Dar Al-Kutub Al Qatariyya
Dar Al-Kutub Al Qatariyya was first founded as a public library and it started its journey of Dar Al-Kutub through the Ministry of Education on December 29, 1962. The Ministry at that time decided to merge the two existing libraries – the Public library and Al Maaref library – to expand the services to students at school and the public, plus to provide essential resources of books and periodicals. The director of Dar Al-Kutub was also the director of the education department in the Ministry which enabled better understanding of the schools’ needs and enhanced efficiency in operations of the library. He was the person behind the idea of establishing a modern library to support the schools and provide literate resources in different topics. He then was assigned to oversee and manage DAK and to ensure its successful operation.
Dar Al-Kutub remained under the management of the ministry of Education ‘Maaref’ for almost 30 years, after which it moved to report to the Ministry of Mass Communication. A restructuring of the Ministry of Education occurred in 1971, based on a decision by the Minsters’ Council in Qatar. With this decision, Dar Al-Kutub was retained to report to the Minister while the school libraries were moved from DAK supervision to report to the Department of Cultural Affairs in the same ministry. Subsequently it was then placed under the curatorship of the National Council for Culture, Arts, Literature and Heritage in 1998.
It was only in 1982 that Dar Al-Kutub gained the mandate of a national library with the issue of the Emiri decree no. 14, 1982 concerning the establishment of a legal deposit process for Qatari publications managed by DAK. With this, DAK became one of the first libraries in the Gulf States to organize and collect the national publications of a country . It started acting as the national library of the country with this decision for decades until the new national library project was announced in 2012. Under the ministry of Education, Dar Al-Kutub possessed the independence in communication with other directorates in the ministry and elsewhere, which allowed for flexibility in conducting its operations, establishing new projects, conducting library programs, the prompt implementation of plans and developments, and the opening of new library branches throughout the state of Qatar. Dar Al-Kutub was also able to send representatives to annual meetings of the National Libraries Directors of the Arab world.
The library resided initially in a two-story building, containing a main reading room measuring 1,200 m2 and comprising 70,000 volumes, with seating for 100 people. The facility furthermore housed a periodical reading room accommodating 40 readers, and a small reading room measuring 60 m2 dedicated for manuscripts, accommodating 10 users at a time. A 100 m2 for microfilms that fit for two users at a time completes the full setting of Dar Al-Kutub. The current building of DAK was established through a generous donation of its collection from Sheikh Ali Al Thani, who has also been instrumental in funding the construction of a designated building for this collection, and the recruitment of staff to oversee the functioning of the library.
Below are two videos of Dar Al Kutub in Arabic:
There has been an intention to transform the microfiche library into an archiving center, or a digital library to preserve Qatari heritage. To further enhance its status as a comprehensive library services facility, a section for books and periodical binding was created. Annual participation in book fairs both locally and globally followed. Proceeds of the book fair was channeled by Dar Al-Kutub to the development of sections and services, like archiving, cataloguing processes, the acquisition of new equipment such as computers, and providing internet access. In 2012, it was stated that DAK was moving to a new building to further advance and develop its services.
In a research study conducted in 2018 to understand the community perception of Dar Al-Kutub, it was revealed that many community members were aware of the fact that DAK was a merger of two libraries, becoming the first public library in the region in 1960s. Patrons who visited the library, expressed a personal attachment to Dar Al-Kutub proven by their regular visits since a very young age. By the 1970s, Dar Al-Kutub had established itself as a significant landmark in the city of Doha, building a bridge between Qatar and the rest of the Arab world by linking the people of Qatar to the rest of the Arabic regionvthrough the subscription of periodicals in other Arab countries. Today Dar Al-Kutub is still rich with a valuable and rare collection related to Arabic culture. By 2012, DAK had a collection of 281,000 Arabic and 38,098 English books, 1,163 periodicals in Arabic and 266 English, 865 Arabic and English dissertations by Qatari students, 533 microfiches, 2018 manuscripts, and 154 CDs. In 2011, DAK boosted more than 16,000 memberships in their records.
In order to meet the increasing needs of the Qatari community, Dar Al-Kutub launched expansion plans. It started with modification of the library building which resulted in having an additional level, designed as a huge reading spaces for users. During the 1970s, it also started establishing public library branches in different remote areas in the country; this resulted in having five library branches. One of which was mainly dedicated for women. Each branch’s collection were able to serve specific communities in their cities. For example, the fishing community of Al Khor has a primary interest in subjects relating to fishing, stemming from its geographical proximity to the coast. Al Shamal community on the other hand, traditionally being a place of farming, plantations, and poetry reflected this culture in its branch library collection. The towns of Al Wakra and Mesaieed have historically been the focus of oil exploration, resulting in its library providing research and reading material related to technology and oil production. The public library in Al Rayyan focused its collection more on poetry and Islamic studies, while Al Khanssa library targeted women and children as its primary user group.
At one point, plans were initiated to open an internet café in DAK, and expansion plans included a mobile library or more branches to reach out for a bigger pool of users in Qatar. DAK objectives in relation to serving the community included: providing information to the general public, expand library services with the establishment of new public library branches, legal deposit, creation and maintenance of a union catalogue for all libraries in Qatar, research, recommend library development legislations, book exchange, programs with local, regional, and international organizations, and the organization of a yearly book fair. In its early years, DAK had a dedicated section for library services as one of other ten sections for management: acquisition, cataloguing, facilities, heritage, and others. The service section included borrowing; internal reading and a reference collection to help users in catalogue search. DAK was very active in conducting workshops and lectures, trained assistant librarians, and hosted diplomatic delegations with tours.
Facing Hard times
After 1990s, Dar Al-Kutub started to face major challenges, mostly resulting from the reluctance of its staff to embrace change and development. As of 2017, the total number of staff active in the primary building and its branches, stood at 131; 60 of which can be found in DAK. Only one person of the staff has a degree in library sciences. The only library program offered in Qatar in 2000s, stopped its execution. This is believed to be one of the reasons for the decline of Dar Al Kutub library operations at that time.
The current building is arguably outdated and is no longer adequate to serve the library purpose. Although Dar Al-Kutub sought the need for expansion in space in the 1970s, this was not the direction adopted by the following management of Dar Al-Kutub; the library building continued to operate in the same building without expanding, or moving to a new building to meet the growing population and overcome space limitations. It emerged from a research study, that Dar Al-Kutub suffered of a serious lack of library programs and services. The library should establish outreach activities which can be promoted on social media. Moreover, there is an absence of support and encouragement from the reporting sector. The library needs to review its practices and align them to international standards. An understanding and acknowledgement of its value as a cultural legacy of Qatar must be recognized on all levels. These important elements of the research study were taken forward by the officials overseeing Dar Al-Kutub, and new plans are being set to renovate and update all aspects of the library. Restoration of the building to its original design are being carried out at the present time. Once finalized, new concepts and services models will be available to users and lovers of Dar Al-Kutub. The library legacy will continue as a profound knowledge hub for the future generation.
Maktabat Qaṭar al-Waṭanīyah : 50 ʻāman wa-mā baʻd / [tahrīr Klawdiyā Lūks, ʻAbd Allāh al-Anṣārī]
Englsih Title: Qatar National Library : 50 years and beyond
Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing : Qatar National Library , 2012.
Originally published for the Book “Living libraries; The house of the community around the world”
Abeer works as director of Research and Learning Services at the newly established Qatar National Library (QNL). Abeer’s work focuses on engaging library researchers in the Qatari community to explore archival and libraries as memory institutions and documentary heritage