Photo Credit: National Library of Israel
Manuscript of Nur al-Din Jami's 'Tuhfat al-Ahrar', Persian, 1484 - Image 2 - (Yah Ms Ar 1013).

The National Library of Israel (NLI) has announced that 2021 saw a massive, 125% increase in users of its website and online resources from around the Arab world, in Israel and abroad, compared with 2022. The NLI’s Arabic-language website has surpassed two million visits from some 1.5 million users worldwide.

Inside Israel, 2021 saw a 250% increase in visits to the NLI’s Arabic website. That figure now exceeds 900,000 visits from more than 620,000 users – 220% more than in 2020. The tri-lingual (Hebrew-Arabic-English) NLI website registered approximately 10 million total visits in 2021.

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Some 650,000 users from around the Arab world visited the NLI’s Arabic and English websites, an increase of 40% compared to 2020. The most popular locales in the region were the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Algeria. A majority of the users in the Arab world were between the ages of 25 and 44. About 60% of all users in the Arab world were male.

Yah Ms Ar 784 p 1 Muhammad al-Busayri, The Poem of the Mantle. / National Library of Israel

The 130-year-old National Library of Israel is currently in the midst of a transformative renewal process aimed at engaging broader and more diverse audiences both domestically and internationally. Alongside its world-leading collections of Judaica and Israeliana, the NLI’s Islam and Middle East Collection is one of the region’s leading collections of its kind. It contains thousands of manuscripts and rare books in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish dating from the ninth to the 20th centuries, and serves as a leading research collection for scholars studying a wide range of topics related to Islamic and Middle Eastern cultures.

Many of these treasures are now going online. NLI has recently opened digital access to hundreds of thousands of pages of historic Arabic press from Ottoman and Mandatory Palestine, as well as launched an Arabic Facebook page and online publication, as well as a range of educational and general interest resources in Arabic. Last year, a major initiative was launched to open digital access to 2,500 rare Islamic manuscripts and books from the collection, a project made possible with the support of Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

While these resources are primarily developed as part of the NLI’s mission to serve all of Israel’s citizens including its Arab minority, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that users around the Arab world and beyond are interested in actively engaging with the Library’s online offerings and diverse collections. Last year, the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates and the NLI signed a historic memorandum of understanding amid increased interest in regional collaboration in the wake of the Abraham Accords.

According to Yaron Deutscher, Head of Digital at NLI, “technology allows culture and the written word to cross boundaries and reach new places previously inaccessible. The fact that so many people from around the Arab world are expressing such a high level of interest in the cultural treasures freely available via the National Library of Israel’s website shows just how relevant these things are, even for the younger generation living in our region.”

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