The Children and Young Adults section of Qatar National Library is abuzz with young voices, laughter, and clattering feet. Brightly colored furniture and low bookshelves characterize this section as being for youth, and the small groups of children huddled over books shows they approve of the area. At the back of this lively section is Hind Al Khulaifi’s office, manager of children and young adults at QNL.
Al Khulaifi is an advocate of education, free learning, and community-based work and she has been able to merge all these interests in her work at QNL. “The library field kind of chose me before I really knew if I wanted to have a profession in [it],” she said. Al Khulaifi has had many experiences that have led up to her work at QNL, beginning with her own education, “I’ve studied abroad, so I had been in good schools with good libraries, so I knew that libraries are important.”
Her appreciation of libraries did not mean that she was considering a career in them, but from a young age she was always attracted to reading and research so it was a natural fit. It was also during her third year in university as a business student that Al Khulaifi was approached by two women who asked if she would be interested in helping them start a public children’s library. The project was to be called Maktaba, and would become the first of its kind in Qatar. This was at a time before QNL had opened and the public’s access to books was extremely limited.
“When I joined [the project], I realized how unaware society was of the concept of a public children’s library,” said Al Khulaifi. “We wanted to provide a place where families could come and read books for free.” In an interview with Doha News, Maktaba’s cofounder, Sarah Champa Al Dafa, agreed with Al Khulaifi. She said, “when I got to Qatar eight years ago, I realized that there were no libraries and very few bookstores and very limited access to books.” After a lot of time and hard work, Maktaba’s physical location opened two years ago.
Now that Al Khulaifi has transitioned to working at QNL, she said that her inspiration is drawn from her own personal life. “I am a mother, so the world of children is a world I love.” In a library as advanced and academically focused as QNL, one might think that the children’s section would be overlooked. However, Al Khulaifi makes sure that this is not the case. There is always a team of specialized children’s librarians on the floor to help with reference support and advice, and the library runs regular programs for all ages that range in topics from science, technology, engineering and math, a field known as STEM, to arts and crafts, health and wellness, and information literacy.
“Schooling is important, but it’s also important to nurture the idea that learning does not only happen in the boundaries of the school building or at home while doing homework,” said Al Khulaifi. “Here, it won’t be so restricted and it doesn’t have conditions. There is no exam or test afterwards. It’s free learning, free exploring.”
One common critique people make about younger generations is their increased use of technology. This is often thought of as a threat to readership and traditional learning, however, Al Khulaifi disagrees. QNL is at the forefront of its field as it promotes learning in multiple ways that balance technology and tradition. Al Khulaifi describes ways that children can interact with books such as pop-up images and augmented reality that shows 3D images on a mobile phone that can also scan an image in a book.
Alongside this advanced technology, Al Khulaifi argues that traditional print is not likely to become obsolete soon. “We’ve almost circulated half a million books. We might think that [technology] is taking away the attention from print but in reality, people are still hungry to go back to that authentic, patient type of learning where you sit down with a book in your hand.”
When asked why she is so passionate about working with children and youth, Al Khulaifi said, “I feel like children’s power to shape society is so important. Once you start with them at a young age, you’re setting up the society that you want to create in 10 years or 15 years.” She says she is dedicated to providing a positive experience to anyone who needs it, whether it be through Maktaba or QNL. “What better way to advocate for education is there than through a library?” she said.