British Library unveils online collaboration with Qatar

LONDON Wed Jul 18, 2012 12:42pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - More than half a million pages of historic documents detailing Arabic history and culture are to be made available online for the first time, as part of the British Library's plans to make its content more accessible.

Among the works is J.G. Lorimer's Gazetter, considered by many to be one of the most important sources on the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, which was originally compiled in the early 20th century as a handbook for British agents and policymakers in the Middle East.

The 8.7 million pound ($14 million) project will feature more than half a million documents from the East India Company and India Office as well as 25,000 pages of medieval Arabic manuscripts depicting the Arab world's science and medicine.

These materials could previously only be viewed by visiting the British Library's Reading Rooms in London.

The partnership between the British Library and the Qatar Foundation was announced on Wednesday and 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 three-year project will involve various stages which include photographing each item, enhancing catalogue records in English and Arabic as well as adding geographic locations of origins for further research use.

The British Library's collection includes more than 150 million items such as the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci's notebook and The Beatles manuscripts. It 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 Arabian Gulf.

British Library director Oliver Urquhart Irvine told Reuters the plans to digitize 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."

(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang, editing by Paul Casciato)

(This story has been refiled to fix typo in headline)

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