Collecting on the Middle East
Collecting primary source documentation from the Middle East remains a challenge even for the most well-funded institutions. While some commercially available books, serials, and newspapers can be obtained from vendors from country to country with varying levels of ease, much significant content cannot be acquired through mainstream suppliers. Research libraries commonly employ acquisition trips and visits to book fairs throughout the region to supplement commercial acquisition and collect university, government, and NGO publications; street literature; ephemera; and other primary sources.
The Library of Congress operates a field office in Cairo, Egypt, to coordinate the acquisition of commercial materials and government documents from the Middle East and North Africa (supplied through a network of vendors, book dealers, exchange partners, and acquisition trips). It also manages the Middle East Cooperative Acquisitions Program (MECAP) and supplies monographs and serials from commercial sources to libraries and other research institutions.
In addition to traditionally collected resources from the region (reports, journals, archival collections), scholars are turning to interdisciplinary studies, with content related to ecology, environment, public health, statistical data sets, first-person accounts, oral histories, popular culture, and audiovisual resources. Recent events have created a burst of interest in social media and Internet resources.
Commercial electronic resources containing Middle East primary sources can be scarce. The past few years, however, have seen rapid development in the types of resources accessible online, both commercially and via Open Access. English-language reference resources such as Oxford Islamic Studies Online, Index Islamicus, and Middle Eastern & Central Asian Studies provide insights into the complex politics and culture of the Middle East. There is growing interest worldwide in digitization of early Middle East manuscripts. Unfortunately, these digital resources are often produced sporadically and contained in information “siloes” that hamper discoverability.
Archiving the Middle East Web
Current web-archiving efforts focus primarily on events (wars, crises, and revolutions), crawled for limited duration and with varying levels of comprehensiveness. The evolving nature of web technologies and increasing reliance on mobile networks (bypassing official web channels) further compound the challenge of documenting contemporary Middle East society.