Qatar Doha Visit by Lara Salha
By Ian G Evans, on 16 October 2018
As part of my dissertation for my MA in Archives and Records management, I decided to research and write my thesis on language in the archive profession with a specific focus on Arabic. My aims were to highlight the ways in which language, a system of signs, impacts how we perceive ourselves as archivists, how we ‘dress’ ourselves with these signs, and how in turn this may mean others perceive us too.
Upon discovering the UCL branch in Doha, Qatar, with a department related to archive studies, I took the chance to apply to the Dean’s Fund in hopes of potentially covering my travel expenses and this leap of faith definitely worked in my favour! I was able to travel to Doha and meet various professionals in a variety of settings.
My first stop was at the Qatar National Library (QNL), which has recently opened a heritage section. Various professionals have been working towards setting up an archive that will hopefully set a precedent for a high standard of archiving in the country. The library itself is magnificent, utterly brand new, and the tools and equipment being used for the growing archive is of excellent quality. The current exhibition of Qatar’s history is definitely an amazing site to see – especially the records and documents relating to pearl hunting, one of main forms of income of the Qatari economy in the first half of the twentieth century (See: left, a thesaurus of the different types of pearls). My visit to QNL meant I was able to meet all those on the archive team and see how their roles fit into the expansion of the archive and its progress. This trip to the QNL helped me understand the struggles that the institution is still facing and how the team at QNL are working hard to overcome them.
My second visit was to the UCL branch of Doha and I was able to meet the head of the archives course, Dr Sumayya Ahmed, and discuss not only my own dissertation ideas but also the ways in which the region of the Middle East is coming to grips with archives and the various archive legacies that have existed in the region prior to the contemporary ‘version’ of the role of archivist. Dr Ahmed kindly advised me to visit a nearby mosque that was utterly breathtaking and definitely worth taking time out to walk around and experience myself, even in 45 degree weather! (See: left)
My third visit happened entirely by chance due to the friends I already knew in Doha and their connections with others – I was able to have my own personal tour of the Al Jazeera media network! Not only was I put in touch with the longstanding head archivist there, but I was also able to spend an entire morning with the news media archivist and was given the chance to see their bespoke Collection Management System that is accessible and used across the globe for all other Al Jazeera archivists working in the News department. In addition to this, I was also able to visit their onsite storage and see how a news channel works in tandem with archive material on an almost hourly basis. While not necessarily related to my dissertation, this trip meant I was able to see how much an archive is valued from a corporate and business continuity perspective, and utilised at a much faster rate and in a much more busy environment. It was an invaluable experience and I’m extremely grateful I was given the opportunity to walk around and see an archive support an entire organisation in order for it to function.
My trip to Doha, Qatar was an incredible and eye-opening experience. I’m eternally grateful that the fund was able to help support this goal of mine and I am extremely glad I took the opportunity to apply. Thanks to this visit I was able to reposition my perspective on the archives in the region of the Middle East, shift my academic lens that may have otherwise have been quite limited, and was able to meet a whole spectrum of people related to the archive profession.