British Library and Qatar Foundation join forces to share records

By Sarah Jackson | 06 August 2013

The libraries of the 21st century will no longer be confined to physical buildings and repositories, subject to closing times and geographical limitations: they will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to millions of people across the world.

Close up of a page in Description and Uses of Animals (Na‘t al-ḥayawān wa-mā manafī‘hū) (13th century).
© British Library
Digitisation projects such as the partnership between the British Library and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development aim to make these digital libraries a reality.

The ten-year partnership to digitise more than half a million pages of archival and manuscript material relating to the Gulf region began the first phase of the project last year. Once digitised, this material will be made accessible online, enabling millions of people to access centuries of history with the click of a button.

Working under the umbrella of the Qatar Foundation, the Qatar National Library collects and provides access to knowledge relevant Qatar and the wider region. Expected to open in 2014, it is already providing online resources to residents across Qatar via its website.

In this partnership with the British Library it hopes to explore the Gulf and the wider region’s past and inspire future generations by creating an ambitious yet accessible resource for anybody studying Gulf History and Arabic Science. The final digitised material will be hosted on a web portal built by the partnership.

Accessibility is the key task in this project. By transforming the stored knowledge of the British Library and Qatar National Library into shared knowledge, the partnership aims to improve understanding of the Islamic world, Arabic cultural heritage and the Gulf’s regional history for both today and future researchers.

More than 500,000 pages from the British Library’s collections will be digitised and made available online with both Arabic and English descriptions. This material will include 475,000 pages from the India Office Records and 25,000 pages of medieval Arabic manuscripts.

The India Office Records include the archives of a number of British agencies in the territories now including India, Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh, as well as source materials for parts of South, Southeast and Central Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Thousands of documents spanning from the mid-18th century to the mid-20th century, including political records, photographs, sound recordings and maps, will be available online for the first time.

This first phase, which began in the summer of 2012, will take 30 months and cost £8.7 million to create a state-of-the-art online portal of materials on Gulf History and Arabic Science.

Four hundred items have been re-listed with enhanced records so far. This amounts to the digitisation of more than 115,000 pages – 1,500 images per day.

By the end of 2014, it is hoped that half a million pages will have been completed.

  • Follow the British Library on Twitter @britishlibrary. Follow the Qatar National Library on Twitter @QNLib.

More pictures:

A page from a Mamluk manual on horsemanship, military arts and technology
© British Library
Close up of a page in Archimedes Book on the Construction of Water Clocks.
© British Library
Close up of a trigonometrical survey of Core Alladeid on the Arabian side of the Gulf.
© British Library

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