Abu Dhabi: New York University Libraries on Tuesday announced that Arcadia — a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin — has made a grant of $1.34 million to support Arabic Collections Online (ACO), a major project to create an open-access, digital library of public-domain Arabic language content.

ACO aims to digitise 23,000 volumes from NYU and partner institutions and make them accessible to the public on the ACO website. ACO is a partnership between New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and NYU New York which began in 2013.

To date, more than 8,785 volumes have been posted to the site, covering more than 5,600 subjects. NYU’s Digital Library Technology Services developed and manages the online interface, a web portal accessible around the world. NYU expects to reach its 23,000-volume goal by the end of 2020.

“We are so proud that the work of ACO has been recognised with philanthropic support from Arcadia, a major funder of open-access projects,” said NYU Libraries dean Emerita Carol A. Mandel, who worked with NYU Abu Dhabi to establish the project.

“A signature aspect of this project is the extensive copyright research we have done to enable us to bring the greatest possible number of public-domain titles into the collection. This generous grant is helping us bring great library collections of Arabic materials to a wide audience, free to anyone, anywhere, with an internet connection,” she added.

Key audiences for ACO include universities with Arabic programmes worldwide, secondary educational institutions in the Middle East, and readers of Arabic everywhere. Users span the globe, including China, Vietnam, and Iceland, but currently more than 80 per cent are in the Middle East.

“Arabic Collections Online has become extremely popular in the Middle East, because access to libraries there, especially outside of major cities, can be difficult,” said Ginny Danielson, recently retired director of the NYUAD library and co-founder of the project.

For ACO, NYU is coordinating the digitisation of Arabic language books from the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates and six leading academic libraries: NYU, Columbia University, Cornell University, Princeton University, American University of Beirut (AUB), and American University in Cairo (AUC). The books encompass thousands of subjects in fiction, poetry, literature, criticism, culture and society, economics, history, law, biography, and Arabic language and grammar.

The books — all in the public domain — range in date from very early materials to imprints as late as the 1990s. Many of the older books are rare or fragile, and nearly all are out of print. ACO ensures that their content is saved digitally for future generations.