The Qatar National Library (QNL), which was inaugurated in April, is perhaps the first national library built in the 21st century. Located in the educational hub, Doha, this state-of-the-art library was inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, who placed a copy of the rare Sahih Al Bukhari on its book shelf. This book marked the one-millionth book of the library which has a capacity for 1.2 million books.
Well-known Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has designed the library. What makes this library special is that even though it is a national library, it is more oriented towards public accessibility rather than just being an archival resource. Its endeavour is not only to take care of the national heritage and preserve it for posterity but to also be a venue which people can visit and socialise in via exhibitions and events. Spread across 45,000 sq m, information is disseminated in a user-friendly ambience.
While desktops, tablets and audio-visual paraphernalia make reading and learning interesting, the café and eatery ensure that hunger pangs are satiated. The library has an impressive collection of almost 5,00,000 e-books, magazines and newspapers. There is provision for individual and group study, and also for readers with special needs. They can read from books with large texts, use electronic pens, earphones, and special software.
There is a children’s library that has material ranging from print books, audio books and e-books to e-resources and games for educational and creative purposes. For fostering the spirit of innovation among teenagers, an insightful teen collection is also available. Apart from books, magazines and textbooks, there are librarians who are happy to help with their homework. This is not all, to hone musical talent, a variety of musical instruments are provided to teenagers. And in keeping with the times, there are meaningful video games and gadgets that encourage teenagers to explore and discover their skills.
There is a permanent heritage exhibition consisting of valuable books, photographs and maps that take readers on a scientific and knowledgeable journey of the Arab and Islamic world. There is also material related to the region that throws light on its historical evolution and heritage. Rare manuscripts in Arabic are another highlight. While its display cases are humidity-controlled, the collection itself is housed in a space that is created six metres below the library floor giving visitors the feel of entering the maze of an excavated site.
Apart from the permanent exhibition, the library also has ongoing exhibitions like its current one which looks at German and Arabic tales. It is a popular venue for events and workshops. Some of the events that have already been conducted include an interactive arts and crafts demonstration and a performance by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra that saw an audience of 700 people. Training is also provided on different issues related to library database and its online resources.
In the basement of the library are located the book sorting section and digitisation area. The library also has technologically advanced book return stations, reading areas, prayer rooms, an auditorium, an innovation station and a conservation area. In the evening, the building is illuminated along with all the bookshelves making it a beautiful space to read or browse. Light plays an important role and the design of the library is such that sunlight is naturally filtered through its glass facade.