Digitize Those Books

It is a crime against culture, against heritage and against the future to keep rare books away from scanners.

sa2eh-library-nath-hThe Al-Sa2eh Library after being restored (Photo by Nath Halawani)

It was a heart warming sight: Tripoli’s civil society rushing to take part in salvaging and restoring what remained of the historic Al-Sa2eh library. It was also encouraging to see the politicians promising to restore it to its former self. But after the dust settles on the immediate need to undo the fire, we need to have another conversation about books and  their value to the Lebanese.

Future Proofing

I’m not very familiar with the business model of Al-Sa2eh Library or about whether Father Srouj had a business model at all (as opposed to doing a public service). But what I do know is that if that library, and for that matter any library in Lebanon, contains truly rare books, books that offer value to society and that only exist in a form that is vulnerable to fire, water, sabotage and rotting, it would be a great disservice to future generations not to have digital copies of those books that are widely distributed, redundant, searchable, sortable and publicly accessible. Look at Norway, it has recently digitized all of its books and made them free to read online.

There was a subtle underlying emotion in the Al-Sa2eh library affair that I personally find unsettling but that is still relatively widespread in Lebanon: An almost fetish-like fixation on the physicality of books: Their smell, their texture and their visual brilliance. That is fine in the same way that it’s fine to use books as decorative items in your home, but the true value of books is in the knowledge (and entertainment) that these books provide, regardless of what technology was used to convey it (ink on dead trees or bits and pixels).

It’s Easier Than you Think

As we have seen, Tripoli has no shortage of civil society volunteers. It also has no shortage of philanthropist politicians who want to be seen as sponsors of culture. Also, Lebanon has no shortage of Ministers who want to appear cool by supporting such initiatives (Cough! –Sehnaoui– Cough!). It can be done guys, it only needs a small push. Granted it’s not as sexy as a watching a bunch of people restoring an old library hand-in-hand, but it will be much more useful for future generations.

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  • Pat

    Mus while I completely agree with you on the huge need to digitize those books, I think it is harder than you think.
    I worked in the Digital Documentation Center in AUB when I was a student and you have no idea how time consuming that process can be.
    Especially non-destructive scanning which is a must in most cases.

    But you are definitely right. That’s the only way to truly preserve and benefit form this knowledge locked away in those books.

  • http://nuts nuts@gmail.com
  • Z. H.

    There are cheap and cost-effective solutions currently: check this contactless scanner from snapscan, for example.

    I’m sure the ministry of culture can spare a few thousand bucks for a digitization initiative. Bas la hayata liman tounadi…

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lebanese-Voices/328197809461?ref=ts تي

    I’m in, anyone else interested in this … a couple of pages uploaded everynight will have this done is a few month!