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Post: How does the National Library of Qatar protect the heritage and identity of the Arab region?


National Library of Qatar (QNL), a key institution in the country’s strategy to transition from oil and gas to a knowledge economy. It’s also a treasure trove of Marv’s, from the region’s culture and history to the latest in digitization. But it also serves as a regional center of expertise, whether in recovery techniques or combating the smuggling of stolen documents.

A building that “makes conscience”

The National Library of Qatar is not like a traditional public library. Its design is rich in symbolism. “The excitement that can be seen in the eyes of visitors when they discover the building is really moving,” says Hend Al-Khulayf, director of projects and strategic planning for the library. “When you walk in, your gaze takes in most of the library,” he explains. “It was designed to be different heights and the feeling that you can grow spiritually through reading and learning,” he adds. Another symbol of uplifting the soul with light, learning.

Hindi al-Khulayf says that modern libraries should also be living spaces for the public. Obviously there are lots of books, but there are learning spaces, creative stations and sensory rooms: “We want people to learn, explore, discover and develop their curiosity through access to a large number of resources on different topics. Therefore, the National Library of Qatar wants to be an open space for learning. If someone, for example, is interested in an innovative broadcaster to learn to play an instrument or record a podcast, the goal is to borrow the book and get to know its content better.

heritage library

Designed by famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the National Library of Qatar was built in 2018. It houses a heritage library that resembles an archaeological site and contains maps, manuscripts and photographs that document the region’s rich history.

“The exhibition is not only focused on Arab history, but also on the history of Islam and Islamic civilization in general,” explains Ikhlas Ahmed, Director of Exhibitions and Outreach at the National Library of Qatar. “For example, the book shows how manuscripts were transferred from one region to another until knowledge sharing began,” he says.

This exchange is an illustration of the concept of the National Library of Qatar. As Qatar evolves from an oil-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, it provides a platform for physical and digital knowledge sharing.

“It’s very important to get to know the region from the perspective of these travellers, because they were the pioneers,” adds Ikhlas Ahmed. From the 15th or 16th century, they arrived in the region for different purposes, and through the records of their travels, we can really read the past.

From “Qatar” to Egypt under Napoleon Bonaparte

The library displays, for example, a second edition of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Description of Egypt, one of the earliest accounts of the French campaign in Egypt in the early 19th century. “It is considered the first description of Egypt at that time, because many scientists, historians and researchers recorded all the elements of this expedition”, says Ikhlas Ahmed. “It’s one of the main resources to understand what it’s like to live there, from different perspectives,” he adds.

The heritage library also houses the first printed map, dating back to the 15th century, pointing to modern Qatar. It was identified in Latin by the term catarrh.

The challenge of digitizing the collection

The next step is to digitize these ancient documents to preserve them for future generations. Specialists at the National Library of Qatar can scan 2,000 to 2,500 pages a day. “We started in 2015,” says Hani El Sawi Abdel Latif, Head of Digitization Services at the National Library of Qatar, who is responsible for the library’s mass digitization efforts and initiatives. “So far we’ve processed over 14 million pages, including books, manuscripts, periodicals, posters, maps, photographs and many other sources,” he added.

“We focused on the Arabic language,” he explains. “We are trying to enrich the Arabic content and distribute it online to researchers, professors and ordinary users. This allows anyone, anywhere, anytime to access the collection.”

Heritage records are not necessarily intended for a specialist audience… The library reports that more than 2.5 million people used its digital resources in 2021. “This clearly shows that heritage records, when online and freely available to all, as it is Like the National Library of Qatar, they have great potential,” said Markin Verla, head of digital content and usage at the National Library of Qatar. “This is something that interests a lot of people, not only in the country, but in the region and around the world: people from all over the world are using our online resources”, he adds.

It does not stop there. “In addition to digitizing our collection, we are also working with various associations”, explains Hossein Tan, Executive Director of the National Library of Qatar… “For example, with the British Library, we are digitizing documents about the Gulf region that are in their archives. , and the idea is that everyone can access this view, and therefore it is accessible to everyone. This is one of our tasks as the guardian of the documentary heritage of the region and of Qatar”.

Digitizing a country’s heritage to better preserve it is a difficult task, even in a very modern library.

Conservation and Maintenance Department

There are over a million books in the National Library of Qatar. Readers can choose to sit anywhere within this 42,000-square-foot space. While it contains everything you’d expect from a library, including a café, children’s section and restaurant, it’s its conservation department that particularly stands out.

In addition to the section of the library open to the public, there is another very important area underground: the IFLA Regional Center for Protection and Conservation, also known as the PAC. Its mission is to help preserve books and manuscripts throughout the Arab region.

“There are millions of Arabic and Islamic manuscripts in the region and there are not enough facilities to conserve and preserve them, so we cannot replace them and preserve the entire heritage, but we can ‘train people’ because we have technical assistance.” A service where we offer training and technical assistance”, says Stefan Ebert, director of the center. We also get people to be trained in all things preservation and conservation – manuscripts, records, maps, he continues – so we can do what we call capacity building to help people move forward and take better care of their collections.” . “Compared to all Arab countries, we are truly the most advanced center for heritage preservation, restoration and protection.”

Technical Specialist Technical Farid Al-Shishani works in damage prevention and risk management, which is a diverse task. He is currently assessing the state of the astrolabe’s metals.

Farid and the rest of the team are responsible for the collection of heritage library items, as well as books, maps and manuscripts. “We have a Wi-Fi remote temperature and humidity system,” he says. “So, just by looking at the computer, I can check the temperature and humidity in the storage areas and display space, and if we have borrowed items, this system allows us to connect to any Wi-Fi network in the world. and we can remotely control it from computers and even our smartphones.

Document acid removal device

In 2022, the National Library of Qatar will open the region’s first acid disposal facility. Books or journals published after the 1850s are more problematic than older manuscripts because the material or wood pulp used is more acidic.

“This acidification plant is a system that uses a substance called magnesium oxide suspended in solution”, explains Farid Al-Shishani. “What makes this system special is its ability to process large quantities, so it doesn’t just process one or ten. Items, you can process up to 50 items per day.

“After processing, we put them in dryers that recover all the liquid that was used and that remains in the material; We feed it back into the system, then we process the material one way or another – this method cuts costs. and respects the environment.”

Combating the smuggling of heritage documents

PAC’s accounting mission goes beyond preservation. Trafficking in historical documents and other archives has increased in the Middle East and North Africa region due to conflicts and unrest in some countries. However, books and literature are less protected under national law than other works of art. This is why PAC training courses are based on trafficking and extortion law.

“We funded a trip for Yemeni experts to come here for training, meet international police and customs experts, who may not be able to easily travel to Yemen at the moment, and explain the procedures, legal framework and recovery processes. . Stefan Ebert, National Library of Qatar.

“Here we have developed, together with other IT departments from the Qatar Foundation, a service that automatically monitors social networks 24 hours a day, in order to try to identify posts that may be related to traffic: every morning, our specialists receive lists of publications and see if it’s a legitimate sale, which may be related to traffic compared to the library’s databases.

Criminals are finding more and more ingenious ways to get around using the latest technology. “Manuscripts are relatively small compared to artifacts, so they are easier to transmit, smuggle and then resell in European markets,” says Stefan Ebert.

It adds: “For three years, we have developed a program specifically to combat the smuggling of Islamic manuscripts in cooperation with Interpol, International Customs and other experts.” “We have a team that monitors auctions but also sales on social media because there is a significant development where people are transacting more and more on the dark web and social media today; it is less easy for the police to control. “So we are monitoring all these activities.” “It’s hard work, but it’s very important to keep the memory of the Islamic world alive,” she emphasizes.

Whether through advanced technology to protect the library’s holdings or through structured training to prevent manuscript trafficking, PAC, like the entire National Library of Qatar, is stepping up efforts to preserve the region’s precious heritage.

Source: EuroNews

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