Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Survey of Contemporary Electronic Resources: Two Hard Drives of Hebraica

Aside from purchasing a hard copy of a book, there are currently many other methods are available in obtaining seforim. The easiest and cheapest is the Shapell Family Digitization Project of the Jewish National & University Library, where many rare and expensive books are available for free. While this is a terrific resource if the particular book and/or edition is available, this digital project is far from comprehensive, and its purpose is not to have every (or even close to) every book online. To fill that demand, there are two external hard drives which contain about 18,000 - 20,000 seforim, both of which are around the same price of $1,400 (estimated). I have been using both for the last few months and wanted to give my impressions.

The two hard drives are Otzrot haTorah and Otzar HaChochmah. I have the hard drive of the first, and have been using an online version of the second.

The first, Otzrot haTorah was originally the vision of R. Morgenstern, who has unfortunately since passed away. This edition includes the collection of thousands of seforim, as well as Otzar haPoskim (widely known as Otzrot haShu"t). This program allows for one to search responsa works and also classifies responsa based upon their relevance to section in Shulhan Arukh. Thus, you can click and see what the responsa has to say about Siman Gimmel in Orah Hayyim etc. Additionally you can do a text search of the responsa which appear on this program. This program, however, only covers 3 of the 4 volumes of Shulhan Arukh – Orah Hayyim, Even haEzer, and Hoshen Mishpat. I found the interface and the ease of locating material to be very good. Once you know which chapter in Shulhan Arukh you need they have the material.

The more important portion of the hard drive is the collection of the 18,000+ seforim. This section is not text searchable. So if you are just hoping to use this to find material via a word search this is not the hard drive for you. But, this hard drive still has tremendous value. This is so, as it contains a terrific amount of material. Additionally, this material was systematically collected so you are less likely to find gaps on this then on the other hard drive. Whoever made the decision what to copy chose very well. Further, the seforim are divided topically (if you want) which if you are doing research let's say on siddur is invaluable. You can in two clicks call up all the editions of the siddur they have. Or if you want to find about a town you would go to the History section then pick the section on communities etc.

Generally, you will find what you are looking for, however, as with almost any library or hard drive, this does not have every sefer printed, but if it is important or good, they probably do have it. If desired, you can print out the entire book, or convert it to a PDF to save to your hard drive. When you print it prints a water mark with their name in the middle, which is not a big deal (the other hard drive does the same). Aside from books, the hard drive also contains many journals as well.

The other hard drive, Otzar HaChochmah, is text searchable. But, not every book which is on the drive is nor is it 100% accurate. Additionally, on the online version it tells you if found a hit in a book, but then there is no get more than the first hit in the book (there may be a way but it is not readily apparent or obvious). This is rather frustrating if the first hit is not the one you need. The reason this is not perfect as this drive uses OCR technology as opposed to typing in all the books. This means it searches the actual books as they appear with Rashi script etc., and at time all OCR makes some mistakes. But, the sheer number of books does make this feature valuable.

One must state that this hard drive is much less comprehensive than the first one. It does not seem that the person who decided what to put on this has any rhyme or reason at times a basic book is missing while a useless one is included. There are serious gaps when it comes to some areas. Furthermore, with the online version, you can only print and there is no way to save the material. Otzar HaChochmah is constantly adding books, so they may eventually correct this. But it seems that are focusing on contemporary works rather than fixing the items in their catalog.

If I had to summarize who would benefit from each of these I would say a person who is just looking to come across something they were not aware of and doesn't need access to seforim should go with Otzar HaChochmah. But, if you are looking for something to complement other research and you need access to seforim that are otherwise too expensive or impractical to own I would go with the Otzarot haTorah.

Otzar HaChochmah is available here; and you can email kidosheypolin-at-bezeqint.net for more on Otzarot haTorah

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