Improving Access to Middle East Serials: OACIS for the Middle East

Yale University and a partnership of national and international institutions have combined resources and expertise on a project to collect and circulate important Middle Eastern periodicals through a freely accessible database called OACIS (Online Access to Consolidated Information on Serials).

The Web-accessible database combines bibliographic description and library holdings of Arabic, English, and other language serial titles including those available in print, microform, and online. The OACIS database, accessible on the Web through the Yale Library, provides access to the literature of this increasingly important region of the world for a wide range of educational, government, and commercial institutions. The ultimate aim is to develop a better understanding of the varied economies, politics, languages, and cultures of the Middle East and to share resources among institutions, students, and scholars.

Project OACIS is international in scope, engaging European, American, and Middle Eastern individuals and institutions. US partner libraries--including Yale University, Cornell University, Ohio State University, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, University of Texas, and University of Washington--have contributed an organized body of titles to establish the database prototype. The Universitaets-und Landesbibliothek of Sachsen-Anhalt in Halle, Germany is a partner. Additional participating institutions include Princeton University, Belamand University (Lebanon), University of Jordan (Amman), and Tishreen University (Syria).

A Growing Partnership

Project Manager Simon Samoeil, who is Curator of the Near East Collection at Yale, conducted several vists in the Middle East in 2003 to promote the OACIS project among prospective Middle Eastern partners. He and Principal Investigator Ann Okerson conducted follow-up visits in March and early April 2004, enlisting new members into the partnership; integrating Middle Eastern institutions into the project database; finalizing agreements in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria; and identifying and inaugurating a mirror site in the region.

“It is our hope the project will bring real benefit to these partners,” Samoeil reported. “We are visiting sites with very important collections, and the inclusion of these records will bring recognition to those institutions. In addition, we will be bringing interns from partner institutions to the United States for intensive training so they may continue to expand their own work and activities upon their return.”

Integrating Cultures and Technologies

The continuing success of the OACIS project will require solutions to numerous cultural, technological, and documentation challenges. For example, the vast majority of computer systems are designed to process information from left-to-right and communicate in languages based on the Roman alphabet. Arabic is read from right-to-left in a non-Roman script, which encumbered for many years the proliferation of digital technology among Arab-speaking cultures.

“The technical problems of displaying Arabic records in the database are being tackled,” commented Elizabeth Beaudin, OACIS Technical Manager. “We recognize Romanized script records are not useful for the Middle East partners. The database has been set up to handle Arabic script, including display of right-to-left headings, and we are looking forward to receiving Arabic vernacular records in the near future.”

An important part of the work in the field involves detailed instruction on standards for submission and participation. Some older records in Middle Eastern institutions, for example, omit the place of publication, a key search term. The project has developed a number of techniques for documenting this information, such as city indexes that enable records to be tagged for location searches.

“The project is a very challenging one, from a technical perspective,” Beaudin noted. “For one, Middle Eastern institutions have different formats for their bibliographic records. Particularly when it comes to subject headings, we will need to be careful how the information is organized.”

Expanding the Global Village

The database is designed to search across titles, place of publication, and subject. An advanced search is under development for increased capability. The search interface can be adapted to display in Arabic, German, English, Spanish, or French. The Arabic component features a dynamic keyboard that accepts search terms in the vernacular, although records currently are stored in Roman script only.

In the future, the database will incorporate an ever-expanding group of Middle Eastern languages. As it develops, Project OACIS will also serve as a gateway to those serials by enhancing content delivery of those titles.

Project OACIS is supported by a U. S. Department of Education Title VI grant through the "Technological Innovation and Cooperation for Foreign Information Access" program, a generous cost share by the Yale University Library, and significant resource investment by OACIS partners.