MERJ: The Middle East Research Journals Project

As part of its larger collaborative undertaking with the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) the Center for Research Libraries has helped launch the Middle East Research Journals (MERJ) project.

Project Objectives

Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the MERJ project aims to provide bibliographic access, preservation microfilming, article-level indexing, and digital document delivery for nearly 2,200 selected Middle Eastern journal titles. The journals are published in Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, and other regional languages, and housed in seven overseas research centers and their branch libraries (see Research Centers below).

Scholastic Benefits

These institutions hold many rare and important journals that are under-used due to the paucity of bibliographic records and physical inaccessibility. However, given the interregional and interdisciplinary subject matter explored in many of these journals, they could be of great value to scholars and bring new information and new perspectives to a worldwide audience that increasingly acknowledges gaps in its knowledge and understanding of the history, culture, politics, religion, and issues that shape the Middle East. Once completed, the MERJ project will provide scholars, researchers, and library users worldwide with three key tools for access:

  • Union Catalog ~ A Web-based union catalog containing the detailed journal holdings of all the participating centers. The catalog will include survey data on:
    • Public accessibility of each title outside the Middle East
    • The existence and coverage of microfilm reproductions
    • The extent of existing article indexing in other publicly available indexes
  • Microfilm Reproductions ~ High-priority journal titles--selected according to their scholarly importance and obstacles to access--will be reproduced on microfilm, with multiple copies stored at various institutions, and made available via interlibrary loan.
  • Web-based Journal Index ~ An online database containing detailed information about articles within selected journals, along with digitized full-text versions of articles identified as high-use, high-impact materials that are otherwise unavailable. The index items will feature a full bibliographic citation, thesaurus-based subject headings, and additional subject keywords.

Accessibility Assessment

To date, the project has completed an initial survey of the 2,193 journals held at all of the participating libraries and compiled this data into a union list of journal titles. Of the 1,592 unique journals (eliminating duplicate titles held by more than one library), 1,264 titles or 79 percent have been converted into MARC-format bibliographic data and made available through the American Overseas Digital Library online union catalog. MARC-format records for the remaining titles are currently being prepared by the Roja Muthiah Research Library in Chennai, India.

Initial findings have confirmed that the overseas research centers hold a number of unique and important journals deserving of greater preservation and access. These uncommon holdings include titles such as the Archaeologia Cypria (Kypriaki Archaiologia) held by the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in Nicosia and the Bulletin de la Societe d'Etudes Historiques Juives published in Cairo and held by the American Research Center in Egypt.

Creating Access

In addition to the value of these rare materials, the accessibility survey illuminated the many challenges that must be surmounted to make these resources discoverable. Approximately 70 percent of all titles have no article-level indexing. About the same percentage show no preservation in microform.

The survey results identified journals in two categories that will be of interest to the committee setting the priorities for new indexing. One consists of un-indexed journals widely held in US libraries, since article-level indexing of important titles in this group would produce the greatest bibliographic benefit per dollar spent, for the largest set of users. Such journals would have a high priority for indexing, although not for digitization or microfilming.


Current Availability of MERJ Project Journals


Availability Access Locations Percent of Total
Held by more than 25 OCLC or RLIN libraries 1,028 64.6%
Held by fewer than 25 OCLC or RLIN libraries 564 35.4%


The second set consists of MERJ journals in various centers that are not held elsewhere (or are very rare), especially in the US. The 500-plus journal titles identified in this set include natural targets for preservation, indexing, and digitization to create new bibliographic and full-text access where none existed before.


Additional Challenges

Once the initial tasks of data identification, cataloging, and prioritization are completed, preservation microfilming, article indexing, and scanning from microfilm can begin. These activities present their own challenges. For one, microfilming of unique titles held in the Middle East will be challenging due to the lack of quality filming programs in many countries. Article indexing and full-text scanning are also in their nascent stages in many areas, and identifying reliable partners remains a challenge. Add to these the difficulties of investigating copyright status for the journals and articles in question, and the assembling of complete runs of particular journals, and the project takes on Herculean dimensions.

However, with careful planning and the determination of the overseas partners, it is expected that the challenges can be overcome and outcomes made available to benefit scholars both in the U.S. and in the region. The target date for completion of the project is September 2004.

Research Centers with MERJ Holdings

  • American Research Institute in Turkey (Ankara and Istanbul)
  • American Institute for Maghrib Studies in Morocco and Tunisia
  • American Institute for Yemeni Studies in Yemen
  • American Research Center in Egypt
  • American Center for Oriental Research in Jordan
  • Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Israel
  • Cyprus-American Archaeological Research Institute in Cyprus