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Posted On: 8 December 2020 06:16 pm

Qommunity Voices: Meet the Qatar School Librarians Group

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We may be able to access a world of information right at the palm of our hand thanks to technology. But there's still information that we can only access through libraries and there's no better way to find them than through the guardians of knowledge - the librarians! In this week's Qommunity Voices, we're featuring a group of school librarians here in Qatar. Let's get to know more about them in this interview with Ms. Julie Claire Cunningham of the Qatar School Librarians Group.

ILQ: Please tell us about the Qatar School Librarians Group and how it came about.

QSL: In 2011, I was a newly employed school librarian with limited librarianship experience. I contacted other experienced librarians to gain knowledge and ideas. The first librarians I reached out to were so welcoming and helpful and had so much knowledge to share that I realized creating a group would be beneficial, not just to myself, but to other librarians also. And it definitely has been!

What are the Qatar School Librarians Group activities?

QSL: We share information, knowledge, and ideas via our email contact list, on a WhatsApp group, on our website, and in-person at regular meetings which take place in school libraries. This academic year we have been working with the Museum of Islamic Art Librarian to start a programme of professional development and the sessions are running on a monthly basis.

ILQ: How many members do you have now?

QSL: Currently there are 38 schools and 76 school librarians as part of the group. However, as there are such a large number of schools in Qatar it would be fantastic to have more people join the group.

qatar school librarians website
Image credit: Qatar School Librarians

ILQ: There's usually a misconception about what a school librarian does. Can you enlighten us about what a school librarian's role really is?

QSL: I imagine that people think we sit down all day reading books, but we don't! It's a very busy role! We are responsible for the day-to-day running of all aspects of the library from book ordering to teaching lessons, and everything in-between!

We have to make sure our libraries are stocked with the latest, popular books that the students want to read, and books and other resources that support the school's curriculum. We have to keep knowledgeable of professional practices and developments, and information technologies, and we must liaise with other members of the school community, to ensure we are offering a full range of services.

We support the students to identify, locate and access the information they require, including online resources, in order for them to complete homework and projects. We offer lessons to the students ranging from how to choose a book to how to cite research sources.

We offer opportunities for students to assist in the library which helps with their development and gives them new skills, and we provide suitable enrichment activities like book clubs, author visits and after-school clubs to engage the students, enthuse them about reading and just to have fun!

ILQ: How does one become a librarian?

QSL: I became a librarian by learning while working as a librarian and I then became a certified member of the UK-based Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). However, there are other routes to becoming a librarian including doing a degree.

ILQ: What has been the biggest achievement and challenge of the group so far?

QSL: I think the challenge with any group is trying to get everyone involved in some way. The group has a huge range of knowledge, experience, information, and ideas amongst its members and it's finding ways of sharing that which is a challenge.

I believe the biggest achievement is the on-going development of the group, with new members constantly joining, people willing to share information, people willing to present professional learning sessions, and people feeling comfortable to ask for help.

ILQ: How have the COVID-19 restrictions affected the group and its activities?

QSL: The COVID-19 restrictions don't allow us to meet in person, which is a really important part of the group. Meeting people in person is always beneficial as it's great to put faces to names and it creates better relationships. However, we have been meeting via Zoom, which is certainly not ideal but is definitely better than not meeting at all.

ILQ: Why do you love what you do?

QSL: I love what I do because I'm always learning something new and because I feel fulfilled in my role, but I love it mainly because of the students. I love interacting with them, challenging myself to enthuse them about reading, watching them discover a great book ... and come back for more!

ILQ: Do you have any message for the people of Qatar?

QSL: Read, read, and read a bit more! Read anything...books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, as long as you're reading and enjoying what you're reading that is what is important.

If you have children, PLEASE read to them no matter what age they are. If you "don't like reading" it's probably because you've not found something you enjoy reading. Challenge yourself and keep looking until you find it!

Connect and learn more about the Qatar School Librarians here:

Do you know of someone who’s got an exceptional talent or is making a difference in our Qatar community? Drop us a line in the comments below and you could see them highlighted in Qommunity Voices!