Brill, the publishing house from Leiden, held a webinar to inform people about their online products specific to Islamic Studies under the title “Everything you ever wanted to know about Brill’s online resources”. Brill has come a long way, and is really catching up in the digital game. I remember when they first put online Brockelmann and it was simply unusable. I have also seen digitalization projects of manuscripts that were, in my opinion, not very successful. They had a small indicator today that they are doing much better with digitalization, when they showed they have a collection of digitalized Qurans printed in Europe. The images were high quality and the environment in which they were presented seemed to be sufficient.
The general verdict, then, should be that they are doing a good job. They have a lot of stuff online, searchable. Among the good things are:
- Search is free for all. It will show all results and even give a couple of sentences of all the entries (when looking through encyclopedias).
- Encyclopedia of Islam is working really well. The first, second, and third edition, as well as the French version of the second edition are all available.
- Though they were not specific, it was clear that they are expanding.
- They have a ‘fuzzy search’, which tries to give a wider range of possible spellings of the word you have entered. You can use this by typing a tilde (~) after the word. They did not go into details what exactly this search option does, but clearly it will reveal results that otherwise had gone unnoticed to you (as well as false positives, but that’s ok).
- If you do not have institutional access, you can pay as an individual per day, week, or month, and get access to everything. Prices are reasonable.
Still there are indicators that Brill is not quite there yet.
- Right click+Save as was presented as a feature of Brill’s website. This is both hilarious and worrying.
- Some parts of the brillonline website are slow (very slow) and one may encounter an error here and there. Frustrating.
- Brockelmann online is still not yet in a usable shape, it seems. Maybe others happily work with it, but I’ll stick with my paper copy for now. (They announced they are working on an English translation.)
- They call PDF’s of books “e-books”. This is, I think, a misuse of the term e-book which properly refers to files in .epub, .mobi, etc. format, i.e., where text and metadata are strictly separated and the text may be formatted in whatever way.
One last important note: they say themselves that their website is optimized for Firefox. I am myself using Safari as a browser and everything seems to work fine, but it is something to keep in mind. Hopefully they will keep on improving their digital tools!