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Qatar National Library (QNL) is a non-profit organization under the umbrella of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. The plans for the new national library were announced by Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation, on November 19, 2012, during a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Dar Al Kutub library, in Doha, Qatar, the first public library in the Persian Gulf region (founded on December 29, 1962), which had until then been regarded as the Qatari national library.
Claudia Lux, a German scholar and library professional, was appointed by the Qatar Foundation to be director of the library project in April 2012, and initially oversaw the launch of QNL as a digital library, while construction began on a new building in Education City, a district in Doha that was developed by the foundation as a center of higher education, and now includes branch campuses of six American universities, as well as other educational and research institutions.
The parent institution, Qatar Foundation – a private, chartered, non-profit organization, founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, then emir of Qatar (now father emir) – aspires through its activities to "promot[e] a culture of excellence," to encourage "an innovative and open society in Qatar," and to support a transition "from a carbon-based economy to a knowledge-based economy." The new library is envisioned as playing an integral role in such a transition by providing the requisite educational resources to students, educators, researchers and the community at large; its mission is to "spread knowledge, nurture imagination, cultivate creativity, and preserve the nation’s heritage for future generations," or, in another formulation, to help in "bridging with knowledge Qatar’s and the Arab and Islamic world’s heritage and future."
QNL aims to serve a three-fold function as a national library, a research-level university library, and a central metropolitan public library equipped for the digital age. In its capacity as a national library it collects and provides access to global knowledge, including heritage content and materials relevant to Qatar and the region; as a university and research library it supports education and research at all levels; and as a modern central public library it provides library services and resources to meet the reading interests and foster the information literacy of the general public, and, with the opening of the new building, will also serve as a community meeting place.
Anyone who lives in Qatar and has a valid Qatari ID or residence permit is eligible for free library registration. QNL’s website offers registered library users free online access to a diverse collection of online resources, including international scholarly databases and top academic journals, as well as popular literature, magazines, children's resources, and music. The website also provides news on the progress towards the building’s opening.
The library offers a wide variety of books and e-books, in English and Arabic, including fiction and non-fiction, bestsellers and classics, as well as magazines and journals, DVDs, CDs, and audiobooks. In 2011, the library's collection consisted of 281,389 Arabic books and 38,059 non-Arabic books, accounting for 50% and 65% of all book stocks in Qatar's libraries, respectively. In keeping with QNL's mission to help prepare Qatar residents for participation in the global knowledge economy, a broad range of educational and instructional programs and services have been planned that focus on information literacy, early literacy, research skills, and using digital resources. Library educational programming includes book clubs, language-learning classes, musical events, and craft workshops, as well as events for children and their families, such as storytelling, crafts, and science exhibits.
In addition to the general-interest holdings (Main Collection) and academic online resources, the new building will house a center for QNL's Heritage Collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other materials related to Arab-Islamic civilization. Previously known as the Arab and Islamic Heritage Library, this collection was begun by His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani in 1979, and was integrated into QNL in 2011.
The Heritage Collection provides an unparalleled array of historical sources about Qatar and the region, including writings by travelers and explorers who visited the Persian Gulf region over the centuries, Arab manuscripts, and historical maps and globes, as well as scientific instruments and examples of early photography. It also features approximately 2,400 precious manuscripts, among them ‘Mushafs’ (Holy Qur'an) and Arabic literature, with a primary focus on sciences such as geography, astronomy and mathematics. These treasured antiquities are complemented by printed items representing the early European reception, namely, Latin translations dating from the 15th to 17th centuries, including the famous Canon of Medicine of Avicenna (Ibn Sina).
The maps and manuscripts of the Heritage Collection have been digitized and are accessible to registered users through the library's online catalog. Portions of the collection of particular international significance have also been made freely available to users worldwide through the World Digital LIbrary (WDL), a project of the United States Library of Congress, which is supported by UNESCO. QNL contributes financial support to the WDL.
Until the opening of the new building, the Heritage Collection is open to the public for tours at the Heritage Collection Building in the Al-Luqta neighborhood of Doha.
In August 2015, QNL was appointed as the Preservation and Conservation Centre (PAC) of the MENA region by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. There were 13 other global PACs at the time of its appointment.
Qatar Digital Library (QDL) is the culmination of a partnership established between Qatar Foundation, Qatar National Library, and the British Library in 2012. The partnership sought to digitize a rich trove of heritage material documenting Arab and Islamic history and to make it freely accessible to the public through the Qatar Digital Library (QDL), which was launched online in October 2014. The digital library, with an English and Arabic bilingual interface, encompasses a total of 500,000 pages of items held by the British Library pertaining to the history of the Persian Gulf region. Some 475,000 pages, dating from the mid 18th century to 1951, are from the India Office Records and Private Papers (including the archives of the East India Company and its successor institutions); and 25,000 pages are of medieval Arabic scientific manuscripts.
QNL’s new building, designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, is currently under construction at Education City, in Doha. When completed, the state-of-the-art library facilities will include a variety of collaborative and individual learning spaces, a children’s section, public computer workstations, digital media production facilities, performance spaces, a café, an assistive technologies center, and a writing center.
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