Italy’s expertise in digitising literature to enhance bilateral cooperation with the UAE


Working to digitise more than 2,500 rare Arabic manuscripts and exchanging knowledge between the countries, was the subject of an Innovation Talk at the Italy Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai last week

Dubai, UAE: As the 4th largest country in European publishing, Italy saw its industry grow by 2.4% in 2020, amounting to Euro 1.54 billion. Driven by digital reading (ebooks and audiobooks), Italy is investing heavily in new techniques to digitise many important works of literature, including more than 2,500 rare Arabic manuscripts. 

Digitising these works of literature and exchanging knowledge in the sector to enhance bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Italy and the UAE, was the subject of a recent Innovation Talk hosted by the Italian Trade Agency (ITA), in cooperation with the Embassy of Italy in the UAE, the Consulate General in Dubai and the Italian Commissioner’s Office of the Italy Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. 

The talk, ‘From ancient mosaics to ebooks: restoring the past to create new cultural spaces for the future’ was held on Thursday 4 November at the Italy Pavilion’s Amphitheatre at Expo 2020 Dubai and was the 4th in a series of roundtable discussions taking place until March 2022, which will address current global challenges and explore innovative solutions. It coincided with the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), and also explored how Italy and UAE book fairs can include a wider range of publishers, authors, and titles. 

The Innovation Talk was officially opened by Paolo Glisenti, Commissioner General Italy Pavilion and the panel of experts, moderated by Carlo Ferro, President, Italian Trade Agency, included Paola Caridi, Member of the Editorial Board of Turin International Book Fair; Prof. Eman Majed Abu Shalabi, Director of Sharjah Public Libraries; Elena Pasoli, Exhibition Manager Bologna Children’s Book Fair; Mohamed Kamel, General Manager Juma Al Majid Centre; Marco Spagnoli, ANICA Delegate, MIA Market Head of Unscripted Division, Italian Academy Award Nominee Director; Cristina Mussinelli, Secretary General Lia Foundation – Italian Accessible Books.

Speaking from the event, Carlo Ferro, President, Italian Trade Agency said, “Italy is an innovator and is first in new trends and this is based on centuries of cultural heritage. This makes Italy an ideal partner for the UAE in business and in cultural collaborations. The digital transition across Italy is an important part of our national plan as it connects people and aids cross-border cooperation.” 

Prof. Eman Majed Abu Shalabi, Director of Sharjah Public Libraries commented, “We have over 6 million ebooks and audio books in our collection. The collaborations that we have with other countries, such as Italy, help us to enrich our libraries further and build a knowledge society in Sharjah and in the wider United Arab Emirates. The 2,500 manuscripts that we are helping to digitise date back centuries, and we are working on classifying and cataloging them as we want people to be able to easily access these important pieces of literature.”

Mohamed Kamel, General Manager of Juma Al Majid Centre said, “Over the centuries, ancient Arabic manuscripts have been interpreted through several means; firstly on parchment, then on paper, then printed. For many reasons, sometimes forgery occurred and texts appeared with more than one title and attributed to more than one author. Advancements in technology has provided solutions to this  by offering electronic scanning, automated indexing programs, standardizing text and the ability to define the style of the author and their linguistic dictionary. This has saved a lot of time, effort and 

money by allowing us to analyse the text more effectively and efficiently. This technology has aided the Juma Al Majid Center to digitize over 1.7 million manuscripts, publications and documents dating back as far as 1995 AD and present these important works to researchers worldwide.”  

The talk was followed by a networking cocktail event with the 24 Italian publishing companies who are currently exhibiting at the ITA pavilion at the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair. 

With 16 panel discussions taking place between October 2021 and March 2022, each Innovation Talk will feature highly-regarded personalities from both Italy and the UAE. The esteemed speakers will discuss issues related to Expo 2020 Dubai’s weekly themes that are aligned with Italy’s plans to fulfil the European Green Deal, and the trade fairs ITA is participating in around the Emirates.

About Italian Trade Agency – ITA:

The Italian Trade Agency is the Government agency which promotes the globalization of Italian firms, under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ITA helps to develop, facilitate and promote Italian economic and trade relations with foreign countries, focusing on the needs of SMEs, their associations and partnerships. ITA sustains Italian firms in their internationalization process, promoting the marketing of Italian goods and services as well as the image of “Made in Italy” products around the world, while facilitating outward Italian investments and encouraging FDI attraction into Italy. ITA provides information, support and consultancy services to Italian companies on foreign markets, in order to foster exports and economic cooperation in all sectors, with the objective of increasing the effectiveness of their presence on international markets. ITA works closely with the Italian Regions, the network of Italian Chambers of Commerce, business organizations and other public and private entities. ITA’s headquarters are based in Rome and it works through a large network of offices around the world which are acknowledged as “Trade Promotion Offices” of the Embassies or Consulates of Italy.