Manuel Trajtenberg
Manuel Trajtenberg. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Israel's academic journals are embarking on a large-scale digitization project: In the coming months, back issues of 60 Hebrew-language research journals will be scanned into an online archive that will be accessible to professors and students both in Israel and abroad.

The archive, the first of its kind in Israel, will later be opened to the general public as well.

The project received a boost a few days ago when the Council for Higher Education's Planning and Budgeting Committee agreed to contribute funding. It will now split the estimated $2.2 million cost 50-50 with the original sponsor, the Yad Hanadiv foundation.

The digitization will be carried out by the Jewish National and University Library and the University of Haifa library, in conjunction with the online archive site JSTOR, which will store the new archive. Currently, JSTOR maintains online archives for at least 1,000 academic journals and sells them to more than 4,000 institutions worldwide.

However, stressed national library CEO Oren Weinberg, the archive will not include recent issues of the digitized journals, so as not to hurt the publishers' revenues. "There will be an embargo of three to five years, depending on what the journals themselves decide," he said.

Yad Hanadiv decided to sponsor the digitization project after noticing that the transition to online editions was happening very slowly in Israel, and that almost no efforts had been made to digitize entire archives due to the high initial outlay. The foundation is expected to give the project final approval in the coming weeks.

"A recommendation has been reached that will have to be discussed. I'm very optimistic," said Yad Hanadiv Executive Director Ariel Weiss on Tuesday.

"Over the past decade, the journal industry has undergone a revolution," noted Manuel Trajtenberg, who chairs the Planning and Budgeting Committee. "A high percentage of all journals published worldwide, and especially research journals, are now issued in an electronic format. Building electronic archives for these journals has a long list of advantages, including preservation, accessibility to writers with no time and space limitations, full textual search capability and cost savings in maintaining the libraries."

According to the national library, some 300 research journals have been published in Israel over the years, though some have since gone out of business. "We are seeking to digitize about 60 of the most central and important journals, totaling about half a million pages," Weinberg told Haaretz. "The pilot stage included four journals of some 130,000 pages."

The four journals covered by the pilot, which JSTOR has been working on for the last two years, are "Tarbitz," "Zion," "Megamot" and "Ofakim B'Geographia." The pilot is due to end in September, when all four journals will go online at JSTOR. Then, the bigger task of scanning all 60 chosen journals will begin.

The libraries chose the journals from a list of between 130 and 140 possibilities, in consultation with researchers from various fields and librarians from all the universities and colleges. Weinberg said the number of journals included in the project was limited by financial considerations. "If there was a bigger budget, more journals would have been included," he said.

The journals will be scanned in full and will be fully searchable. Each article will also include links to other relevant articles in the database.

To access the archives, institutions will have to take out a subscription with JSTOR. When the project is completed, ordinary citizens will be able to access the archive for free via the national library's website.

The cost of the project includes free subscription for academic institutions the first seven years, after which universities will have to pay $1,200 and colleges $200 per year.