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Exploring the Qatar National Library

by Gillian Gibson

The long-awaited Qatar National Library (QNL) is a spectacle to behold. Beyond the monolithic façade and breath-taking interior, it embodies all the scholastic functions of a library with around one million books; half-a-million ebooks, periodicals and newspapers; and multiple special collections in 20 different languages.

But the library’s offerings extend far beyond its large catalog—an extensive online collection, cutting-edge technology rentals, and a full calendar of events transform QNL into a community hub for innovative learning and entertainment.

An amphitheatre of books

Aptly located in Education City, the Qatar National Library is an impressive building. Designed to appear like an amphitheatre of books, tiered floors full of shelved books rise up on every side when viewed from the ground floor of the library. The centre space includes an auditorium that can be opened up to accommodate grand events.

High above the centre space of the library, the upper level incorporates a suspended bridge-like structure, providing a platform from which to watch events unfolding below.

This level is primarily for study purposes and is furnished with numerous PC workstations, tables, printers, scanners, study rooms, media lounges with audio-visual equipment, and a large conference room, all of which are free to use and can be reserved in advance.

The basement level houses the Heritage Library, consisting of rare and valuable books and artefacts. It has an open ceiling, allowing you to look down into it from the ground floor. Constructed from sand-coloured marble, it gives the impression of a cave of treasures. This impressive collection features early texts and manuscripts relating to Arabic and Islamic civilisation, historical maps and early photographs of Qatar and the wider Gulf region, writings and other unique relics from travellers visiting and passing through the area over the centuries.

A chance to play and learn

On the ground floor, a bright, comfortable and secure children’s library with more than 100,000 books offers kids up to 11 years old an opportunity to read, play and learn. From easy readers and picture books to fiction novels and curriculum-based study guides there is something for everyone.

Reading is not the only activity promoted in the children’s section—noisy play is also encouraged with interactive learning games and activities, events, educational toys, crafts tables, and even a climbing wall and soft play area for children five and younger.

The children’s section also offers a host of resources for parents, including workshops and lectures focusing on various aspects of childcare.

A study haven

Containing 30,000 books and other media, the teen library caters to ages 12–18 and includes school curriculum and college books for students preparing for exams like the ACTs and SATs.

If you are a student or a parent of teens, you may be interested to know that the library offers study rooms, computer workspaces, a Quiet Zone and even specialised subject librarians who can provide information and resource support.

The Quiet Zone, for patrons 12 years and older, is comprised of numerous reading and writing tables, 28 individual study carrels, two computer labs and an assistive technology area offering equipment and specialised software for users with special needs.

An innovative experience

Individual technology rooms, or “innovation stations”, can be booked on an hourly basis and are furnished with 3D printers, green screens, video and photography equipment, sound recording equipment, musical instruments, electronic and robotics equipment, and all of the relevant software. Patrons younger than 15 must be accompanied by an adult to use these rooms.

Digital tablets, located in each library section, allow you to search for books and will provide a map of the library and your selected book’s location. The library also employs self-service checkout and checkin stations and a 24-hour drive-through book drop.

And in a feat of technological efficiency, returned books are processed in the basement by a custom-made book sorter, which automatically sorts and transports media to the relevant section in the library for librarians to reshelve each morning.

Location: Education City, on the south side of the Al Luqta Street, adjacent to Oxygen Park and Georgetown University in Qatar

Directions: The roads running through Education City are currently undergoing significant upgrade and construction works. Upon completion of the works, QNL will be accessible via Al Luqta, Huwar and Al Rayyan Al Jadeed Streets. Currently, the following directions will provide access to the building:

  • From Doha Corniche, turn on to Al Khalifa Street
  • Cross over Doha Expressway on to Al Luqta Street
  • Turn left on to Huwar Street
  • Continue south and turn right at Gate 5
  • Follow the road to a T-junction and turn right
  • At the roundabout, turn right, and the library is on the right-hand side

Parking: A small number of parking spaces are available on the street adjacent to the library, but these are filled relatively quickly during the afternoon. You may also park in the parking lot next to the Education City Ceremonial Court and catch the dedicated QNL shuttle bus.

In the future, underground parking facilities will serve Education City and a “people mover system” will be available to transport visitors to and from car parks

Accessibility: The library is designed to be fully accessible to all visitors, including those with small children in pushchairs and those with special needs. Entrances and exits to the library have either a ramped approach or a chairlift.

Inside the library, the terraced bookshelves can be accessed via ramps or an innovative glass lift system, which travels on an incline along the interior of the glass walls, giving the passenger access to each level of shelving and fabulous views of Education City. Lifts towards the back of the library provide access to the other floors. Emergency escape stairs/chair lifts are also provided.

Platform lifts provide access from the upper tiers of the ground floor to quiet reading areas equipped with chairs, sofas, tables and excellent views of the whole library.

Hours: Saturday to Thursday 08:00–20:00, Fridays 16:00–20:00

Contact: +974 4454-6039, qnl.qa

Fees: Membership is free to Qatari citizens and residency permit holders. Books can be borrowed for up to 21 days. Adults may borrow four books at a time, and children up to 10 books. Two DVDs and one CD may be borrowed for seven days, and up to two renewals can be done online or in person

Ages: QNL caters to all ages; however, there are some age limits for specific collections or resources. Children younger than nine must be accompanied by an adult at all times

Food and beverages: A café and restaurant are located on the ground floor. The cafe offers sandwiches, salads, cakes and pastries, soft drinks and coffee, while the restaurant also offers soups, burgers, shawarma and desserts. Snack and drink vending machines are also available in the Quiet Zone of the library, but they require exact change

Toilet facilities: There are toilet facilities located on each floor. Accessible facilities are provided for visitors with disabilities

Wi-Fi: Log on to “QNL-Guest”

Nearby Mosque: Prayer rooms are located towards the back of the library adjacent to the washroom facilities. Also, the Education City Mosque is located a short walk from the library entrance at the College of Islamic Studies

Doha Family Tips

  • Grab a snack and hop into one of the relaxing hanging bubble seats adjacent to the café
  • You can reserve study and media rooms, RSVP to events, browse the collections and renew your borrowed books online
  • The café and restaurant menus are delicious and healthy but not very child-friendly; and unfortunately, there are no high chairs or children’s plates and cutlery available
  • Rotating digital screens provide a map view of the library, so don’t worry if you get a bit lost in the building
  • Join one of the general library or Heritage Library tours to get an in-person introduction to this massive collection. Tour schedules are listed online
  • Subscribe to the library newsletter on the QNL website to keep up-to-date with the latest news and events
  • After a day exploring the library shelves, we suggest catching a breath of fresh air at the wonderful Oxygen Park, conveniently located a short walk away. If you haven’t heard of Oxygen Park, take a look at our review.