His Excellency Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, the new President of Qatar National Library, speaks about his new role, the place that reading holds in Qatar’s culture, and why libraries – and what they provide – are more important than ever in a Covid-19 world
QUESTION: What does becoming President of Qatar National Library (QNL) mean to you, and how do you feel your career and experience will benefit the library?
ANSWER: This appointment is an honour for two reasons: it brings me pride, and it also brings me responsibility. I am fully aware of the responsibility that comes with this role, of the trust that has been placed in me, and of the expectations.
Libraries act as a collective memory – the memory of human heritage, including our Arab and Islamic heritage – and, for such a long time, they have been a source of knowledge for the entire world. The value of science and culture, and the power of books, is rooted within our culture in Qatar. Our country’s founder, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed al-Thani, was a poet who interacted with scholars and had a passion for knowledge and its dissemination. And His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Father Amir and the pioneer of Qatar’s modern-day renaissance, has been the driving force behind many achievements and initiatives in the sphere of culture, an approach now being taken forward by His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Amir of Qatar.
As a member of QNL’s board of directors, I have been a member of its family for some time, and have been involved in transforming the vision for this library – the vision of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation – into reality. Her Highness envisioned QNL to be one of the world’s pre-eminent centres of learning, research. and culture; a guardian of our nation’s heritage; and an institution that promotes the importance of imagination, discovery, and the nourishment of the human spirit.
My role as ambassador of the State of Qatar to several countries and institutions - including France, the US, Lebanon, Syria, the United Nations, and Unesco, as well as several European countries – and being a non-resident ambassador to Latin American countries allowed me to explore many cultures as well as to contribute to sharing Qatar’s culture with the world. It brought home to me the importance of cultural diversity. During my time as Qatar’s Minister of Culture, Arts, and Heritage, as well as being a candidate for Unesco general secretary, I also had the opportunity to visit many cultural and heritage institutions, and meet experts from universities and academic institutions in more than 70 countries.
I feel this has given me cultural insight and knowledge that I can invest in helping QNL to reach its goals. I also believe I can use cultural diplomacy to support QNL’s vision and mission, as this is an area I am well-versed in, and I understand how education and culture are pivotal in strengthening relations between countries.
QNL – existing, as it does, in such a diverse educational environment as Education City – reflects cultural diplomacy. I hope my experience in the diplomatic and cultural field will help to enhance QNL’s role in radiating knowledge and research, and strengthen its relationships with local and international universities, and other institutions.
Q: What do you feel is the most important aspect of QNL’s role, its greatest achievement to date, and its future prospects?
A: It’s important to recognise that libraries are not just a storage space for books. They carry a message that supports culture, knowledge, and interaction between civilisations. The vision that would become QNL was present long before the library was established, and while it may be a ‘young’ library that embraces modernity, its content and resources reflect our Arab and Islamic heritage and the continuous efforts of our leadership to enable access to the richness of this heritage.
Today, almost all countries have a national library that is internationally-recognised. QNL has progressed a long way toward having this status, and we will continue to build on its existing achievements to enhance its national, regional, and international standing. With a wonderful team that comprises so much talent and expertise, our goal is for the name of this library to be known around the world.
QNL is characterised by many features, including its unique design by the renowned architect Rem Koolhaas. Based on my many visits to libraries around the world, I can say that QNL is perhaps the most open, spacious, and welcoming. A visitor can see all its shelves and content as soon as they enter, as if they were carrying an open book in their hands. Even its design is inspired by the appearance of two pieces of paper being pulled apart and folded diagonally at the corners. In this way, the structure appears as a testament to the enduring value of books.
The library is also characterised by its use of innovative technologies, to an extent not seen in many international libraries. Its Children’s and Young Adults’ Library has more than 150,000 books in its collections, in languages including Arabic, English, French, Spanish, German, Urdu, and Italian, as well as many electronic resources. This reflects our commitment to building the future – because the future is built through our children.
Meanwhile, QNL’s Heritage Library provides a rich collection of valuable historical texts, manuscripts, and other rare items in different languages, as well as resources related to cinema. This is rarely found in international libraries.
And one of the most distinctive elements of QNL is its focus on digitisation. In light of the global Covid-19 pandemic, where education, work, and communication have become remote, this is even more relevant. QNL was a forerunner in providing such a wealth of digital resources long before the pandemic, and the current situation that the world faces demonstrates how important this commitment to digitisation was. QNL now offers access to 190 databases, more than 16,000 journals, and more than 465,000 reports, theses, dissertations, and other documents.
We have achieved all of this at QNL already. But these achievements are merely the basis from which we look to elevate the international standing of this library.
Q: How do you believe the community of Qatar has responded to QNL since its opening?
A: Since QNL opened in 2017, it has welcomed more than 1.2mn visitors. In 2019 alone, it welcomed 500,000 visitors. And since its inauguration, its programmes and its impact have flourished.
Despite the fact that the library building itself is currently closed due to Covid-19, we have added more than 170,000 new members since it closed, and this reflects QNL’s important role as a modern destination that enables permanent access to knowledge, including during times when people seek such knowledge to help them deal with crises. And as its president, I can assure everyone that we will build on what we have already achieved and seek to expand the resources we offer, working with libraries within and beyond Qatar to develop new partnerships, and being a hub of dialogue.
Q: How do you want to make QNL a regional and international hub of knowledge, and a destination for visitors within and beyond Qatar?
A: One of the core features of QNL is its capacity to provide knowledge that is accessible to all societies. We aim to strengthen our international partnerships through our commitment to providing lifelong learning opportunities.
QNL has developed partnerships and collaborations with key institutions around the world, including the British Library, the Ottoman State Archives, Bibliotheque National de France, the National Archives and the National Library of the Netherlands, the National Libraries of China, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, the Russian Presidential Library, New York University, and Unesco. We are currently working on further collaborations with India and Russia, as well as many different organisations, and we are an active member of the Digital Library Federation, the World Digital Library – a Unesco initiative – and the Library of Congress, a digital portal for material from the world’s leading libraries and institutions.
Through all our partnerships and collaborations, we will strive to serve knowledge and research, whether through digitisation initiatives, direct communication, or through our programmes and activities. We want the world to benefit from our resources.
Q: What do you believe is the benefit of QNL being based in the environment of knowledge that is QF?
A: What makes QNL more unique is its location within Education City, home to branches of prestigious international universities as well as Hamad Bin Khalifa University, as well as Qatar Foundation’s schools, research institutes, and community facilities. It is a place of academic and cultural diversity.
The presence of QNL in an environment such as this enriches the library and strengthens interaction with it. We are proud that QNL is part of the Qatar Foundation community, within which it embodies knowledge and lifelong learning.
Q: Why do reading and the pursuit of knowledge matter?
A: In Qatar and across the Arab world, our culture has always drawn us toward reading and seeking knowledge – this is illustrated by the first word in the Qur’an, which translates as “read”. Our great scholars who have helped to build civilisation did not gain their knowledge from universities, but from books.
Reading is a cognitive dynamic. Through reading, you can evolve and progress; without it, you will not only fail to stay where you are, you will fall back. People elevate themselves and their potential through reading, just as they do through lifelong learning, continuing to build on what they learned in school and university rather than simply being satisfied with it.
Libraries are a source of knowledge, and knowledge is the future. The Covid-19 pandemic only reinforces that knowledge, not money, is the path to development. The only way of overcoming the challenges we will face in the future is to do so through knowledge and science – this is the foundation on which we can build a better world.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Money talks: US town prints own currency to boost coronavirus relief
US pandemic forces cruel choice on asylum seekers
Why US can’t end the Saudi, UAE-led blockade on Qatar
A Biden victory could reset transatlantic ties
Trump’s culture war is all that he has to offer
Florida as a developing country
With festival cancelled by virus, Japan fireflies dance alone
‘Qatar-Malaysia ties to continue to maintain upward trajectory’