Journal article on the benefits of working in a multicultural team at Qatar National Library

The August/September edition of the German library journal BuB focuses on recruitment and features my article “Personalgewinnung aus dem Ausland: Multikultureller Arbeitsalltag bei der Nationalbibliothek von Katar” (International Recruitment: Experiences of working in a multicultural team at Qatar National Library). The article highlights the many positive effects of an international workforce at QNL in a multicultural country like Qatar.

BuB, Personalgewinnung aus dem Ausland

Working in a team of currently 36 nationalities is a great experience that both expands your horizon and benefits the library in different ways. As a national, public and research library, QNL serves every single person in the community, thus you can find many different cultural backgrounds among its users. In this situation, knowledge from their home countries is extremely valuable for the QNL colleagues in areas such as reference services, collection development, library tours or events targeted at specific cultures or languages. At the same time, the multicultural background enriches the daily work within the team when it comes to bringing together professional expertise from around the world and learning about other cultures and languages. For me, especially the insights to Qatari culture and Islamic tradition are fascinating and provide a much more detailed and nuanced picture than I could ever get in my home country.

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Spotlights from the IAML Congress 2018

From July 22-27, me and more than 400 music librarians and specialists from around the world attended the 2018 Annual Congress of IAML, the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres. We met in Leipzig, rich in music history as the domain of Bach, Schumann, Mendelssohn and so many other important figures, which would set the tone of the whole congress week. Overall, I really enjoyed the conference. It had been three years since my last IAML Congress. At the same time, many members of the German IAML branch gathered in Leipzig, so this was an excellent opportunity to catch up with colleagues, both on a national and international level, and make most of the conference program. Here are some spotlights from the congress week.

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One of my main reasons to attend the conference was to participate in the activities of the IAML Advocacy Committee as a member of the group and to present a work related project during the poster session. For the past two years, the Advocacy Committee has been laying the groundwork for its future activities, among others by formulating the terms of reference and goals of the group, by gathering basic feedback from the IAML community, by documenting good practice related to (music) library advocacy and by building a network of advocacy liaison contacts around the world for local outreach and feedback. During the working meeting in Leipzig, we mainly revisited the ongoing efforts of the group and agreed on further points of action for the upcoming year. One major project will be to create supporting documents built upon the examples of good practice that can be used by music librarians around the world in different scenarios.

During the first poster session of the conference week, I presented my poster “Curated Naxos playlists for philharmonic concerts – A unique collaboration between Qatar National Library and the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra”. Since 2017, Qatar National Library (QNL) is providing playlists on Naxos Music Library (NML) that are tailored to the concerts of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO). Residents of the country have free access to the library’s resources (including NML). While the playlists mean added value for the concert audience who can preview and revisit the music of the performances, QNL benefits from reaching out to a new user group. More information about the project can be found on the QPO website. During the poster presentation, it was interesting to talk with many colleagues about their experience with Naxos Music Library and to learn from a few other libraries who provide a similar service – usually within one particular city rather than nation-wide. Visiting the conference exhibition or one of the vendor lunch talks was a perfect follow-up to this, since you could get the latest updates on music streaming services and platforms for digital sheet music.

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The evening program was rich in music, too, and included a total of three concerts that varied in style and location. My favorite performance by far was the concert of amarcord who presented a huge spectrum of vocal music spanning from chorales from the Thomas-Graduale to vocal compositions by Leipzig Conservatory teachers. Location-wise, the concert “Catholic Church Music from the Dresden Court” was most impressive, as we could listen to the pieces in the newly openened breathtaking building of the Paulinum (see photos below). But the musical performances didn’t stop here. There was plenty more to discover during the week just by walking through the streets of Leipzig which included everything from string quartets, flute duets, pianists and guitarists to singer-songwriters, pop bands, Russian folk songs and even tango dancers.

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Despite the ongoing heat wave in Germany, walking was a constant during the congress week, mainly because Leipzig is a very walkable place and the sessions and meetings took place in different locations covering the area of the University of Music and Theatre »Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy«, the Lepzig University Library (Bibliotheca Albertina) and the Leipzig Public Library. Adding to this, the conference program included a large number of tours which featured a variety of libraries, but also paid tribute to the rich music history of the city. I was able to see the German National Library (including the German Music Archive), the Leipzig Public Library, the Bach-Archiv as well as the Schumann-Haus and the Mendelssohn-Haus. While the libraries on this list were already fascinating, for me and many other attendees visiting the homes and places of creative work of Bach, Schumann and Mendelssohn was undoubtably the highlight of the tours. Below are some impressions from the Mendelssohn-Haus showing rooms of the apartment (first three photos: salon, study and bedroom), parts of the recently opened exhibition about Fanny Hensel (next two photos) and the “Effektorium” which lets you conduct a virtual orchestra.

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Following their motto “It’s all in the mix.“, the organizing committee of this congress managed to come up with a great mixture of conference sessions, musical performances and tours that showcased the best of what music history and libraries in Leipzig have to offer. All those great memories make me look forward even more to the upcoming IAML Congresses in Krakow, Prague and Stellenbosch. See you next year in Poland!

I am the English voice of public announcements at Qatar National Library

If you visit Qatar National Library in the evening and listen closely to the public announcements before closing time, the English voice might sound familiar: it is mine. 🙂

I feel excited and honored to lend my voice to this and a couple of other announcements at QNL. Recording them in a professional studio was lots of fun (and took much more time than you probably think)!

My 20 favorite albums of 2017

2017 was a great year for listening to new album releases. I found an abundance of compelling music from artists across many different genres. To continue a tradition I started in 2014, here are my favorite albums of the year in alphabetical order (this time increased to 20 instead of the usual 10):

What are your favorite albums of the year? I am curious to know!

Qatar National Library (soft) opening is finally here!

On November 7, Qatar National Library (QNL) finally opened its doors to the public. Almost four years after I moved to Doha to start working for this amazing project, this is a huge step forward and means a lot to everybody involved! Being four weeks into the soft opening now, it is great to see thousands of people from all over Qatar visiting the library, exploring our collection and services, borrowing books and using the space.

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The soft opening can be seen as an experimental phase before the grand opening in April 2018. At the moment, several departments are still finalizing procedures or receive pending parts of the collection and equipment, for example. At the same time, services can now be tested in a live environment which allows for further adjustments based on user feedback.

Of course, operating the library for the public goes along with quite a few changes in the workflow. In my team (Public Services), morning and evening shifts have been introduced both on weekdays and weekends in order to cover the Reference Desk during opening hours. With the new building in place, we can concentrate more on organizing programs and using our own facilities rather than those of other institutions around Doha. Ultimately, this gives us much more flexibility and the capacity to host more programs than before. These are just two of many examples of how the opening of the library practically impacts the daily work. It will be interesting to see how day-to-day working routines will evolve in the coming months.

I leave you with more pictures of this stunning building below which is particularly worth visiting during night time (the pictures have all been taken closely before the opening, hence no users around). For more information about QNL, have a look at the official website or its social media channels. I also recommend checking out this blog post which gives a closer look at many areas within the building.

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Learning about Qatari society at the Academic Research Conference 2014

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Academic Research Conference 2014 at the Qatar National Convention Center. Hosted by Qatar Foundation, the conference is considered “a unique platform to activate multidisciplinary knowledge sharing and collaboration needed to tackle the most pressing national challenges in research, as well as bolster Qatar’s research and development sector”. And indeed, visiting several sessions in the Social Sciences stream throughout the conference, I gained interesting insights into current issues in Qatari society I would normally not get to talk about with colleagues or people in the public. Among others, this included challenges within the educational system, the engagement of GCC nationals and expats at their workplace, Qatari marriage practices and miscarriage among Qatari women. I thought to share these with you as the most interesting talks I heard along with a selection of posters from the poster sessoin. Living in Doha for almost a year, I am still learning a lot about local culture. The two days at ARC definitely added some valuable perspectives to this process.

Day 1 | 11:00 – 12:15 Four Parallel Invited Presentation Sessions | Social Sciences

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Among the three presentations, the one entitled “Youth aspiration and motivation in Qatar: Evidence from education surveys“ was the most interesting one for me. Dr. Darwish Al-Emadi from the Social and Economic Research Institute at Qatar University presented the findings of a survey conducted at independent schools with students, parents and school admins. The results revealed a chronic motivation problem among students in both their preparatory and secondary phase. Students generally felt that Math, Science, Arabic and English classes are important for their future, although they provided a more diverse feedback about this at the end of their school life. Asked about planned occupations in the future, major groups were indicating the business and military sector, whereas very few chose healthcare, education, arts and other areas. In addition, many students don’t see their future career in the knowledge society, which, according to the presenter, should be considered very problematic for achieving Qatar’s national vision.20141118_111839Overall, Al-Emadi was concerned and skeptical about the future of the educational system in Qatar in its current state. Unfortunately though, he did only describe the status quo and did not provide any suggestions for solutions to tackle the problems addressed.

Day 1 | 15:15 – 17:00 Four Parallel Abstract Presentation Sessions | Social Sciences

In her presentation “Motherhood Lost: Women, miscarriage, and birds in heaven in Qatar”, Susie Kilshaw from the University College London provided some fascinating insights into the situation of Qatari women who experience a miscarriage. The larger project had been conducted with both Qatari and UK women, while following a mix of anthropological and medical approaches to provide a broader context. As for Qatar, according to Kilshaw, procreation is considered to be one the most important pillars of society. The total fertility rate of Qatari women is one of the highest in the Arab Gulf States, with an average age of 23 years of Qatari women at their first marriage. The following statement by one of the participants in the study shows the ongoing stigmatization that Qatari women often have to face when experiencing a miscarriage: “Yes, of course! …they look at her as if she has something missing …I don’t know how to explain this but they look at her as if she has a problem of a defect that prevents her from getting pregnant or as if she has been cursed by an evil eye (so is it her fault?) sort of because the normal thing is that the woman gets pregnant and then has her baby.” The second part of the presentation focused on another phenomenon referred to as “birds in heaven”. Interestingly, the researchers came along this metaphor of hope several times when talking to Qatari women as well as their physicians:

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Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar from Northwestern University Qatar, author of a number of novels related to the region and editor of several essay anthologies such as Qatari Voices, presented findings of a study dedicated to Qatari marriage practices (Contemporary Qatari Marriage Practices: Education And Marriageability For Modern Qatari Women). Using both qualitative and quantitative research approaches, the study examined the potential impact of the level of Qatari women’s education on their plans for marriage. An online survey had been conducted among 355 female Qatari participants that included participants aged 18 to 25+ at Qatar University, Qatar Foundation branch campuses and the Community College Doha. In addition, the researchers had the possibility to facilitate focus groups as well as individual interviews and to examine 50 marriage contracts. Overall, the findings suggest a broad variation among women within Qatari society when it comes to their choices of marriage and education. Young Qatari women are expected to be educated and married, but, at the same time, the age of marriage among Qatari women is clearly rising over the past three generations. Enriched with several interesting anecdotes, the presentation also highlighted some statements of participants to illustrate the results.

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Rajakumar concluded that marriage in Qatar and the perceptions among men and women is a very complex research topic. The study can only be seen as a starting point, as there are still many potential areas for future research such as the view of Qatari men on marriage.

Day 2 | 11:30 – 13:30 Four Parallel Abstract Presentation Sessions | Social Sciences

David Barrie Jones from The Talent Enterprise in the UAE presented findings from a longterm study on engagement and productivity of GCC national and expats at their workplace (Engagement and Productivity: What are the Key Drivers for GCC Nationals and Expatriates? Findings & Implications The Largest GCC Workplace Study Ever Conducted – A Longitudinal Study 2010 – 2012). While the concept of ‘engagement’ remained a bit vague, the results showed some interesting tendencies:

  • Whilst Qatari nationals were the most engaged, GCC nationals are consistency and significantly less engaged than their expatriate counter-parts in their home countries.
  • The younger generation of nationals is significantly less engaged with their work than the older generation.
  • There has been a statistically significant decline in youth engagement (age under 25) from 2010 to 2012.
  • Surprisingly, amongst all age groups, those under the age of 25 and especially those in the 25 to 34 year age groups report the lowest level of acceptance with diversity in the workplace.
  • Those workers under the age of 34 are experiencing an “early mid-career crisis” compared with their peers elsewhere in the world.
  • Average levels of employee engagement are higher in the private sector, rather than in the public sector.
  • GCC nationals report better relationships with their managers in the private sector, greater development opportunities and a more dynamic workplace.
  • GCC national women are significantly more comfortable than their male counterparts in a diverse working environment.

One slide that resonated with me in particular, was showing the ten top and bottom strengths of GCC Youth. Among the bottom strengths, flexibility, curiosity and empathy ranked very high. Much as the findings in the talk about challenges in the educational system above, this must be seen as a warning sign for the development of human capacity in the region in upcoming years. Thus, Jones concluded with a call for action to tackle this and other challenges:

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(–> further readings as suggested on the slide above: The Edge – Is the future female? | The Edge – Qatar: The new talent realities | Unlocking the paradox of plenty – A review of the talent landscape in the Arab world and your role in shaping the future)

Poster Session

Apart from the paper presentations, the poster session featured a number of interesting projects, for me, again, mostly in the Social Sciences section. Below is a selection of posters that caught my attention:

Social Media as a Source of Unbiased News20141119_130425(0)-1

Borrowed Words in Qatari Dialect

Preserving and Improving Traditional Built Environments in Doha: The case of Old-Mushaireb area

Politicization of migrants as seen on Twitter

20141119_130009(0)-1Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Arab World (website of encyclopedia)

Digitizing and Indexing Arabic Historical Manuscripts in Qatar

A20141119_130104-1nalytical Database of Arabic Poetry

Qatar Olympic Participation (1984-2012) – Creating a national representation through sport

Building Tools for Dietary Health Monitoring: Studying Food Consumption Through Twitter

Beliefs about Jinn, Black Magic & Evil Eye among Muslim Nursing Students at University of Calgary in Qatar (UCQ)

Doha Recap #2 – looking back at my first six months in Doha

It has been a while since I shared some early impressions about Doha shortly after my arrival in February. Living here for almost half a year now, I felt it was high time for the second part of my recap podcast! In this episode, I talk about what has been going on at work during the last couple of months, about how it feels to live in this city and what kind of cultural activities I did explore so far. You will learn more about the infamous Doha traffic, get a weather update and hear what people over here do during the ongoing summer break. If you want to have an actual look at what I talk about, check out my flickr account with lots of pictures from here. Hope you enjoy the recap!

Please let me know your thoughts on this second episode. I am happy for any comments and questions!