Volume 4, No 1, 2007

Islamic Book and Information Culture: An Overview

Paul L. Hover


This overview, the second article in an exploratory study of the information seeking (IS) behavior of a group of eighty-four reference librarians from Egypt and the USA, is intended to assist readers less familiar with Islamic history to better understand cross-cultural influences on Arab IS behavior. A description of pre-Islamic poetry and orality precedes a discussion of the importance of the Koran and Islamic traditions on the development of a religious, scribal society. Oral transmission of mysteries omitted from texts leads to procedures in establishing the authenticity of scholarly works, which result in high standards of manuscript production. Reasons for Muslim resistance to the printing press are discussed, followed by a chronicle of European invasions that eventually convince Islamic authorities of the need to adopt printing to resist colonial pressure. The early years of publishing see the emergence of distinct centers of publishing in Egypt and Lebanon, and reasons for the quick acceptance of lithography are examined. The acceptance of printing by Muslim clergy marks the beginning of religious publishing. The Arab Awakening is a movement to compel the general Arabic population to take notice of public dialogue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The role of printing in the age of self-rule leads to a discussion of current information dissemination in Arab countries. Memorization, orality, Arabic as a linguistic vehicle, illiteracy, and the Arabization of science are discussed as issues in the transmission of knowledge in the modern Middle East.

Pages: 1-9

Keywords: Information seeking behavior; Reference librarians; Islamic book and information culture; Orality; Printing; Publishing in the Middle East; The Arab Awakening; Memorization; Illiteracy; Arabization of science; Information dissemination

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