Reviewed February 2018
Christine Davidian, Electronic Resources & Serials Librarian
Rowan University
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Ktiv, a word connoting the written word or book in Hebrew, is an open access (OA) online repository of digitized Hebrew manuscripts obtained from the collections of the National Library of Israel (NLI), and partner organizations worldwide. Launched in August 2017, the site is a joint venture between the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society of Toronto, Canada and the National Library of Israel.

KTIV 2

The ambitious goals of this collection are to digitally preserve and provide open access to high quality digitized versions of all 90,000 Hebrew manuscripts thought to exist throughout the world. As of this writing (January 2018), the site is comprised of fifty-nine collections, over 50,000 manuscripts, and over five million images within the manuscripts. Recent digital acquisitions are the 14,000-item Guenzburg collection from the Russian State Library in Moscow, and the 1,400 illustrated Hebrew manuscripts from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, housing ancient Hebrew bibles from Ashkenaz and France. The varied subject matter of the manuscripts includes the bible, philosophy, mahzors (holiday prayer books), law, medicine, and the sciences. According to Ktiv, highlights of the site include “the Leningrad Codex, writings from Maimonides, the Aleppo Codex, some of the oldest extant Talmudic manuscripts, documents from the 13th century detailing struggles within the Yemenite Jewish community, commercial and personal records chronicling Jewish life in Afghanistan in the eleventh century”.

The digital collection, while free to read, does not uniformly adhere to the definition of OA: free to read and use. Instead, the terms of use of manuscripts vary according to the organizations housing the actual original manuscripts. In terms of the user interface, the site’s landing page is not intuitive and detracts from the user experience, as the banner does not display the name of the site or options users may select. Instead, the website’s name is in the center of the screen above the search box, and a hamburger style menu is displayed on the top left of the page. There is also no indication that users must scroll down to view additional content. It is useful to consult the user’s guide from the “Help” menu, which contains site navigation, search, and manuscript viewing instructions.

KTIV 3Several notable features more than compensate for the landing page’s awkwardness. These include responsive design, accessibility features, the advanced search, and the manuscript viewer. The responsive web design of the site enables users to have a consistent viewing experience whether accessing Ktiv from tablets, mobile devices, or from computers. “The Advanced Search” has multiple search and filtering options which include: digital, available outside the NLI, current location, collection, title, date range, language, script style, subject, and illustrated only. There is currently no filter to retrieve illustrations as images without associated text.

Additionally, the manuscript viewer allows users to rotate and zoom the crisp, high-resolution images and displays the entire contents of manuscripts as thumbnail images. Unfortunately, the inaugural version of the site does not yet offer options to download or print most images of manuscripts. Additionally, Accessibility profiles, such as blocking flickering, screen readers, keyboard navigation, and high color KTIV 4contrast, are configurable by users and the site is now over sixty-one percent accessible.

This one-of-a-kind website, while very much a work in progress, is definitely worth visiting due to the eventual comprehensive nature of its digitized collections. The site will be of significant interest to researchers and others interested in Jewish Studies, Theology, Biblical Studies, Hebrew and related languages, and Jewish History and Culture. Overall, the goal of preserving and sharing Jewish cultural heritage and scholarship in an open access context far outweighs any temporary shortcomings.