Forum explored libraries’ evolving role in the digital age

QNL’s Libraries Lead Forum Examines the Ethics and Implications of AI in Libraries

9 March 2024

For the third consecutive year, Qatar National Library has hosted the Libraries Lead Forum 2024, with the latest edition focusing on AI and the role of libraries in ensuring equitable access to information in the digital age.

The event, which was organized in collaboration with the 27th Annual Conference and Exhibition of the Special Libraries Association - Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA-AGC), featured a pre-conference workshop followed by a special session held within the framework of the SLA-AGC conference.

Titled “Unlocking Digital Competence in the Age of AI: Mastering Essential Skills and Strategies for Librarians”, the workshop touched on digital and artificial intelligence competence as a prerequisite skill for librarians in an ever-evolving information landscape.

The workshop, which was held on 4 March at the Library, equipped library professionals with the essential knowledge and digital skills to better serve communities in the information age.

The special session, on 6 March, highlighted the important role that libraries play as innovative and technologically advanced institutions responsible for not only preserving traditional values but also ensuring equitable access to information and cutting‐edge resources and services.

The session was held on the second day of the SLA-AGC conference, which was inaugurated by His Excellency Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Minister of State and President of Qatar National Library.

Dr. Hamad said the Library was pleased to cooperate with the (SLA-AGC) in organizing this important event.

“Our cooperation reflects our shared goals and embodies our joint commitment to the development of libraries and industry professionals, equipping librarians with the skills to leverage artificial intelligence and technological innovations,” His Excellency said. “Oil is a limited resource that will be eventually depleted. This is why Gulf countries share the vision of investing in alternative energy and diversifying our sources of income as we transition to knowledge-based economies. National, public and private libraries play a key role in advancing these objectives, consolidating this trend and materializing our efforts."

Held under the theme “Libraries’ Roadmap to Digital Dexterity and Proficiency”, the special session featured a lineup of high-profile speakers who discussed the contribution of libraries to fostering digitally literate and empowered communities.

The session brought together Mrs. Tan Huism, Executive Director of Qatar National Library, Dr. Achraf Othman, Head of ICT Accessibility Research and Innovation at MADA Center, Dr. Susan Karamanian, Dean of the College of Law at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, and Robert Laws, Data, Media, and Web Librarian at Georgetown University in Qatar.

Mrs. Tan explained that libraries have adapted over time to the changing format of the information carrier but access to knowledge remains at the core of their mission. “Whether it is the move from parchment to paper, the technological breakthrough of the printing press or bytes in the digital world, information is after all at the heart of our business,” she said.

“Thus, Libraries should be leveraging the responsible use of AI to advance their mission, increase accessibility to their collections, and enhance digital literacy offerings to the public.”

“The basic foundation for AI systems is data,” she added,  “and national libraries as custodians of the country’s documentary heritage, hold large holdings of materials that can potentially be converted to data to be used in research to enhance the understanding of the country”.

Abeer Al Kuwari, the Library’s Director of Research and Learning Services, said the theme of this year’s forum held special significance for Qatar National Library, as it aligns with its mission to facilitate access to information and learning.

“The Libraries Lead Forum 2024 builds on our years-long efforts to advance the goals of equitable learning and unrestricted access to information, as evidenced by our unwavering commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the promotion of cultural exchange, which were the focus of the forum’s two previous editions,” Mrs. Al Kuwari said. “The decision to hold this year’s special session within the framework of the Annual Conference and Exhibition of the Special Libraries Association – Arabian Gulf Chapter provides a unique opportunity for participants from across the region to connect with industry experts and exchange knowledge and expertise on how libraries can leverage the latest technology and AI trends.”