With the development of new technologies, libraries the world over are moving away from traditional systems into digital mode to better serve the needs of library administrators and users.
Factors such as increased operational costs, decline in acquisition of library collections due to increased cost of materials, increased use of e-Books over printed text, and most important, the need to preserve valuable documents are some of the major factors driving the digital conversion of libraries. A new project that grabbing attention is Arabic Collections Online (ACO), a joint venture of New York University Libraries and its partners, the AUB libraries, which aims to digitize over 100,000 volumes of Arabic content for worldwide access. This five-year project is funded by the New York University, Abu Dhabi.
Though various prominent North American institutions have already partnered in the digitization of Arabic content, the AUB Libraries are the first ones outside the United States to join the project. They can contribute a rich collection of Arabic content on a variety of subjects and disciplines. Extensive collections and commitment to open access to high standards of digital preservation make them perfect partners for the project. The wide collections of the AUB libraries include:
- 1.2 million volumes of print and electronic books
- 10,000 rare and unique books
- 10,000 print periodicals (of which 3,500 are in Arabic)
- 140,000 electronic journals and conference proceedings
- 300 electronic databases
- 1.2 million Audiovisual items in various formats
- 1,400 manuscripts
- 9,000 volumes of AUB theses and dissertations dating back to 1907; 5,000 posters
- 1,900 maps
- 50,000 photographs
Reference materials as well as archives and special collections are also part of the collections. Traditional libraries usually have collections of print media and paper manuscripts that are stored not in a well organized manner. Such documents are difficult to access and deteriorate easily. The main advantages of digital conversion of libraries include:
- No physical boundary
- Round the clock availability
- Simultaneous access for multiple users
- More structured content that is easy to locate
- User-friendly interfaces with clickable access to resources
- Preservation and conservation of documents
- Digital information requires less storage space
- Low maintenance costs
It is expected that, given its massive scope, the ACO project will mark an important step towards easy access to historical Arab collections, and to advancing research from and about the Arab world.