How diverse can diversity mean? It looks different to different people and organizations. Attitude towards it are different to different people. Organizations adjust, approach, and sustain it differently. Here are some statements that I find resemble how I see it as a public librarian who discerns the library profession is tailor-made to see diversity as an asset, opportunity, and a natural part of the institution.
“To put it simply, diversity can be defined as your mix of people while inclusion can be defined by how well your people mix. … What’s lacking in both of these concepts, however, is the actualization of fully accepting people for their unique traits that make them different from those around them” (Scanlon et al., 2019). And while embracing these differences, it is also agreeable to note that “different cultural backgrounds mean different learning styles, different means of problem-solving, and different perspectives on solutions. It can also facilitate a more worldly view, which is important to have in a global economy” (Robinson, 2019).
Reflecting, I asked myself… Does QNL, as a distinct example of a service-oriented learning institution, embrace this very essence of diversity when rendering its services to the entirety of its target users or communities? ABSOLUTELY! And will it continue to thrive by continually sustaining its efforts to support the constantly changing information needs, interests and expectations of its literally diverse target communities; demographically, empirically, and cognitively.
How? Through continuously improving the Library’s collections to reflect the multinational nature of its members and addressing various preferences in the material formats, be in print, electronic, digital, or Braille. Through designing and offering programs targeting various aspects of impact such as culture and heritage preservation, capacity building, educational and research skills building, and community engagement. Through building relationships by initiating collaborations and partnerships with educational, governmental and cultural institutions locally, regionally and internationally. Through extending outreach services to those physically unable to access the Library’s regular services.
Who makes all this possible? I will always be honored to say it is the Library’s demographically diverse staff, comprised of 33 nationalities, who support and respect the core values of librarianship: “equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, respect and fairness, where our patrons are valued regardless of race, color, sex, gender, religion, disability, age, genetic information, socioeconomic status, or national or ethnic origin, and where their opinions, needs and viewpoints are considered in every decision we make” (Qatar National Library, 2021).
According to the User Services’ team, the total registered number of QNL members as of June 2021 has reached more than 190,000. The top five nationalities based on items checked out are Indian, Qatari, Egyptian, Filipino, and Jordanian. Due to a very diverse community and the aim to attract many regardless of demographics, I design my public programs in a way that they encourage community engagement and lifelong learning. Allow me to share with you some of my programming experiences. One of the most memorable I did several times was the Blind Date with a Book. Books will always be a good way to start a delightful conversation where people who are demographically diverse talk and share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions influenced by their personal experiences and cognitive backgrounds.
My brain teaser events also have regular attendees and some of them are families. It is always nice to see (or hear when I conducted several virtually) a family or group of friends trying to solve a puzzle and together I see the amusement in their eyes every time they successfully solve a puzzle, logic game, or the number tricks!
It is also worth mentioning the gardening events where enthusiasts and beginners on organic and sustainable gardening would meet. Participants came from different backgrounds and it is great to hear their gardening stories and experiences. I also could not forget a participant who once joined my clay craft events. He came to me, gave his clay art, and shared that he was travelling many places using his bicycle and stopped by the Library for a quick visit and to see the beautiful building. He was not a Library member but was not hesitant to join us and felt really welcomed.
I do not speak the same language as most of my participants nor am very well-versed about their different cultures, but we connect and speak about other significant things in their lives such as their interests, hobbies, and ideas of recreation or relaxation. Through these programs, in-person or virtual, a space for conversation was created. A simple yet fascinating way to start building relationships to emphasize a culture of belonging and community which I consider as two of the most important intangibles of public service.
I started and spent many years of my career in the academy. It was wonderful. I am and will always be grateful. It is in Qatar National Library though, that I learned to appreciate public service more where diversity is visibly abundant. Work life has been charmingly hectic, yet fulfilling, especially during times when through conversations, users remind me how the existence of the Library affects and influences their lives, no matter how small. This is my story and I am only one soul of the entire awe-inspiring Library staff.
Read More About Qatar National Library Celebration of Diversity of Cultures, Identities and Artistic Voices
Useful Books to Check!
Christine T. Afinidad
A Filipino librarian who started her career in the field of librarianship almost 20 years ago and joined the Qatar National Library team in 2012.
#QatariLitMonth is curated by Abeer S. Al-Kuwari
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.