The glint of print
February 14 2017 12:39 AM
DRAWN TO BOOKS: Susan Parker-Leavy says she loves her job because “variety is the spice of life and at the MIA library, you always have something new happening”.

The very existence of libraries, the great American poet, dramatist and literary critic T. S. Eliot said, affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.
February is Library Lovers’ Month, which means the entire month is dedicated to the people who love whole buildings devoted to the reading, housing, organising, categorising, finding, studying, and otherwise loving books.
Community caught up with four of the top librarians in Qatar for a talk in a two-part series. Here are excerpts from chats with Susan Parker-Leavy, the Head of Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) Library, and Abeer al-Kuwari, Director of Research and Learning at Qatar National Library (QNL).

What special role does the library you head play for the community it serves, and how?
Susan Parker-Leavy: The MIA Library has over 2,000 visitors every month with a large number of school groups visiting. Since the opening, the library has evolved from a serious place for scholars to study Islamic Art, into a more open community-based library which now offers services to everyone from serious scholars, tourist, general public, VIPs, museum staff, families and children of all ages. A few of the things we have on offer include: story times for children, object handling for special needs visitors, books about Qatar for tourists, rare books and manuscripts for in-depth study of Codicology (the study of codices or manuscript books written on parchment or paper as physical objects), digitised copies of our rare books and manuscripts which are available via the QNL website, book clubs for book lovers, adult colouring for people who need to de-stress, Collectors Club for private collectors of Islamic Art, teacher training in library literacy and many other activities. Everyone is welcome to the MIA Library!
Abeer al-Kuwari: Since the announcement of the QNL project in 2012, it started providing several services to the community by offering access to online resources containing e-books, journals, academic articles, magazines, children’s books, music streaming, and much more. It was very important to QNL to start engaging with the community and provide access to knowledge and learning opportunities in support of the development of the community. Despite the fact that the library building is still under construction, QNL was able to reach out to different types of users and has offered many programmes like book discussions, research workshops, and trainings, etc. These programmes are becoming popular among the library patrons which are evident from the high demands on registrations.
What is the best part about being a librarian and getting to spend endless hours with books all around you?
Susan Parker-Leavy: I love my job because variety is the spice of life and at the MIA library, you always have something new happening. Every day we have different sorts of people visiting the library and looking at a wide range of information. As a librarian, I spend about half my day or more out in the library, working with visitors running programmes or helping find information and books. However, I’m also responsible for ordering new books, cataloguing books, and doing other related tasks. These things I do at my computer, in my office. So I have the best of both worlds. Working with good people is also important and I have an international staff who work with me to create a very welcoming environment for the visitors. We work in both Arabic and English.
Abeer al-Kuwari: I find that working in a library atmosphere whether virtual or actual is very inspiring. Facilitating the access to knowledge to the public and providing them with different learning opportunities is self-rewarding. Libraries’ impact on societies is invaluable and I’m very happy to be part of QNL.
What do you think makes the library a bastion of knowledge and wisdom even as digital media and devices take over our lives? Also, is integrating into the digital platform the way ahead for the traditional libraries?
Susan Parker-Leavy: Libraries need to stay relevant and incorporate digital technologies into their offers. Libraries will always be needed as they provide a place for specialist research which can’t be found on the Internet and expert librarians who can help you dig for really difficult to find information. Especially, in the area of fine arts and children’s literature, it is often much nicer to look at a real book with beautiful images than simply digital images on a screen. Libraries also provide a physical place for people to study, use free Wi-Fi and participate in book-related activities. Libraries can act as a hospital for the mind and a place for people to feel a sense of community. At MIA, we try to combine the old with the new, for example the oldest book in the collection is “Ymago mundi incipit: Prima figura.” by Pierre D’Ailly. It was printed in 1483. D’Ailly not only stressed the idea that the world was a sphere, he also proposed the existence of a western sea route to India. His book was a decisive influence on navigators of the time, especially Columbus. This book is available for viewing in the MIA Rare Book Room but soon it will be available worldwide as a digital copy via the Qatar Digital Library —
Abeer al-Kuwari: Libraries are capable of adapting to all new trends in seeking knowledge, adding to this the digital format of information and learning. Many libraries are now utilising digital devices like tablets and iPads for users through which they can read online periodicals, and books. Video gaming is also popular in libraries for teens where they can gather and conduct competitions. It is always interesting to see how librarians are able to benefit from what is trending in the digital world; such as the mobile app “Pokémon GO” where many libraries around the world invited patrons to visit their libraries and hunt for their favourite Pokémons. This created additional publicity and presented libraries as a modern space for joyful learning. On the other hand, I still believe that print books will remain popular and will not disappear anytime soon, as some believe.

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