(The following is a post by Muhannad Salhi, Arab World Specialist, African and Middle Eastern Division.)
With the pervasiveness of the internet in our times, most governments and institutions worldwide have increasingly relied on their websites to provide their latest reports to the public via their online media platforms. A number of considerations, not least of which is the ever-increasing cost of print and production, have informed this trend. Similarly, many countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have also followed suit in the pursuit of the online format. Many private and public institutions are now producing journals, articles, books and newspapers that are either born-digital or at the very least offer the digital option to their readers. Furthermore, they often also provide archives that can go back several years.
The latest and perhaps most consequential of the converts to this new alternative have been government institutions and organizations. Amid this growing support for online platforms, many of the governments in the MENA region have created their own websites where their work and reports have become readily available to all those interested. While, in a substantial number of cases, print reports remain in production, many of those government institutions have begun to rely almost exclusively on their websites to disseminate the information they produce. The ease of use offered by official open-access platforms can provide a good deal of relief to those who previously had to rely exclusively on the print subscriptions of individual institutions for such information.
Concerns with this development nevertheless persist. Firstly, researchers who are working on reports that are in decades past might not be able to access them via the archives of the newly formed websites, which generally can only go back a limited number of years. It is worth noting that these earlier, otherwise unobtainable reports, are available to researchers in their original print formats in the Library of Congress collections in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room. Secondly, there are some fears of an Orwellian nightmare scenario whereby governments can retroactively alter information much more easily on a digital platform than they would have been able to on print records, even after publication. All concerns aside, the benefits or this new approach seem to outweigh its disadvantages.
In an effort to further inform and assist our patrons, the Near East Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division, in conjunction with The Library of Congress Overseas Office in Cairo, has collected available websites from government institutions in the Middle East and North Africa, as a reference source, which both researchers and interested patrons alike would be able to utilize. The core collection of the websites in the archive currently comes from Bahrain, Mauritania, Qatar, Turkey and Yemen, and represent the national financial ministries and banks in those countries. The web archive is of great value in demonstrating transparency about the conditions in the country or region during a time of global economic change due to market fluctuations, political transitions, and in some cases, while embroiled in conflict. Furthermore, the content preserved is especially valuable for understanding the application of Islamic banking and finance at the national level that is unique to those countries. The Middle East and North Africa Government Institutions Web Archive also remains an ongoing archive and aims to expand its subject coverage as more and more governments from the region adopt the online format and begin providing information and reports via their websites.
For reference assistance, contact the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room either via Ask A Librarian or call (202) 707-4188.
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