To be bru­tally hon­est, the read­ing habit in this re­gion is quite poor. Even with schools and uni­ver­si­ties pre­scrib­ing manda­tory read­ing time, we can't call our­selves a read­ing com­mu­nity. Does that mean we should not make any ef­fort to change things?


Qatar Na­tional Li­brary has an agenda of mak­ing read­ing a habit for all na­tion­als.

Cer­tainly not. The govern­ment is steam­rolling the process of pro­vid­ing its cit­i­zens and res­i­dents with a state-of-the-art read­ing in­sti­tu­tion – the Qatar Na­tional Li­brary. An­nounced in Novem­ber 2012 by Her High­ness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chair­per­son of Qatar Foun­da­tion for Ed­u­ca­tion, Science and Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment, this am­bi­tious project is well un­der­away. Once com­pleted, the 45,000 square me­tres li­brary build­ing will en­cour­age vis­i­tors to explore the pro­gres­sion of knowl­edge from past to present. The QNL is a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der the um­brella of Qatar Foun­da­tion.

Saadi Al Said, As­so­ciate Direc­tor for Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Plan­ning at the QNL, dis­cusses how the project is shap­ing up. A chem­i­cal engi­neer by pro­fes­sion, Al Said pre­vi­ously worked ex­ten­sively in the oil and gas sec­tor be­fore switch­ing roles to join the QNL in Oc­to­ber 2012. His ca­reer graph is akin to that of his home coun­try, Qatar. He elab­o­rates, “The QNL is sup­port­ing Qatar on its jour­ney from a car­bon-based econ­omy to a knowl­edge-based econ­omy by pro­vid­ing re­sources to stu­dents, re­searchers and the com­mu­nity in Qatar. It is in line with Qatar's Na­tional Vi­sion 2030.”

Par­ents and teach­ers are com­pelled to com­pete with a gen­er­a­tion that spends more time on­line than in a li­brary. Al Said ac­knowl­edges this. He says, “There is a per­cep­tion in the Gulf that a li­brary is for old peo­ple, and houses a lot of dusty books. Which is why we se­lected a unique de­sign that of­fers a lot of open light­ing. We will also use a lot of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to make the venue more than just a read­ing area.”

In keep­ing with the times, the li­brary has an arm known as the Metropoli­tan Pub­lic Li­brary of the dig­i­tal age. “We have dif­fer­ent sec­tions for dif­fer­ent seg­ments of so­ci­ety such as chil­dren or re­searchers. Each mem­ber of the fam­ily will have some­thing that in­ter­ests them,” ex­plains Al Said. Be­sides host­ing events, the QNL will have an au­di­to­rium with 120 seats, a res­tau­rant and cafe. It is

hoped that the venue will be­come a spot for vis­i­tors from around the world.

Even be­fore the new build­ing opens, the pub­lic is able to ac­cess the li­brary's wealth of on­line col­lec­tions by reg­is­ter­ing their de­tails with QNL. Dr. Clau­dia Lux, Project Direc­tor of QNL, ex­plains, “Any­one with a valid Qatar ID or res­i­dence per­mit is el­i­gi­ble to sign up and ac­cess these free on­line re­sources. The wealth of con­tent, rang­ing from mod­ern and clas­sic lit­er­a­ture, to on­line con­certs and aca­demic pe­ri­od­i­cals, is a treasure trove for every­one in Qatar to explore, en­joy and ben­e­fit from.”

Ear­lier this year the QNL cel­e­brated UNESCO's In­ter­na­tional Day for Mon­u­ments and Sites by show­cas­ing its distin­guished Her­itage Col­lec­tion's build­ing to view the li­brary's most prized and historic items. QNL's col­lec­tion of globes, maps and doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site Al Zubarah were es­pe­cially pop­u­lar at the event. Founded in 1979 by His Ex­cel­lency Sheikh Hassan bin Muham­mad Al Thani, the Arab and Is­lamic Her­itage Col­lec­tion in­cludes writ­ings by trav­ellers and ex­plor­ers who vis­ited the Ara­bian Gulf re­gion over the cen­turies, Arab manuscripts, his­tor­i­cal maps and globes, as well as sci­en­tific in­stru­ments and early pho­tog­ra­phy.

QNL's col­lec­tion fea­tures up to 2,400 pre­cious manuscripts, among them ‘Mushafs' (Holy Qu­ran) and Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture, with a pri­mary fo­cus on sciences such as ge­og­ra­phy, as­tron­omy, math­e­mat­ics and oth­ers. These are com­ple­mented by items from the early Euro­pean re­cep­tion (early prints in Latin from the 15th - 17th cen­turies) in­clud­ing the fa­mous ‘Qanon' of Avi­cenna (Ib­nSina). “We have an orig­i­nal map which was printed in 1478 and is the first known men­tion of the word Katara (Qatar) in it,” says Al Said.

The Her­itage Col­lec­tion reg­u­larly at­tracts diplo­mats and aca­demics from the world over, and was vis­ited by His Royal High­ness Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, dur­ing his visit to Qatar this Fe­bru­ary. Nine am­bas­sadors from Ar­gentina, Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Costa Rica, Ja­pan, Libya, Morocco, Peru, Switzer­land and Turkey and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Greece and Ye­men have en­joyed tours of the col­lec­tion.

His Ex­cel­lency Am­bas­sador Julio Flo­rian of Peru said, “It's a won­der. Peru and Qatar may be ge­o­graph­i­cally far apart, but through cul­tural events you can build bridges and that is why this place is so im­por­tant for ev­ery so­ci­ety. It's the way to get closer.” Known to be the very heart of the li­brary, the her­itage sec­tion will move from a tem­po­rary view­ing area to the very cen­tre of the QNL. Dis­cussing the col­lec­tion with pride, Al Said be­lieves. “Shar­ing these cul­tural trea­sures with the com­mu­nity is what drives the mis­sion of the QNL. Our role is to pre­serve and present Qatar in the re­gion. ”

Another achieve­ment for the li­brary was when it's booth won an award at the re­cently con­cluded QITCOM event. Vis­i­tors to the ex­hi­bi­tion booth, in­clud­ing Qatar's Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter of the In­te­rior HE Sheikh Ab­dul­lah bin Nasser bin Khal­ifa Al Thani, wit­nessed a live demon­stra­tion of the digi­ti­sa­tion process. Re­mark­ing on this Al Said says, “The end re­sult is not just con­ser­va­tion of Qatar's most historic manuscripts and books, but dis­sem­i­na­tion of this na­tion's pre­cious wis­dom and learned ex­pe­ri­ence on a scale that we have never seen be­fore.” In terms of re­sources the li­brary has called upon the ex­per­tise of quite a few. “We have many na­tion­als who help run the project. There are many in­ter­na­tional re­cruits who are work­ing with us as well,” Al Said says. To aid in digi­tis­ing of ma­te­rial the QNL has part­nered with the World Dig­i­tal Li­brary and the lo­cal Bri­tish Li­brary.

“Over time, we be­lieve that more and more peo­ple will re­alise that the mod­ern li­brary has some­thing for every­one to explore, en­joy and help un­lock their po­ten­tial,” con­cludes Al Said.

Dur­ing a tour of the col­lec­tions and other historic items on QNL's Arab and Is­lamic Her­itage Col­lec­tion Open Day. On far left is Dr Joachim Gier­lichs, As­so­ciate Direc­tor of Spe­cial Col­lec­tions and Ar­chives. On the far right is Dr Claudi Lux, Project Direc­tor of QNL. Al Said is to her right.

SAADI AL SAID As­so­ciate Direc­tor for Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Plan­ning QNL

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