Provide Access to the MED’s Poster and Ephemera Collection

Project Summary

Submitted by Michael Hopper of Widener Library, Middle Eastern Division.

The Middle Eastern Division has a poster and ephemera collection which numbers around 5,000 items and for which there exists no metadata. The collection is wide and varied including movie posters and lobby cards from various periods and countries—especially from the heyday of movie-making in Egypt ; political documentation from the first Palestinian national election, the first Iraqi election post-second Iraq war, the demonstrations prior to the second Iraq war, and the January 25 Revolution in Egypt as part of the Arab Spring; the complete poster oeuvre of the Abril Bookstore in Glendale, California ( the first Armenian bookstore in the US and a 37-year literary and cultural gathering place for the Armenian community of Southern California) including material of local events posted in the bookstore; Cuban travel posters aimed at the Arab world; a rare collection of Libyan posters; and hundreds of other cultural, literary, NGO, governmental, religious, travel, and educational pieces.

At present this collection is largely inaccessible—some of posters remain in original shipping tubes—and there is not even a finding aid for the collection as a whole. The MED proposes a two-phase project. First, the MED will sort, organize, and create basic metadata for the discrete parts of the collection. Second, the MED will undertake the digitization of 5,000 items for deposit in the DRS.

Amount requested is $53,500 (student labor=$16,000 + digitization=$37,500).

Expected Results with Partial Funding

Since the collection is largely inaccessible, any amount of funding would allow the MED to begin to provide basic metadata for the collection or for distinct parts of the collection. Likewise, partial digitization of the collection would be better than none.

Estimated Follow-on Activities and/or Costs

Anticipated future costs are the annual DRS storage fees and the MED will absorb these.

Benefit to Harvard Scholars and Patrons

The MED has over time informed various Harvard scholars and patrons of the existence of the collection and we have even had queries from outside the university as to the existence of such resources. However, given the lack of basic access to the collection the MED has been unable to provide the level of detail needed to fulfil even basic queries on the nature of the collection, thereby preventing any substantive use of the collection in teaching and research.

With the Middle East in the news daily and having an impact on many areas of our existence both the historic and current aspects of this collection would serve to inform teaching and research whether talking about the Arab Spring or looking at cultural expression through Egyptian cinema of the 50s to the 80s. The resulting unique digital collection will be of substantial value to the Harvard community and beyond. It will also serve as a building block for an online research collection to which future acquisitions of similar materials can be added seamlessly.

Ways the Project Supports Cross-Unit or Cross-Discipline Activities

Providing basic metadata and digital images for the collection ensures accessibility throughout the university and interest from all disciplines. Librarians from disparate areas such as anthropology, divinity, fine arts, history, music, theatre, political science, etc. will find parts of the collection that augment their resources and provide additional insight for their patrons’ teaching and research.

Given the success of the Islamic Heritage Project in the larger scholarly community as measured by Google Analytics, access to digital images of this collection has the potential to have a similar impact.

Resources the Sponsoring Library Can Support or Will Need Support For

The MED will provide general supervision of the project and specific input from various specialists in the MED depending on the provenance of the material.

Other Approaches to Achieving Goal or Result

With present resources and ongoing acquisitions and cataloging commitments the MED has no time to devote to the processing or the digitization of the collection. There is a possibility of applying for a CLIR Hidden Collections grant to create metadata for the collection, but this grant cannot be used for digitization.

Risks if Proposal is Not Approved

The collection remains inaccessible and subject to deterioration in the future.

Additional Information

Completion of the project would build upon similar efforts by Princeton (, Yale (, and Stanford (Turkish film posters project in process). At present Library Technology Services is collaborating with a team at Stanford and other universities on a project to support common display of digital images and manuscripts from multiple institutions, using Shared Canvas and the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). If this is successful, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Harvard hope to create a unified digital collection of Egyptian and Turkish movie posters, lobby cards, and press books for scholars, thus further enhancing the accessibility of our collection.

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