Digitization: Does It Always Improve Access to Rare Books and Special Collections?
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In April 2016, the Israel State Archives announced the most recent stage of an ambitious project to digitize all of their holdings (potentially 400 million pages of material): the new archival website was ready online. With the new website came the ability to request digital copies of documents, which would be available on the website within two weeks of the request. However, researchers would now at the very least be discouraged from requesting access to the paper documents, or, in the worst-case scenario, be refused access to anything except the website. Local scholars (including a prominent professor of history at Tel Aviv University), the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research, and the Middle East Studies Association of North America (which publishes the prestigious International Journal of Middle East Studies) registered concern with the restriction of physical access to the archive and issued public calls for a reversal of the decision. The conflict was between perceived best practices of digitization and of archival stewardship (represented by the State Archivist Dr. Yaacov Lozowick) on the one hand, and standards and expectations for scholarly research on the Middle East, which largely depends on archival and rare book collections, on the other.