DOHA: The Gulf’s largest book collection, Qatar’s National Library, has enhanced ties with libraries outside the region and wooed younger readers in its first year, as an anti-Doha boycott drags on.

Scores of children weave in and out of the banked rows of shelves or sit on beanbags clutching books at the foot of the vast columns that support architect Rem Koolhaas’ 45,000-square-metre mega-structure.

Every single book in the children’s library was borrowed in the first six months as the QNL has sought to avoid the stuffiness of some world-class libraries and attract young readers.

It has marketed itself as a “noisy” library and features a 120-seat auditorium and a special events area at the heart of the naturally lit space that is reminiscent of a modern airport.

“All of the books you see in this place can be borrowed by the users,” said the library’s deputy executive director Stuart James Hamilton.

“Unlike many of the national libraries, we have a public library function that goes alongside the national and research library functions.” With over one million books and 500,000 digital editions, the library, located in Doha’s Education City, is the largest in the Middle East.

But the United Arab Emirates is shooting to outdo Qatar with its Dubai-based Mohammed bin Rashid Library, hoping to house 1.5 million volumes when it opens. Tensions between the UAE and Qatar erupted in June 2017 when the Emirates joined a Saudi-led alliance that imposed an economic and diplomatic boycott on Doha, accusing it of supporting Iran and Islamist movements — charges Qatar denies.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2019