Review of User Requirements for Digitised Resources in Islamic Studies
Auchterlonie, Paul; Abu-Zayed, Ahmed
Date: 18 June 2008
Executive Summary 1.1 Background In June 2007, the UK Government designated Islamic Studies a strategically important subject and asked HEFCE to develop a programme to support this field. As a consequence, JISC issued a call for a review of user requirements for digitised resources for researchers and teachers within higher education working ...
Executive Summary 1.1 Background In June 2007, the UK Government designated Islamic Studies a strategically important subject and asked HEFCE to develop a programme to support this field. As a consequence, JISC issued a call for a review of user requirements for digitised resources for researchers and teachers within higher education working in the field of Islamic Studies in December 2007. The project (acronym DigiIslam) to determine these user requirements was undertaken by a team at the University of Exeter and ran from March to May 2008. For the purposes of the Project, Islamic Studies was fairly broadly defined and included Islamic History, Islamic Art and Architecture, Islamic Music, Islamic Law, Islamic Philosophy, Islamic Science and Medicine, Islamic Finance and Economics, Islamic Sociology and Anthropology and Modern Islamic Thought and Politics. The Project focussed geographically on the Middle East, but included researchers working in other areas of Islamic culture such as South Asia where possible. 1.2 Aims and Objectives • To landscape existing digitised resources for Islamic Studies. • To identify gaps in the provision of digitised resources in Islamic Studies. • To establish criteria to prioritise the potential materials and/or collections for digitisation. 1.3 Methodology and Implementation • An online questionnaire was set up on the Project website and 145 academics, researchers, librarians and archivists in 35 institutions were contacted by email. 53 people completed the questionnaire, a response rate of 36.5%. • A Focus Group was set up drawn from academics, librarians and scholars from the UK Islamic Community and met on April 30th at JISC Headquarters in London. • Telephone interviews were set up with several academics who were unable to attend the Focus Group. • Reading lists were sought from UK institutions which teach substantive courses on Islam, Islamic Studies and related subjects. In addition three libraries were asked to DigiIslam 6/66 provide lists of the most heavily used books in Islamic Studies. These lists were then analysed to determine which textbooks were the most popular across a wide range of institutions, and whether they were already available in digitised format and at what cost. • All UK theses completed during the past ten years were analysed in order to show trends in current research and to determine which areas were attracting the largest number of students. • Gateways and portals to Islamic Studies were examined by using existing resources and an annotated inventory of the most significant was compiled. The web was also scrutinised in order to ascertain the number of gateways offering access to digitised primary texts in Islamic languages, and any to discover whether technical limitations existed which might hinder their use. Information was also collated on digitised catalogues of Islamic manuscripts and on current Islamic digitisation projects. 1.4 Output and Results 1.4.1 Use of Resources Nearly all the respondents already used online resources in Islamic Studies (90.6%), with the main purpose of this use being research (92.1%), although use of these resources for teaching was also high (73.7%). The most heavily used resources for research were current online journals and journal backsets (e.g. JSTOR) = 94.7% of respondents (of which 68.4% used this resource frequently), followed by online reference works in English = 88.9% (of which 52.8% use the resource frequently), primary texts in translation = 75.6% (of which 27% frequently), and primary texts in Islamic languages = 72.2% (of which 25% frequently). Resources for teaching followed a similar pattern. 1.4.2 Access to Resources Regarding access to various kinds of resource, four out of five respondents had access to current journals online and journals backsets, while seven out of ten were able to use major online reference works, and these three categories were by far the most highly rated. (70% of all respondents rated them as of high importance for their teaching and research, compared to 23.1% for e-books and 32.5% for any kind of resource in an Islamic language). Cost was give as the principal reason for institutions not acquiring any particular resource. DigiIslam 7/66 1.4.3 Resources Current Unavailable Online Looking at resources currently unavailable online, English-language research monographs were given the highest priority for digitisation (53.8%), mainly because many academics either were unable to borrow books to use in their office or at home, or because their libraries did not hold the required book. Other significant areas were bio-bibliographical reference works (43.6%), translations into English of primary texts (41.0%), Islamic manuscript catalogues (35.9%) , primary texts in Islamic languages (38.5%), current editions and backsets of periodicals in English (30.8% and 28.2% respectively), and backsets of periodicals in European languages (30.8%). When asked to assign a priority to making individual resources digitally available for teaching (book, periodical title, reference work, etc.), some respondents considered open (i.e. free) access to resources such as the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the Encyclopedia of the Qur'an and Esposito's Oxford Dictionary Dictionary of Islam as top priority, although the majority chose individual textbooks or major works of research. 1.4.4 Weight Attached to Different Areas of Islamic Studies Regarding the relative importance of different areas of Islamic Studies, the traditional staples of Islamic Studies dominated the survey, namely Islamic history (50%), Qur'anic studies (47.4%), Islamic law (42.1%) and Hadith studies (34.2%), but the relevance of Islam in the modern world is highlighted by contemporary Islamic thought (44.7%) in third position, and the importance attached to Islamic/Islamist politics (23.7%) and Islamic sociology and anthropology (28.9%). Given the relatively small numbers of specialists in these fields, it is significant that Islamic art and architecture, Islamic science and medicine (both 18.4%) and Islamic finance and economics (15.8%) were rated more highly that Sufism (13.2%) and Shi`ism (10.5%). 1.4.5 Use of Websites, Gateways and Portals The use of websites was very high - 94.7% of respondents used websites produced by Islamic organisations in English frequently or occasionally, for example, but no single gateway or portal stood out as particularly significant. There was general agreement that archiving websites in Islamic studies is important (81.6% considered this very or fairly important). 1.4.6 Reading List and High-Use Book Survey The High-Use Book Survey showed little correlation between the most heavily used books in Islamic Studies in the libraries of Exeter, Leeds and SOAS. One high-use title is shared between Exeter and SOAS, and one high-use title between SOAS and Leeds, and only three titles are shared between the 63 DigiIslam 8/66 most heavily used books in the three libraries and the 29 most common titles in the reading list survey. Well over 50% of the books in both the Reading List Survey and the High-Use Book Survey are currently not available in digital form. The results of these surveys show the grave difficulties in deciding which books to make available for free distribution, and it is not recommended that JISC support an Islamic E-Books Observatory project. 1.4.7 Survey of UK and Ireland PhD Theses The number of PhD theses awarded in the area of Islamic Studies from 1906 to 2006 is around 2000 theses, of which almost half (860) were awarded between 1997 and 2006. During this ten year period, 97 higher education institutions in the UK and Ireland awarded theses in Islamic Studies, although almost half of these (374) were undertaken in just ten universities. Just over 50% of the theses awarded by the top ten universities (374) fall into six main subjects namely, Islamic Sociology/Anthropology including Gender Studies (50), Islamic Law (44), Islamic History (37), Islamic Politics (28), Islamic Finance (20) and Study and Documentation of Muslim Communities in the UK (20). 1.5 Outcomes • Landscape about how academics, researchers and librarians working in Islamic Studies in UK higher education establishments use existing online resources for teaching and research. • In-depth information about what are perceived to be the gaps in online provision in Islamic Studies and recommendations as to how to fill these gaps. • The creation of a list of the most popular textbooks used by a representative cross-section of UK universities, with indications of which books are already available in digital format. • A survey of recent UK doctoral dissertations in Islamic Studies to ascertain trends in current research, so that any digital projects can be targeted to have maximum relevance. • An inventory of existing portals for Islamic Studies, libraries of online primary texts, digital Islamic manuscript catalogues and Islamic digitisation projects to be used as the basis for a national gateway to Islamic resources. • Recommendations on potential projects regarding digital Islamic Studies assets DigiIslam 9/66 1.6 Summary of Recommendations Recommendation 1: The creation of a National Gateway to Islamic Resources, including a gateway to primary texts, a full digitised set of UK Islamic manuscript catalogues, electronic versions of doctoral dissertations undertaken on Islamic Studies in the past the years, and an open-access repository for e-prints in Islamic studies. Recommendation 2: A feasibility study should also be conducted into the creation a corpus of interactive online education materials, which could also be hosted by the national gateway Recommendation 3: Continuation of the subsidies for major online works of reference in Islamic Studies. Consideration should also be given to increasing the subsidies to make the works more affordable, and to subsidising new digitised reference works in Islamic Studies as they become available. Recommendation 4: The archiving of the websites of UK Islamic organisations, as an aid to scholarship and a means of preserving the heritage of the UK Muslim community. Recommendation 5: Subsidising the acquisition of an online collection of research monographs in Islamic Studies, should such a collection be developed by a commercial organisation. It is not recommended that JISC should fund the digitisation of such material itself. 1.7 Recommendations in Full 1.8 National Gateway to Islamic Resources The setting up of a national gateway to Islamic studies. Such a gateway should provide links to the whole gamut of digitally available materials: journals, e-books, reference tools such as dictionaries, Islamic websites, digital versions of Islamic manuscript catalogues, etc., and could also host the following projects recommended in this report. DigiIslam 10/66 1.9 Gateway to Primary Texts Primary texts are heavily used by researchers and teachers, but it is extremely difficult to know what is available online in Islamic languages. The creation of a database of primary texts, searchable by author and title, with links to the relevant website(s), would make available both to the UK higher education and to the UK Muslim community a wealth of invaluable and at present underused research material, and would also eliminate the need to digitise the texts themselves. 1.10 Digitisation of UK Islamic manuscript catalogues The creation of online versions of the catalogues of Islamic manuscripts in UK collections. The possibility of establishing a partnership with an expert external organisation to scan the Islamic manuscript catalogues of the major British libraries should be sought, as this would be the most costeffective way of making this valuable resource available to both UK higher education and the UK Muslim community. 1.11 Open Access Repository for Islamic Studies The creation of an e-print knowledge-base for Islamic studies is recommended. This knowledge-base would not only play the role of a subject based repository for Islamic Studies, but would also increase usability, accessibility and visibility of Islamic Studies research output and resources by digitising, organising, archiving and disseminating e-print content for Islamic Studies. 1.12 Electronic Versions of Doctoral Dissertations in Islamic Studies To aid scholarship and to make research material widely available, JISC should consider a retrospective digitisation project for UK PhD theses in Islamic Studies awarded in the last ten years (excluding those already available online). Priority could be given to those areas consider most important in Islamic Studies, as defined by the questionnaire responses. It is further recommended that institutions that have not mandated e-theses should give priority to Islamic Studies PhD theses to be digitised and submitted to EThOSNet. 1.13 Online Education Materials Feasibility Survey The creation of a corpus of contextualised, interactive, value-added texts in Islamic languages (mainly Arabic and Persian), through which Islamic Studies could be taught. The selection of teaching texts should reflect the importance attached to individual subjects in the questionnaire responses. The cost of such a project would depend on the number of textual extracts to be included, but the recommendation DigiIslam 11/66 is that a feasibility study be undertaken to see whether such a project would fulfil a major need, and whether it would be technically possible and financially cost-effective. 1.14 Subsidy of Online Reference Works Online reference works in Islamic studies are heavily used and are considered as a high priority by over 70% of academics. It is recommended that JISC continue to support major Islamic resources online, particularly the package published by Brill which includes the Encyclopaedia of Islam, but also Index Islamicus and Oxford Islamic Studies Online, and consider increasing subsidies, so that more institutions can afford these major resources which are currently beyond their means. 1.15 Archiving of Websites of UK Islamic Organisations Websites in English were heavily used in both research (43.2% use them frequently) and teaching (33.3% used them frequently), while over 90% of academics frequently or sometimes use the websites of Islamic organisations in English. There was also widespread support for the archiving of such websites in Islamic Studies (81.6% considered it very or fairly important). JISC might wish to offer support for any institution willing to archive the websites of UK Islamic organisations, British Muslim wikis and blogs, and British websites with substantial links to Islamic content. This would preserve valuable records for scholarship, and be a significant contribution to the heritage of the UK Islamic community. 1.16 Digitisation of Research Monographs in English Although this was rated as the top priority, with 50% of respondents listing them as the most important material to be digitised, the experience of the Reading List survey suggests that it would be almost impossible to determine which items should be digitised. It should also be noted that e-books received the lowest level of importance as a form of online resource (over a quarter of respondents gave them low priority), while their current level of usage was less than a third of online journals for research and teaching. It is not recommended that JISC support directly a project to digitise research monographs in English, although were such a project to be undertaken by a commercial organisation, JISC might consider assisting institutions to acquire the resulting digital package.
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