Christine T. Afinidad, Senior Information Services Librarian at Qatar National Library, details how COVID-19 brought a new dimension to her role
Being a librarian is certainly never boring. In fact, since I started my journey with Qatar National Library on January 8, 2012, I have witnessed many changes within this charming-yet-hectic role – both within the building itself, as well as within myself.
The library has taught me to embrace diversity, including language differences, cultural and educational backgrounds, and beliefs. In turn, this has helped me understand the true essence of providing a public service
Formally a member of Qatar Foundation, Qatar National Library (QNL) is housed inside the Education City campus. And as a long-standing member of QNL’s community, I was there when the building first began to take shape; I was there when it first opened its doors to the public.
Personally, the library has taught me to embrace diversity, including language differences, cultural and educational backgrounds, and beliefs. In turn, this has helped me understand the true essence of providing a public service, finding questions such as “do you sell children’s books?” to “do you have any resources on the Silk Road?” equally as important.
It doesn’t take me long to get ready in the morning. I usually wake up at 6am, and I am ready to leave the house 20 minutes later. But working from home has halved my prep time.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a number of sudden, but I believe to be, positive changes to the services provided by QNL – helping to better reach our target audiences and better serve our existing users
Much like most of the nation, since March I have been working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a number of sudden, but I believe to be, positive changes to the services provided by QNL – helping to better reach our target audiences and better serve our existing users. QNL was able to quickly adopt to the changing and uncertain times, embracing challenges yet carefully initiating and adopting ways to migrate to its online services.
Before starting work, I prepare my first cup of coffee of the day. I then go through my to-do list for the day, writing out short tasks that need to be prioritized for the following day. I already have them in mind, but I always feel like my day isn’t complete until I have jotted these down.
I open my email and check my calendar for any meetings. Since working from home, it feels like these have increased by 300 percent – especially in the first few months of the pandemic when many decisions and changes had to be made. My current record for the most I’ve had in one day is six.
I belong to the Research and Learning (R&L) department of the library. There are also librarians in other departments, such as the Heritage Library and the Children’s Library, as well as areas whose functions are more technical, like eResources management and licensing, acquisitions, and cataloging. One important task for a librarian in the R&L department is to help users find information and use it effectively for personal, academic, and professional purposes. With the help of advanced information technologies, it is easier to organize and manage information in a manner that meets the needs of visitors. It is therefore important to develop the appropriate digital and information literacy skills.
R&L librarians are assigned shifts to digitally man the reference desk for several hours to answer reference questions from the public and attend to research consultation requests. They also offer consultations to users who need a more in-depth assistance. These services were among those that were migrated online. Recently, a proactive chat widget was also added to the library’s website. Since then, the number of inquiries have increased drastically.
I consider this task as one of my more important roles, as it is the best way to connect and interact with our users. Recently, I answered a question about becoming a member. Later in the conversation, the user mentioned that one of his family members had been hospitalized and he was looking for ways he could alleviate the pain and loneliness felt by his loved one. The conversation made me realize again how the existence of the library affects and influences the lives of its users.
What makes the library more unique is its passion for supporting the country’s shift to a sustainable economy; its dedication to supporting research and learning; and its commitment to preserving the nation’s heritage
QNL has a unique environment. It has successfully combined traditional services with state-of-the-art technology, such as the self-borrowing machines, book return stations, and book sorters for easy shelving. These tools help to increase productivity and improve offerings. But what makes the library more unique is its passion for supporting the country’s shift to a sustainable economy; its dedication to supporting research and learning; and its commitment to preserving the nation’s heritage. And, in doing so, it has had a positive impact on many people’s lives.
While manning the reference desk – if it is quiet – I try and work my way through other tasks. One of the responsibilities that I look forward to every year is the selection and evaluation of new titles that we can add to the collections, such as books, periodicals, and databases. I recently had to complete my English book recommendations list using two different book ordering platforms. When we were still building the initial collections of the library, only a few of us worked on the selection process, which, although challenging, was a fantastic learning experience.
I continue working on one of the first tasks that I was involved in following the COVID-19 outbreak, which is to create a guide that people can refer to and access reliable and accurate information, designed to help and protect our users. We will shortly be publishing a set of ‘How Do I’ guides to assist remote users in effectively accessing the online resources such as magazines, eBooks, and music. Leading this project requires a lot of commitment; however, it is a great opportunity to learn how to use a content management system.
Last month, I had two programs to prepare. The first one – Sunday Grind with Brain Teasers for Adults – encouraged social engagement through puzzles, while the second – Maximize the Library's Online Services – aimed to promote digital literacy skills among the library users.
Planning upcoming programs can take much of my day. But I find it exciting, as it is a chance for me to be creative. In the library, programs are designed to encourage community engagement and lifelong learning, promote digital and information literacy, improve research skills, and support capacity building.
My shift on the chat service ends. I am now able to focus on other tasks, and can catch up on my emails.
Almost done for the day! I write down my to-do list for the next day, stretch, unlock the door to my home office, and sign off at 4pm.