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Journey through Time Project: Unique Materials Made Available to the Public

Historical declarations: Fascinating and Valuable Material

Last week I met with two Jewish history professors. The first is a “regular” at the National Library and the author of a blog that deals with various aspects of Israeli culture. I was shocked to hear his advice that “you have to do something with your interesting collection of posters, to scan interesting items from it so that they can be viewed over the Internet.” The second is also a regular user of the library and even a former employee of the archives department, and is intimately familiar with the library collections. He deals with enlightenment literature, and when I showed him that our L Collection – comprising one-page printed materials from the beginning of the age of printing – was available in its entirety on the Internet, he was utterly surprised.

Since this wasn't the first time that I had encountered a lack of awareness regarding the Time Travel project, I decided that it would be a good idea to speak about it with all of the library employees, its registered users, those who avail themselves of our digital resources.

A Pioneering Project for Reviving the “Everyday” of Days Gone By

 In contrast to other digital projects of the National Library, "Time Travel" is pioneering in a number of senses.

First, this is the first time that the library has initiated a digital project on ephemera, a broad term for any printed matter intended for short-term use and not for preservation. Ephemera are publications inherently intended to convey a brief message to the public-at-large on announcement boards, on the street, at public events, or in mailboxes. The message is always current, relating to the time when it was composed, and it quickly loses relevance. For those who seek to view it historically, the announcement, newsletter or greeting card represents, in an unmediated manner, a glimpse of daily life at the time when they were printed and disseminated. This is reflected in the wording, graphics, illustration, and even in the font. And yet, the value of ephemera as a source for understanding the past, appreciates steadily. Scholars, curators, journalists and teachers increasingly use ephemera as direct examples of past events. Not only professionals but the entire public – young and old, from all groups and areas of interest – discover ephemera and after many years, propagate the material anew, now through more innovative and faster means than in the past – through social networks and other modern media venues.



Materials from Many Collections around Israel

Second, the project involves not only the collections of the National Library, but also other collections in Israel. In fact, most of the project works with other collections, and fewer than half focuses on library collections, including the collection of declarations and announcements, various other collections in the archives department, and the L collection mentioned (catalogued in the Hebrew catalogue and preserved in the rare items storage). More than 50 additional collections are participating in the project, most of them public and a minority, private, from all realms of life in Israel, and among the entire Jewish people. In sum, it includes over 150,000 items on all topics: politics, culture, economics, local authorities, society, education, religion and more. The collections embrace all sectors of Israeli society and all political groups, touch on various branches of culture and represent rural localities, cities and local authorities geographically distributed throughout Israel.


Access for All, Community Participation

Third, our goal is to enable free use of the materials for study and research purposes (and not commercial use), and therefore, a special and unprecedented effort was invested in inquiring as to the copyrights on the material and receiving permission from the owners of the rights to make it accessible.

Fourth, since ephemera, both in the National Library and in other collections, are usually catalogued in files, i.e. a group of items catalogued as one, a special effort was made to describe each item participating in the project. The goal of this effort is to enable intelligent location of each item individually in the search engine. At this stage the project has its own "Merhav" system, which is not integrated into the library's general "Merhav" system.

Finally, in this project we are activating a crowd sourcing system for the first time, based on the assumption that there is such a large quantity of material that cataloguing each item exceeds the processing capacity of our librarians and archivists. Large numbers of people who have specific knowledge about events, individuals and places that appear in publications of project participants, can thus contribute information that is one-of-a-kind. This system, which we have named "Osei he-Chayil", is already active. Anyone who wishes to join is warmly welcomed.

The project reached its successful completion with the assistance of many individuals in the library, foremost Adi Zamir, who directed it, and Maayan Almagor, who worked by her side and today is the manager of "Osei he-Chayil." Bearing the burden of the project's ongoing tasks are Ariel Viterbo, the archivist of our ephemera collection, and the employees of the digitization center.

Enjoy your surfing, and please: spread the news.


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