oriental Books. Oriental treasures of the Bavarian State Library’”, published on 17/05/2011 URL:​islamicstudieslibrary/​the-app-oriental-books-oriental-treasures-of-the-bavarian-state-library/​, consulted on 02/08/2019.

61Sanderhoff M., “Your imagination is the only limit”, Open GLAM – Medium, published on 18/05/2016, URL:​open-glam/​your-imagination-is-the-only-limit-67cc98ebaab1, consulted on 29/07/2019.

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1 It was established in 1798 as a learning academy, formed by Napoleon Bonaparte to carry out research during his Egyptian campaign.

2 Commercial & Industrial Security Corporation (Cisco) is a US technology company that is best known for its networking products.

3 “Beyond Digitization: Kevin Bandy’s Three Guiding Principles”, published on 10/01/2019, URL:, consulted on 06/12/2020.

4 European Research Council.

5 Python is an interpreted, high-level and general-purpose programming language. Created by Guido van Rossum and first released in 1991, Python’s design philosophy emphasizes code readability with its notable use of significant whitespace. Its language constructs and object-oriented approach aim to help programmers write clear, logical code for small and large-scale projects (“A Python Book: Beginning Python, Advanced Python, and Python Exercises,”. URL:, consulted on 23/06/2012.

6 Al-Maktaba al-Shamela ( is online database containing an initial amount of 5,300 books on the various Islamic sciences, organized into appropriate categories (in Arabic only). For more information, see: Islamic Library (blog), URL:, consulted on 06/12/2020.

7 “Moving from digitization to digitalization” (n.d.), URL:, consulted on 24/07/2019.

8 Ibid.

9 Arabic Scientific Manuscripts of the British Library (official website).

10 Ibid.

11 “Endangered” means material that is at risk of loss or decay and is located in countries where resources and opportunities to preserve such material are lacking or limited. The material can date from any time before the middle of the twentieth century, though archives that cross over to some extent into the second half of the twentieth century may be accepted if the majority of the material is earlier. It is one of our fundamental principles that the original material remains in the country in which it is located, URL:

12 Endangered Archives Programme, URL:

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Walid Ghali

Dr Ghali is the Head of the Aga Khan Library in London and Associate Professor of Muslim Cultures at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University. He received his PhD from Cairo University in 2012 from the Faculty of Arts. His work mainly focuses on manuscript studies and codicology as well as teaching Sufism and Arabic Literature.

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