A $100,000 grant from the Gladys Brooks Foundation to the New York University Division of Libraries is supporting the Afghanistan Digital Library (ADL) Project by enabling the purchase of an overhead high-resolution digital camera, a critical element in the NYU Libraries’ effort to preserve and digitize the published documents that comprise Afghanistan’s cultural legacy and to make the corpus available over the Internet.

“We are deeply grateful to the Board of Governors of the Gladys Brooks Foundation for this generous grant,” said Carol A. Mandel, dean of the NYU Libraries. “The overhead digital camera is equipment that is essential to our preservation effort and will allow us to digitize even the most fragile documents.”

The overhead digital camera generates digital images whose quality insures their long-term maintenance and adaptability to emerging technologies; it also insures that the digitization process itself does not damage the materials or shorten their lifespan. The camera allows bound, oversize, and delicate materials to be photographed under precisely controlled handling and lighting conditions so that no harm can come to the original materials. It simultaneously produces a level of digital detail and color control that is essential to the creation of images that will still be viewable with tomorrow’s technology.

NYU’s camera is the latest iteration of a product made by Phase One of Copenhagen. The camera uses a chip recently developed by Kodak that delivers a high-resolution image from a single exposure. Earlier versions of the camera were capable of taking approximately 45 pictures a day; this one will enable NYU to get a minimum of 250 pictures a day, according to Melitte Buchman, digital imaging specialist in the NYU Division of Libraries. NYU waited to purchase the camera until Phase One technology became available.

A second advantage of the new camera is its ability to join two or three images into one digital file, producing a complete image of an item as large as 30 inches by 40 inches. As a result, it can handle the imaging of 99 percent of the Libraries’ collections.

The Afghanistan Digital Library Project seeks, in its initial stage, to recover works published in Afghanistan between 1871 and 1930, which, until now, have been almost completely inaccessible to scholars and the people of Afghanistan. The aim of the project is not simply to 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. Most of Afghanistan’s publications before 1930 are extremely rare, and the project will make these documents universally available in electronic form.

The ADL is a collaborative project of NYU’s Division of Libraries, the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, and the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies.

Under Dean Mandel’s leadership, NYU’s innovative Digital Library Program has become a nationally recognized model in adapting new technology for teaching and research to enable new modes of scholarly inquiry.

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