IBA, Harvard sign deal to digitize archives

Preservation of historic documents has not been Israel's strong suit recently.

IBA 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IBA 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Preservation of historic documents has not been Israel's strong suit recently. Much has been written about the deterioration of valuable books and manuscripts in the National Library because of water leaks and other flaws in the building as the premises fall into disrepair. Likewise at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which contains a treasure trove of archive material predating the creation of the state, the less-than-satisfactory conditions in which the material has been stored all but guarantees its destruction. Moti Amir, head of Israel Radio's Operations Department, which is responsible for the archives, approached Harvard University's Judaica Department to see if Harvard could come to the IBA's rescue. After many months of negotiation, the university agreed to transform the archives and digitize them, keeping one copy for itself and future academic researchers and sending the other to the IBA. An agreement to this effect was signed last week. Under the terms of the agreement, the university judaica department, headed by Charles Berlin, will bear the cost of the project - somewhere in the range of $10 million. Berlin is known to collect every possible scrap of Judaica information to ensure that these diverse aspects of Jewish culture and identity do not disappear with those who inspired and helped to create them. The actual transformation of the archives will be carried out by Harvard subcontractor Dantech in keeping with conditions the IBA has laid down. The IBA archives are a national treasure trove documenting not only events from British Mandate times to the present day, but also preserving for posterity the voices and faces of the people who made history in this part of the world. What is known today as Israel Radio was called the Palestine Broadcasting Service prior to the establishment of the state. The PBS, launched in 1936, relayed broadcasts in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The Israel Television archive contains 130,000 hours of film and video material in various formats and genres - including current affairs, documentaries, war diaries, entertainment, sports, children's programs and nostalgia showing an evolving nation over a 40 year period. The radio archive, meanwhile, contains some 70,000 hours of material, including news diaries, cultural programs and rare recordings such as the Declaration of Independence. The Judaica archive at Harvard in Boston is the largest Judaica archive in the world and readily accessible to academic researchers. With the fate of the IBA hanging in the balance as it continues to perpetuate its deficit and is unable to reach an agreement with union representatives over conditions regarding several hundred employees' dismissal, the arrangement with Harvard takes on particular significance. This way, Israeli historians can rest assured that there is at least one place where the IBA's invaluable archives will be safely stored.