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A Sense of Permanence

Crowdsourcing Ephemera at the National Library


The National Library recently brought a group of scholars, research assistants and university students together to accomplish a common goal: creating channels to make ephemeral objects not only visually available, but also accessible for study and analysis. The pilot project focused on bringing Hebrew posters from British Mandate-Era Palestine to life, with the main event of the day entailing a contest challenging participants to accurately type out the contents of as many posters as possible and to find examples of interesting "linguistic phenomena" from the pre-State ephemeral items. Having the contents of the posters uploaded onto the Library system will help researchers and lay users of all types find and utilize posters relevant to their field of interest more quickly and easily. The event took place in collaboration with the Mandel Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in Humanities and Jewish Studies, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Before the competition began, participants enjoyed a brief lecture on the history of the Modern Hebrew language from a leading scholar in the field. Modern Hebrew is a language unlike any other – one which was in use, though not popularly spoken, for thousands of years and then brought back to daily life starting in the late 19th century. As the language continues to evolve, its grammar and vocabulary are also ever-changing. The fact that many immigrants to Israel learn Hebrew as a second language only complicates things, making it even more difficult to standardize. Looking at ephemeral items from before the founding of the State of Israel gives linguistic researchers fascinating insights into how the Hebrew language was used decades ago and how it has changed over time.



Following the lecture, participants learned about the National Library's ephemera crowdsourcing initiative, which enables users around the world to complete the stories behind some of the Library's vast collection of digitized ephemeral items. Participants were presented with a dual challenge both to key in the contents of as many posters as possible and to find examples of "linguistic phenomena" – phrases, word choices and spellings which reflect something interesting about the development of the Hebrew language since the posters were printed more than six decades ago. At the end of the day, three winners were chosen based on the quantity and quality of the examples they found, each receiving a most fitting prize – a framed facsimile of a vintage poster in recognition of their contribution to the preservation and dissemination of Hebrew cultural heritage.