A project based at New York University - the Afghanistan Digital Library - seeks to recover and begin to preserve Afghanistan’s literary heritage, recreating much of the bibliography of Afghanistan digitally and making these books available to anyone who has access to a computer and the Internet.
Since the fall of the Taliban and the installation of the interim government in Afghanistan, NYU’s Division of Libraries, in conjunction with the university’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies, the Center for Near Eastern Studies and the Center on International Cooperation, has begun development of the Afghanistan Digital Library.
According to Robert D. McChesney, editor pro tem of the project and professor of Middle Eastern Studies at NYU, this is a very significant way for the United States to help fulfill its promise to assist in the re-building of Afghanistan. “While we cannot re-write or re-publish the books that were looted or destroyed in Afghanistan’s libraries, we can re-create those books digitally and make them available to the whole world.”
Carol Mandel, dean of the NYU Division of Libraries, said that the total number of books published in Afghanistan is comparatively modest. The printing press came late to Afghanistan, lithography first and then, in the second decade of the 20th century, typography. The only printing house was a government enterprise and fairly limited in its output. According to the best available information, the first book printed in Afghanistan was an anti-Wahhabi tract published in 1871. It is believed that between 1871 and 1978, 1,343 titles were printed. Many of these survive in public and private collections outside Afghanistan.
The project will restore the availability of books that may have been destroyed or dispersed from libraries in Afghanistan in the course of 25 years of civil war. Moreover, most of Afghanistan’s publications before 1930 are extremely rare, and the project will make hitherto inaccessible materials universally available in electronic form.
This project will ultimately locate, digitize, catalog and make available in electronic form (Website and CD-ROM) Dari (Persian) and Pashto books published in Afghanistan between 1871 and 1930 with a possible continuation to later imprints. The digitization of these items will be to very high resolution so that the books are easily legible and suitable for scholars to print out. All the books will be catalogued to library standards and the content preserved.
The pilot phase of this project, now underway, seeks to digitize, catalog and upload as many of the 43 books that were published in Afghanistan between 1871 and 1900 as can be located.
The url for the Afghanistan Digital Library is http://dlib.nyu.edu/divlib/bobst/adl.
This project is made possible with the assistance of Sun Microsystems who recently invested more than $1.7 million towards the purchase of equipment for digital library development at NYU. NYU’s Division of Libraries and NYU Information Technology Services have been named as a Center of Excellence by Sun.