Three Questions on the Digital Library of the Middle East

For this special edition of DLF Contribute, Digital Library Federation director Bethany Nowviskie interviews two of her collaborators on the DLME.

Elizabeth Waraksa is Program Director for Research and Strategic Initiatives at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and a consultant and researcher on the project. She holds a doctorate in Near Eastern studies with a specialization in Egyptian art and archaeology from the Johns Hopkins University, and was a former librarian for Middle Eastern studies and lecturer in Near Eastern languages and cultures at UCLA. Wayne Graham is Technical Director for CLIR and DLF, and technical lead for the Digital Library of the Middle East. A former head of R&D at the University of Virginia Library Scholars’ Lab, Graham holds a master’s degree in History from the College of William and Mary and has extensive experience in digital cultural heritage, including 3d capture of structures and artifacts.

 

Bethany Nowviskie: We only ever ask three questions on DLF Contribute. Here’s your first! What’s the most important thing for people to know about the Digital Library of the Middle East?

Elizabeth Waraksa: Whew, where to begin? For me, the most important thing is that the DLME is being created with the broadest possible audience in mind. Whether the future user is a seasoned scholar of the Near/Middle East working on their latest scholarly publication, a curious high school student in Egypt looking to supplement their language and literature curriculum, or a member of the public seeking to enrich their understanding of our shared cultural heritage, they will find something of relevance.

Wayne Graham: I’ve been hugely impressed with how quickly the DLME has progressed from a good idea to a tangible functioning prototype due to the wonderful development team we’re working with at Stanford. We’ve been collaborating with institutions and open source communities from around the world to add unique collections to this resource. I’m excited to see it grow as we begin bringing in data from more of our strong partners in the MENA region.

Nowviskie: Yes to all of this. If I could add one thing to what you’ve said, it’d be that this project is not only a collaborative, international response to the destruction and looting of vital cultural heritage in the region, but an honoring of the people and cultures of the Middle East at a moment when so many are experiencing violence, displacement, and dispossession. So, it’s about people as much as stuff, and some of the side projects that are now emerging around the DLME (teaching and training programs, engagement with NGOs working with refugee communities) will demonstrate that. Next question! Where can our readers go to see progress now, and what should we expect to see next from the project?

Graham: You can visit dlme.clir.org to see the latest news on the project and  spotlight.dlme.clir.org to see the latest data ingested into the prototype. We’ve also created a set of demonstration videos at the end of each of the sprint cycles for our DLME prototyping project. Over the next few months we will be adding data from more partners, like the Aga Khan Documentary Center, Qatar National Library, and Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, as well as some exhibits that model interpretive uses of the collections.

Waraksa: In addition to the sites Wayne mentions, you can also read an interview with co-PI Peter Herdrich on the Antiquities Coalition’s website, and peruse the Qatar Digital Library in order to get as excited as we are about the content and expertise that one of our key partners will bring to the project.

Nowviskie: Super! Now, here’s the question we always ask. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned as part of this effort? Or (more true to “DLF Contribute” form) what are you currently geeking out on, as a result?

Graham: I’ve been amazed at how open and receptive people have been to contributing their time and energy to this project, often with little more than an email or phone call. Even more, at how many people and organizations have reached out to us to contribute their talents after just hearing about the work!

Waraksa: I’m totally geeking out on the ability to run a slideshow of object thumbnails right inside the DLME prototype. If I could have done this back in my teaching days — instead of putting together individual slide decks for each class session — it would have saved so much time! Also, as a visual learner, I deeply appreciate the ability to toggle between multimedia presentations of artifacts and their associated metadata, right there in one interface. I can’t wait to see all the creative ways the DLME will be used in research, teaching, and learning in the years to come.

Nowviskie: Thank you both so much for talking with me. I’m excited to get more of the DLF community engaged in this project as it moves from planning and prototyping to implementation and use!