CLIR Receives Whiting Foundation Grant to Prototype Digital Library of the Middle East

Washington, DC, May 22, 2017—The Whiting Foundation has awarded the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) $170,000 to design, implement, and launch a prototype Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME). CLIR will work closely with its primary organizational partner on the DLME, The Antiquities Coalition, and with five universities to create a proof of concept for an interoperable, large-scale digital library of cultural artifacts from the Middle East and North Africa. Stanford University Libraries and its IT department will be the principal technical partners on building the prototype.

Along with the horrific loss of life and human suffering in the region, the cultural heritage of many nations in the Middle East and North Africa is under severe threat from destruction, looting, illegal trafficking, and terrorism. The DLME aims to help remediate this crisis by creating a globally available resource in partnership with collaborators throughout the region that provides detailed descriptions and images of artifacts, along with information about the objects’ history, ownership, and legal status.

The prototype, which focuses on collections held in the United States, is a first step in developing a technical platform that can be used to aggregate collections globally. Some 100,000 objects, including text, video, photographs, archives, manuscripts, and maps illuminating the history of the Middle East and North Africa, will be included in the proof of concept. It will leverage many of the open source tools that have been developed and tested over the last decade through the open source digital library community. The prototype will be available in English and Arabic; the DLME is currently engaging with and preparing partnerships at museums and other cultural institutions throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Whiting Foundation grant is pivotal to the DLME project,” said CLIR president Charles Henry, a principal investigator on the grant. “It provides the support for our technical proof of concept, without which the project could not advance. The work funded by the Foundation will allow us to shape and define the future elements of the DLME and is thus essential to the success of this extraordinary, international effort of cultural cohesion.”

In addition to the technical effort, the project will create three exhibitions based on the DLME. Each will be devised for specific audiences, such as scholars, K-12 students, and the engaged public, to create user cases and test functionality.

“The DLME will offer an interactive suite of sophisticated content, applications, and tools that responds to human curiosity, whether by a high school student in New Jersey, a college student in Jordan, or a scholar at one of the world’s great universities,” said Peter Herdrich, co-founder of The Antiquities Coalition and a principal investigator on the grant project. “This is a solution that will make a difference in many ways.”

“The world needs a Digital Library of the Middle East to break down the barriers separating digital repositories and make this rich heritage easier to discover and explore,” said Daniel Reid, executive director of The Whiting Foundation. “This ambitious international project promises to bring cultural treasures housed at museums and libraries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia back to the people of the region where they were forged, and to guide students and scholars from around the globe to the institutions in the Middle East that safeguard its history and culture. The Whiting Foundation is proud to support such an important effort in its early stages.”

Initial partners include Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.

CLIR expects to launch the prototype by the end of 2017.

For more information on the DLME, visit https://www.clir.org/initiatives-partnerships/DLME.

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

The Antiquities Coalition is leading the global fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations. The Coalition’s innovative and practical solutions tackle crimes against heritage head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis.

The Whiting Foundation supports literature and the humanities. We believe that it is imperative that the collective treasures of history and memory be passed on to the future with as little loss as we can manage. Recognizing that irreplaceable cultural heritage is being destroyed at an alarming rate around the globe, we are committed to supporting local stewards of human culture around the globe as part of this shared endeavor.