Dec 07, 2020 by QNL
Librarian Maryam Al-Mutawa reflects on an extraordinary time for all at Qatar National Library
The global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus has affected the daily lives of billions of people around the planet. This is particularly true in places that normally are home to regular human interaction, forcing radical adaptations to daily life.
For Qatar National Library’s new Head of Collection Access (Distinctive Collections), Maryam Al-Mutawa, this has certainly been the case. Due to the pandemic, the Library closed its doors to the public on 11 March, although its online resources and services remained available to users throughout. The Library building was reopened to the public in a phased manner starting 15 July.
Most of the Library’s services have returned to pre-lockdown days, though a few, most notably events, are still taking place online.
For Maryam, who started working in the Library in 2014, virtually all aspects of her working life have changed over the course of this extraordinary year—but she is taking each day as it comes and remains determined to provide readers and researchers with the best services the Library can offer.
“My new role as Head of Collection Access for our Distinctive Collections is to manage user requests and ensure that we develop our collection and make it more accessible to our users,” she explained. “I am also responsible for the exhibitions and events organized in our Heritage Library.
“What I like about my new role is that I don’t have a routine. Almost every day, I have new tasks that need to be accomplished. However, in general, I start my day by checking the user requests we have received and provide researchers and readers the references and materials they need. Most of my day is spent working on the workflows and procedures of Collection Access, which is how we provide and promote our collection through social media platforms and temporary exhibitions.”
Reflecting on these past few extraordinary months for herself and the Library, Maryam continued: “The challenging part during the pandemic was how we continue to provide our services. On the bright side, however, this pandemic gave us the chance to think about the digital transformation of our services, such as virtual events and tours, along with the digitization of our Distinctive Collection items. The unexpected circumstances gave us many lessons about how we always need to be prepared for challenges and how life can quickly change.
“Personally, I’ve learned how to manage my time and try to keep the rhythm of my life, even if my daily routines have totally changed.”
The Library recently participated in Europe’s first-ever virtual Arabic book fair, and Maryam enjoyed taking part in the successful event, at which she talked about the Qatar Digital Library to international attendees.
She said: “One of the pros of this pandemic is narrowing spaces. We have held many virtual events to introduce our services and collections to new audiences.”
Maryam, who singles out curating the Qatar National Day exhibition in 2018 as her favorite highlight of her six years at the Library, is already looking forward with great relish to two projects the Library has in the pipeline.
She said: “We’re working with several other departments in the Library on an exciting digital exhibition highlighting the art and history of Arabic cinema posters. Also, we are developing a remarkable exhibition to highlight the history of photography in the Middle East.”
Looking at what the Library has achieved so far in 2020 and what lies ahead in this important decade for the country, Maryam is both proud and upbeat. She said: “The Library made great efforts to continue our services during this pandemic. It is so important for us as a library to ensure intellectual access for people who are in isolation. The most remarkable efforts are the digital solutions that ensure the continuity of our services to the public. In addition, the effort to raise awareness about this virus by providing resources and references about the subject has been incredibly important.”
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