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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Reading in Qatar

or What ever happened to the National Library of Qatar?

Being a book lover (when I had time to read books before starting this blog and website!), I went looking for the National Library of Qatar as soon as I arrived in the country - now several years ago.

It shouldn't have been hard - the library was marked clearly on the map. Yet, no matter how many times I trundled up and down the Corniche, I could not locate the building.

It turned out that the makers of the map, rather optimistically, had marked it on the map before it was built. And it never got built, which is a shame because, as the picture below shows, it would have been splendid.

My assumption is that with the rush to get ready for the Asian Games, as well as the building of other major projects such as the Islamic Museum, the building just got left behind.

It's also worth pointing out that not many Arabs in Qatar read a great deal, apart from newspapers, magazines and the Quran.

When I trundled down to the original and still standing National Library, itself housed in a pleasant old building, there have been few browsers other than myself.

And the lack of readers in the Qatar National Museum even made a news story: 300,ooo Books Go Begging for Readers.
Image of the original news articleImage Source: Qatar Living

One reason for (or result of?) this lack of readership could be the lack of (non-religious) reading material in the Arab world.

Kalima Translation, an organisation dedicated to encouraging the translation of Arabic books, points out that:
  • more books are translated in Spain than have been in the Arab world for the last thousand years
  • only one book per million Arabs is translated into Arabic every year
Meanwhile the Arab Human Development Report states:

"The Number of Books Published in the Arab World does not exceed 1.1% of production."
Early Arab ScientistIt is worth remembering that this was not always the case. Once the Arab World, which now spends 0.2% of Gross National Product of research and design, lead the modern world in the field of knowledge.

It was Arabs who brought the basics of the modern numeral system to Europe, came made great advances in the fields of medicine. They even treated the mentally ill with music therapy.

According to Rediscovering Arab Science:
In mathematics, astronomy, medicine, optics, cartography, evolutionary theory, physics and chemistry, medieval Arab and Muslim scientists, scholars, doctors and mapmakers were centuries ahead of Europe.
Qatar, more than most, realises the value of knowlege and education - they have, after all, built Education City, and invited prestigious American Universitities to set up campuses there, as well as setting up the Qatar Science and Technology Park.

Yet enter a 'bookshop' and chances are all you will see is stationery.

Reading, it seems, is still a rarity.

Who knows if a new National Library could have revived readership in Qatar? And who knows if it ever will?

Also see: Qatar Books | Books, Bookstores and Libraries in Qatar

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