The opening of the Qatar National Library
I was honoured to represent IFLA at the Grand Opening ceremony of the Qatar National Library on 16 April. It was a very special event, attended by Qatari royalty including Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Father Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and H H Sheika Moza bint Nasser. Other royals and dignitaries from the region were there as well as high level representatives from government.
The Opening ceremony featured speeches by the Executive Director of the National Library, Dr Sohair Wastawy, the Princess and founder of the Qatar Foundation which funded the project, H H Sheika Moza bint Nasser, the
architect, Rem Koolhaas, the Qatari poet Tamim Al-Barghouti and Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library. There was an audio-visual presentation – a marvellous light-infused journey through past, present and future Qatar, and a celebratory video that featured National Librarians including Marie-Louise Ayres from NLA and Bill McNaught from NLNZ.
A special part of this special occasion was the placing of the one millionth book on the library shelves by the Emir. The book chosen for this honour was Al-Bukhari’s abridged collection of Authentic Hadith, a manuscript dating from 1175 CE. It is a volume from the oldest know surviving copy of the work from al-Andalus and is a reminder of how important it is to treasure and preserve all written heritage for future generations. This was a lovely closing of a circle, as the first book placed on the shelves by the Princess was a manuscript of the Holy Qur’an shelved in December 2016. The two major works of Islam are the Qur’an and the Hadith.
The National Library supports the State of Qatar’s move from dependence on natural resources to a knowledge economy. QNL is a national library, a research-level university library and a public library. The library has been well used since its soft opening in November last year with 161,000 visitors and loans of over 300,000 items – a third of the collection. The Children’s library has been particularly successful and its programs are well attended.
One of the most striking features of the library is its size, it is one large space spanning 138m, with the Heritage Library, staff offices and services below the main floor of the library. It is a celebration of the book, with the shelves being a prominent feature. The shelves are “face out” so that they form an integral part of the design. The building is notable for its light and space and it is very difficult to get a sense of the volume of the space through photographs.
The most outstanding part of the library is the Heritage Library. The Qatar Heritage Library was incorporated into the National Library in 2012 and has as its core H.E. Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani’s extensive collection of precious and unique archival documents, early Arabic printed materials, manuscripts and early photographs. Following the acquisition of this library, there has been a concerted effort to build on this collection and the Heritage collection now contains 50,000 historical and heritage items. It is housed in a beautiful marble room that is in the centre of the library and is the metaphorical heart of the library. The items are displayed with great effect and provide a fascinating view of Qatar’s history.
As part of my tour of the building I was able to visit the QNL Preservation and Conservation Centre which is absolutely state of the art with its equipment, facilities and expertise. It includes the IFLA/PAC (Preservation and Conservation) Regional Centre for the Arab Countries and the Middle East, its role is to support the Arab libraries through a series of activities and initiatives to promote, disseminate and improve the practices in preservation and conservation.
The opening of a new national library is an occasion of great celebration and I was privileged to be part of it.
Photo: With Claudia Lux, Project Director of Qatar National Library 2012 -16 and IFLA President 2007-09