Project Ben-Yehuda (PBY) is a volunteer driven initiative, established in 1999 by Israeli software developer Asaf Bartov. The project strives to digitally conserve the treasures of Hebrew literature, creating an online library of Hebrew works that are available to the public for free, without advertising.
The project’s main goals are to preserve Hebrew works, to make them accessible to the public, and to expose them to new readers, encouraging engagement with them. The website is frequented by students, researchers, teachers, and all manner of literature lovers, with over 70,000 visitors each month. Such contact with the literature of former generations is crucial for a rich, living Hebrew culture.
The process begins with our editorial board, as they work to identify writers whose works are in the public domain, or have given the project express permission to publish. For each writer, we assemble a complete bibliography; the works are then tracked in various libraries throughout the country, scanned, and the images are uploaded to our online task management system. Volunteers log in to the system, receive their typing or proofreading assignments, and begin the work of transcribing the image files into text documents. The typed and proofread materials are prepared for Web publication by our staff, and are added to the Project Ben-Yehuda online library site, where they are available to the public.
Project Ben-Yehuda is fundamentally and deliberately volunteer-based. The work is carried out by hundreds of volunteers, from their own home computers, and supported by our one paid employee, funded by donations.
A short video about the project
- Editors in Chief: Asaf Bartov, Shani Evenstein Sigalov
- Volunteer coordinators: Tsaha Vaknin, Shelley Okman
- Scanning coordinator: Dror Eyal
- Technical editing staff: Tsaha Vaknin, Shelley Okman, Maya Kesary, Esther Barzilay
- Publishing permissions coordinator: Dror Eyal
- Special assignments coordinator: Maya Kesary
So far, the project has received support from The Avi Chai Foundation, A generous foundation that prefers to give without acknowledgment, Mifal HaPais Council for the Culture and Arts, The Israeli Ministry of Culture, The I.L. Peretz Foundation, Azrieli Foundation, and private donors.
Beyond creating a digital library of Hebrew literary works, PBY engages in several other initiatives to support cultural preservation:
- Lectures - we host lectures about the project, as well as how it relates to other open-content projects, such as Wikipedia. We explain* the*principles of the project, its various uses, and its cultural significance. Watch one of our lectures here.
- The Dictionary Initiative - our volunteers are hard at work, transcribing the Ben-Yehuda Dictionary, written by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda himself, and now public domain. However, we handle the dictionary differently than regular literary works: people look things up in a dictionary and rely on its accuracy, so the text must be immaculate. To that end, we have developed custom software for this initiative, wherein volunteers receive a single definition at a time to type, and their work undergoes 3 separate rounds of proofreading before it is published. And so, the online version of the dictionary grows, one definition at a time.
- Taped Readings Initiative - notable Hebrew scholars, writers, and poets read selected works from the Project Ben-Yehuda library. These videos* are shared on our YouTube channel.
- Anthologies and magazines - adding support for heterogeneous collections of texts
- Audiobooks library - recorded audio versions of texts from our library
- Commentary and notes layers - readers and researchers expressed their wish for a means of adding private notes and public annotations to the texts in PBY. Such annotations can provide clarification for obscure words or phrases, offer information and historical context, or raise questions and discussion points pertaining to the texts.
- User content - Enabling readers to add their own tags and recommendations to texts, to mark their favorite works and authors, and to curate and share their own “shelves” (reading lists) and anthologies.
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to our hard-working volunteers, and to the many people and organizations that have aided the project throughout the years.