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Technology @ AUB: A Research Revolution
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Preserving History and Breaking Down Barriers: Digitizing AUB’s Libraries
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On Past Presidents and Football Stratagems: Fifty Years of Memories at AUB
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Spring 2007 Vol. V, No. 3

Technology @ AUB: A Research Revolution

Preserving History and Breaking Down Barriers: Digitizing AUB’s Libraries

Academic institutions like the American University of Beirut have been leading the “digital library” movement since it began in the 1990s, sparked by increased usage of the internet and on-line connectivity. This does not mean that AUB is moving to an all-digital format; the libraries are maintaining traditional bound books, journals, newspapers, and archives as well as a physical space for faculty and students to do research and study. But AUB’s libraries have been making great strides in providing access to academic resources and library services on-line as well as complementing and enhancing their collection with digital information, whether purchased or created locally. In tandem with these efforts, the libraries are heavily involved in promoting the information literacy that is necessary for faculty and students to fully utilize these new and enhanced resources.

The main thrust of digitization efforts at AUB’s libraries is a continuous process of automation; making an ever-increasing number of services and resources available on-line. Materials are now twice as accessible as they ever were. Students and faculty are able to conveniently access important journals, books, and reference material from their offices, homes, and portable laptops, greatly expanding resources for AUB courses. Faculty can also order books and journal articles through the website and put their course reserve materials on-line. The E-Journals of AUB’s libraries available from on-line databases are extensive and faculty members and students can easily search these in their field of specialty. Hilda Nassar, director of Saab Medical Library (SML), says that it is important to have electronic resources because, especially in medicine, “people want the information of tomorrow, not yesterday.” Nassar also explains that many alumni contact them wanting to use their resources. Since this is not possible for subscribed databases because of copyright issues, SML created a list of useful databases that alumni and others can access for free (click on “AUB Alumni Databases” on the SML website). These include: BestBets, Health Education Assets Library (HEAL), PubMed, SCIRUS, and the Directory of Open Access Journals.

The full range of library resources available on the web includes databases, E-Journals, and E-Books, all of which would only have a minimal effect unless faculty and students are actively informed about them. All this is changing the definition of what “library science” is today. Information Services Librarian Samira Meghdessian explains that, “library science is now focused more on outreach and spreading information literacy on campus.” To this end, the libraries offer numerous classes in how to use resources and search engines, how to navigate the on-line catalogues, as well as providing web-based tutorials. In October 2004, the Antoun Ghattas Karam E-Classroom was inaugurated in Jafet Library and is now used to teach hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students the tools they will need to access the numerous electronic resources of the library. There are also special efforts to help instructors incorporate research methods in their courses that take advantage of these on-line resources.

AUB has expansive archives and special collections, and the University has excelled in using technology to preserve and make widely accessible these documents and images. Børre Ludvigsen, a professor of computer science from Østfold University College, says that some universities are doing large-scale, systematic digitization of library collections, but in terms of digitizing historical documents and rare manuscripts, “AUB is right at the top with the others,” and “has been at the forefront of this effort since the late 1990s.” Ludvigsen heads up the Digital Documentation Center at AUB and has been traveling from his home university in Norway to Lebanon for the past ten years to coordinate and execute the digitization of AUB’s most important archives and collections for Jafet Library, Saab Medical Library, as well as several academic departments.

AUB’s libraries have made great progress in this regard. The first project in Jafet Library was the E.W. Blatchford collection of 801 photographs, mainly of the Middle East, taken between 1880 and 1900 and donated by Mrs. Howard Bliss in 1924. Also viewable on their website are a wide range of posters from Lebanon going back to the 1960s. One collection contains political posters on the themes of the Palestinian question, Lebanon, and the Lebanese Civil War. There is also a superb collection of 177 art posters, primarily from painting and sculpture exhibits in Lebanon, as well as posters for plays, music recitals, movies, and conferences from the 1960s to the late

twentieth century. These are a tremendous resource for students of graphic design and political science, as well as for other researchers and the general public. SML’s digitization projects include collections of old medical posters, diplomas, many historical books, and photos from the private collection of Tamir Nassar taken during an AUB expedition in the 1930s in the Arab Desert (Syria and Jordan).

Another major project of the libraries has been the scanning of student theses. At Jafet Library, they have embarked on the digitizing of 7,000 theses that are available and can be accessed remotely. Archives Librarian Samar Mikati Kaissi says “It is very practical for our students to have the theses available through our library catalog for several reasons: e-theses improve access to research information by providing it immediately to multiple users; they provide the information in a digital, user-friendly form; the information is reachable all day and every day; and they supply students with recent resources and data that are based in a local context and can be functional for their new research.” SML outsourced their collection of 665 theses, so their digitization of theses from the Faculty of Medicine is now complete.

One thing that truly makes AUB’s libraries stand out among its peers is the digitization of historical books and manuscripts in Arabic. In 2002, Jafet Library began an appraisal of their Oriental manuscripts, of which the most valuable 27 were selected and digitized. Informative descriptions as well as images of the first and last five pages can be viewed on the library web page. Another prime example of this is Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, printed in Rome in 1593, which is part of the holdings of SML. Each page of this important historical manuscript was digitally photographed by Professor Ludvigsen. It is now viewable on-line and is stored on archival quality DVDs in two separate locations. Nassar notes that they get inquiries about it every week. Now they are finishing up a translation of the table of contents into English and a complete indexing of the book in Arabic and English so that it will be searchable on the internet. This will be a boon for researchers around the world.

These projects would not have been possible without the forward-looking move of AUB’s libraries to seize the opportunities provided by new technologies. This long-term endeavor contributes greatly to fulfilling AUB’s mission of providing excellence in education, participating in the advancement of knowledge through research, and serving the peoples of the Middle East and beyond.

AUB Libraries: http://www.aub.edu.lb/libraries

Digital Documentation Center: http://ddc.aub.edu.lb/

SML’s “History of Medicine” can be found at:
http://staff.aub.edu.lb/~websml/hist.html

Jafet’s digitized collections can be found at:
http://staff.aub.edu.lb/~webjafet/collections/specialcollections/ascollections.htm