The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, home to the world’s largest collection of textual Judaica, is going digital.
The NLI and Google have announced that 120,000 books will soon go online for the first time as part of an historic collaboration.
About 45 percent of the books, including all the NLI’s out-of-copyright books yet to be digitized, are in Hebrew and Hebrew-letter languages such as Yiddish and Ladino, with other works in languages including Latin, English, German, French, Arabic and Russian.
The complex process, expected to take about two years, involves transporting the books in climate-controlled shipping containers to the Google digitization center in Germany. Thousands of works are being sent, scanned and returned each month.
“We are very happy to be working with Google in fulfilling our mission to open access to the treasures of Jewish, Israeli and universal culture for diverse audiences across the globe,” said Yaron Deutscher, NLI’s head of digital access. “It is a significant contribution to our work opening digital access to all books published in the first 450 years of Hebrew printing.”
The Google Books project already encompasses over 40 million books from over 70 libraries in the United States, Europe and Japan, as well as from thousands of publishers. Hebrew is one of over 400 languages in the digital archives.
“The Google Books project launched 15 years ago with the aspiration of bringing the entire world’s books online and making them searchable and discoverable to everyone on earth,” explained Ben Bunnell, head of Library Partnerships, Google Books.
The works being digitized reflect a spectrum of Jewish culture, for example:
Phaedo or On the Immortality of Souls, Prussia, ca. 1860,is the first Hebrew translation of Moses Mendelssohn’s first book, originally published in German in 1767.
The Interpretation of Dreams, Zhovka, 1853, originally was published by Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel (1604-1657).
Tales of the Wise Men of Greece or Words of the Sages, Vilna, 1864 — by Yehuda Leib Ben Zev summarizes the worldviews of ancient Greek philosophers.
The Five Books of Moses: Tzena U’rena, 1785 – a Yiddish translation and adaptation of the Torah, first written in 1509, intended primarily for women.
Founded in Jerusalem in 1892, the NLI holds more than 5 million books. Its new campus adjacent to the Knesset building in Jerusalem is scheduled to open in 2021.