When he traveled to the nation of Qatar along the Persian Gulf this fall, Dallas Long brought along a vital treasure—his knowledge of libraries.
An associate dean of Milner Library, Long made the journey to help launch the Qatar National Library—the first, large public and research library in the small country’s history.
“The royal family in Qatar provided a brand new building, and a great staff of about 120 people, but very few of them have worked in libraries, because there are very few libraries in the country,” said Long, who spent four weeks training staff in Qatar on a Fulbright Specialist Award to prepare library staff for the November 2017 opening. #FulbrightPrgm
Historically, libraries in the Middle East were known more as repositories, either for government and legal documents or for manuscripts and antiquities. The concept of a public library, where resources are accessible to all patrons, is a relatively new one. The recently completed library, located in Education City, follows the architecture of Qatar that combines ancient and ultramodern. A sparkling glass exterior leads to an open floor plan with shelves of marble.
The first floor is where Long spent the bulk of his time in the peninsular nation of Qatar, working with the staff in Access Services, commonly known as the circulation desk. With more than 15 years in library sciences, Long spent several years overseeing Milner’s Access Services area. When he arrived in Qatar, he learned the staff had practiced checking books in and out, and creating patron records. “I told them, ‘That is really the tip of the iceberg.’”
Beginning with customer service training, Long prepared the staff for a new experience—interacting one-on-one with the public. “We worked on everything from how to greet patrons and answer the phones to resolving conflicts,” he said, adding the training ran through various scenarios. “What should you say when a patron damages or loses a book, or claims they never checked this book out in the first place? How do you locate a book using a call number, and what do you do if you can’t find a book on the shelves?” Long also worked with staff members on helping people with special needs, such as those with low vision or physical challenges. “We talked about how you find materials that are appropriate to patrons’ abilities.”
Word soon spread that Long was in the building, and requests for advice grew. “People asked me, ‘So you are a real librarian?’” he said with a laugh. Before his month was out, Long reviewed many of the library’s policies—which are written in English as the standard business language of Qatar. He also consulted with the special collections staff on ideas for a public reading room for the rare books, and even spoke with the electronic resources librarian about databases. “I really could not tell them which databases they needed, but I was able to offer ideas on organization and how the databases could be found on their website.”
Now that he has returned to the United States, Long still keeps in touch with the staff of the Qatar National Library, answering questions via email. And scholars at the nearby Qatar University have also reached out. “I can see myself going back if they feel they need me,” said Long, ready to bring his treasured knowledge back to the Middle East.