The American University in Cairo
Gain international recognition for your special collections
"The UNESCO award recognized that our collections are of international heritage value. As such, they warrant preserving and sharing globally.”
University Archivist and Interim Associate Dean for the Rare Books and Special Collections Library, The American University in Cairo
The American University in Cairo has a mission to act as a bridge between cultures, so it came as no surprise when its Rare Books and Special Collections Library was awarded the UNESCO/Jikji Memory of the World Prize in 2022. Recognized by an international jury for both preserving access to Egypt’s documentary heritage and the “heritage of humanity,” the collections cover many formats, including photographs, archival documents, rare books, maps, and audio-visual collections.
Library helps build the future with the past
The library’s architectural archives attracted particular attention. “We have the original archival materials of all the leading Egyptian architects of the 20th century,” said Stephen Urgola, University Archivist and Interim Associate Dean for the Rare Books and Special Collections Library. “And we’re also strong in areas like Egyptology and Islamic art.”
“We can’t build our present and future without knowing our past. Digital information connects people, helping to build networks and share knowledge.”
Irina Schmid, Instructor and Digital Collections Archivist
CONTENTdm® sits at the center of the library’s digital strategy for providing access, building awareness, and showcasing collections. With it, the library unlocked formats and materials that would otherwise be unavailable. For example, items such as audio files and reel-to-reel films can now be shared. As a result, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) learned of a project designed in Pakistan in 1959 by renowned Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy.
“They asked us for permission to showcase it in their exhibition, ‘The Project of Independence: Architecture of Decolonization in South Asia,’” said Stephen. “We loaned them two original drawings as a result of their online discovery of the archive.”
Expand collections with multilanguage capabilities
CONTENTdm provides a vital feedback loop as collection digitalization efforts continue. Library staff consult CONTENTdm’s usage analytics to identify the most heavily used collections, allowing strategy refinement and prioritization of popular collections such as magazines and architectural drawings. “We’re adding Arabic language metadata to our holdings using CONTENTdm’s multilingual capabilities,” said Irina Schmid, Instructor and Digital Collections Archivist. “This is attracting more people to the collections, which have a predominantly Arabic-speaking user base.”
This ongoing project represents the importance of sharing collections globally. “We can’t build our present and future without knowing our past,” noted Irina. “Digital information connects people, helping to build networks and share knowledge. And that’s why CONTENTdm is our digital library, our digital access.”
- Cairo, Egypt
- Won the UNESCO/Jikji Memory of the World Prize in 2022
- Started collecting rare materials in the 1950s and the library was officially established in the 1990s
- Serves the university’s 6,980 students
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