The Tradition of Librarians in Qatar
In Qatar, libraries were always a fundamental part of each home. In each salah, the Qatari living room, you would find books, videotapes, magazines and a large calendar with prayer times and Hijri dates. Having a library in your home meant securing a knowledge repository for your children and grandchildren and provided a stable source of education during times of conflict or lockdown, such as COVID-19.
Historically, the librarianship profession was introduced to Qatar after the opening of public and school libraries. Historians, Shalaq, Aquil and Abdulla (2009) point out that Dar Alkutub in Qatar, which was founded in 1962, was the first public library in the Gulf region. Also, based on records about Qatar in the British Archives, the first Qatari public school was opened in 1950 and included a small library (Burdett, 1997). Since the 1960s, libraries in Qatar have steadily grown every year in the number of collections, services and professionals.
The Library and Information Studies (LIS) degree was first offered by Qatar University (QU) in 1977. (Shalaq, Aquil and Abdulla, 2009). According to Ahmed (2008), LIS has had four stages of development at QU, shown in Table 1 (abridged by the researcher).
In 2006, the LIS department at QU closed permanently. As Ahmed (2008) highlights, the BA in LIS was missing too many core requirements for the 21st-century librarian, such as archives, website development, children’s and young adults’ services, and public services. Also, the program was never accredited by CILIP or any other international association. University College London (UCL) opened a branch in Qatar in 2012 with an MA program in LIS that was recently modified to include special courses in archives. But, as with other specialized studies in Qatar, UCL Qatar closed in 2020.
In 2021, Qatar had 566 libraries: 317 in government schools, 210 in private schools, 16 academic libraries, 12 governmental (ministry) libraries and 11 public libraries. Each one of these libraries is staffed by a minimum of one to two librarians, who certainly see the impact of their library services in society and have witnessed the development of librarianship in Qatar.
To support the large number of libraries in Qatar and the significant investment in this sector, Qatar National Library, since its opening, has helped librarians by offering professional courses and library consultations, hosting international conferences such as MetLib and Open Access, and providing educational workshops and research support to all librarians for both English and Arabic users.
The Library is working collectively to fill in the existing gap in the nation’s library development by offering internal and external support to librarians. A recent study, implemented by the author and presented at the LIAQ conference in 2020, showed that 80% of participants expressed their gratitude for the support provided by the Library. In addition, participants have presented papers at conferences more than five times per year.
The Library is proud of the diverse community within its team. At the Library, you will find 183 library staff members from 39 different nations who speak 12 languages and serve more than 165,623 members. Below is an infographic from 2019 illustrating the Library’s diversity.
Qatar National Library: Knowledge, Research, culture and more!
Qatar National Library is a unique library that plays the role of many institutes combined in one: Public Library, Special collection Library, children library, research centre, National archive, cultural centre and many other institutes that serves the people of Qatar. The Library, located in the middle of education city near national, international universities and schools, makes it a hub destination not just for the public but students of the Education city. Students would use its collections and facilities and more, which made it serve as an academic library. The Library has a national and international collection of rare books, documents, media, and manuscripts that qualify it to have its heritage library. This, too, has encouraged it to be a research centre for people looking at the history of the Gulf and Qatar. Also, Providing various programs and events monthly that covers different subjects, themes and users made the Library a cultural centre that attracts people from diverse background to meet and exchange knowledge. All of the previous elements have created Qatar National Library, a unique library that would help Qatar’s development through the collection, resources, services and even location.
The library building was designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas also designed Seattle Central Library and Qatar Foundation headquarters. The building design resembles two pieces of paper stretched away and enveloped cornerwise. This created a shell-shaped construction, embedding the open space interior. The majority of building walls are made of glass to allow as much light as possible to enter the space. The shelves are an integral part of the building, which is elevated from the ground to affirm the significant status of books.
As the Library serves different stakeholders, the collection had to follow its leads in richness, diversity and forms. The Library provides multiple collections that can be categorized by the audience to:
- Main collection: includes Print books and journals in all subjects.
- Heritage Library Collection : the collection Includes Manuscripts, old printed books, archives, maps and atlases, globes, historical photographs, and traveller’s instruments.
- Children’s and young adult’s collection: the collection includes Print books, educational toys and tools, and resources for parents, caregivers and educators.
The collection can also be categorized by the type of resources to print resources and electronic resources. The Library owns approximately a million print books that is catalogued following Library of Congress classification system . As for the digital resources the Library provides:
- Qatar Digital Library : It Provides users worldwide with free access to an extensive collection of historical archival items related to Qatar, the Gulf region and the Middle East, and manuscripts of Arab Islamic sciences.
- Online Resources: It includes hundreds of thousands of ebooks and other materials available through online resources
- Digital Repository: It includes Digitized and digital materials produced by the Library and its partners. The Library has a digitization lab that digitizes documents following the copyrights law stated on the library website.
The Library’s 45,000-square-meter building, with its technological advancement, encourages users engagement. This can be seen in the use of the technical solutions embedded seamlessly in the building to facilitate every needed process, including selection, borrowing, returning, and other processes. The Library has many facilities such as :
- Reading, study and collaboration spaces.
- Event and exhibition spaces
- Innovation stations:
The Library has four innovation stations: Music studio, Photography room, Audio editing room and 3D printing room. The innovation stations have advanced equipment to help users work on their projects for schools or private and for free.
- Public computing: computers are distributed for public use around the Library.
- Children’s and Young Adults’ Library: space is designed to ensure children’s easy access to print and online resources. It also provides a playroom for babies and toddlers and a room for instructional programs.
- Self-check-in and checkout stations
- Infotainment: Digital walls and screens spread around the Library to provide information and entertainment for the public.
- Digitization Center
- Preservation and Conservation Laboratory
- Restaurant and café
The Library provides many services and almost all for free for users, such as :
- Membership: A library membership can be given to everyone as long they have a residency. In some instances, temporary membership is given to users who do not have residency if they work in research and are temporary visitors.
- Borrowing, return and renewal of the resources.
- Public and private reading and study spaces.
- Ask Our Librarians: Other than the regular reference services provided on the desk (before Covid-19 lockdown), The Ask Our Liberians online reference services answer general public inquiries. The Librarians also provides chat reference services for immediate response to questions. for users who need advanced research support, the Research consultation service is available where librarians of subject support users through face to face or online meetings. Librarians also provide Book Match Service to help users find the books that match their tastes. All the services are provided in Arabic and English language.
- support for people with disabilities through providing an assistive technology space, devices to borrow and selected collection.
- Self Service – Copy, Print and Scan service.8-Conservation and Preservation
- Digitization Services: The library objective is to digitize the Special Collection of the Heritage Library and make them available for free to everyone. The big goal is to add to the Arabic content by preserving the rare material that holds the Islamic and Arabic world history.
- Inter-lending and Document Supply Service: If the user did not find what they are looking for in the catalogue or the online resources, The Document Supply Service would provide the resources. The resources provided by the service such as Journal articles, book chapters, reports or books.
- Writing and Communication Station: A user with a need for language support can request support through an online form then a meeting will be set face to face or online to help the inquirer resolve his writing issues.
- Programs and Events: The library organizes many events and programs to educate and entertain the users with various interest and subjects. One of the top events is Philharmonic at the Library. Programs are not limited to age as there is a story time for children and a knitting circle for ladies who gathers weekly. Many other programs including book clubs, celebrations of monthly occasions and programs of educational nature such as research programs are provided currently online and attracting people from around the world.
“The Tradition of Librarians in Qatar“
written by: Eman Al- Shamari
“Qatar National Library: Knowledge, Research, culture and more!”
written by: Rana A. Abdulrahman
#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. She is a founding member of the Library and Information Association in Qatar (LIA-Q), which was established in 2014.