Qatar Digital Library

Archive, publishing system, website

The website displayed on tablet and mobile in English and Arabic Zoom to unparalleled levels of detail 9km of content now available online Over 300,000 digitized archival records

About the project

Qatar Digital Library from Cogapp on Vimeo.

The Qatar Digital Library (QDL) is revolutionizing the way that people study and understand the history of the Gulf region. A wealth of archive materials that were previously unavailable online can be now be accessed by a worldwide audience.

The portal is the result of a partnership between the Qatar National Library, which is part of the Qatar Foundation, and the British Library. Cogapp designed and developed the software for the portal on behalf of the partnership and launched it in October 2014 after more than three years' work. It provides access to a growing digital archive, currently over 500,000 records, in Arabic and English, for academics and casual users alike. 

We have worked continuously with Qatar National Library since the launch of the archive, enhancing and developing the site. In addition to multiple new features, we have added the ability for more data sources to contribute to the archive, making it a truly unique collection of archival material.

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Making the history of the Gulf accessible

A leading example of a new type of online archive, the website makes scholarly content available to a wide audience thanks to an easy to use, non-technical interface with a powerful image viewer.

The responsive design means that users can explore Gulf history and Arabic science in a way that works best for them: whether on mobile phones, on tablets or desktops, they can explore maps (past and present); over 25,000 medieval manuscripts; handwritten documents; photographs; official papers; newspapers; video; audio; and contextual pieces. Content dates from the 11th century to the mid 20th century.

The development of the portal

The following video, created by the British Library, tells the story of the development of the portal:

Our approach

Cogapp carried out user research in Doha, Qatar and in the UK to inform the development of the site. A prototype version of the site allowed for user testing and further iterations to ensure that the site meets the needs of the people who are going to use it.

"Cogapp has worked iteratively and closely with the project team at the Library. Together we have created a powerful and complex system and yet presented it to the user in an intuitive and engaging manner."

Neil Fitzgerald, External Technical Product Delivery Manager, British Library

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Website features

Responsive design: the new site is fully responsive, which means that content is accessible across multiple devices, including mobiles, tablets and desktops. 

Bilingual: available in both Arabic and English.

Highly filterable search: over 150 facet options to refine your search.

Simple to navigate: objects that are housed within often complex hierarchies are displayed in a simple to navigate way. 

Zoomable: all items are can be zoomed to explore incredible detail, offering unprecedented access.

Free and shareable: material can be used and reused for free, and everything is shareable on social media.

Expert context encourages onward journeys: contextual articles tell the story behind the primary source material. These use text, images, video hosted on YouTube and audio on SoundCloud. Onward journeys are encouraged and the rich media has a life outside of the site as well as in it.

Open architecture: allows for the addition of material from new sources over time.

Swathes of rich content: in the future, hundreds of thousands more artefacts will be added using the powerful back-end system that Cogapp created. The digitized items and associated metadata are saved in to the Library systems, and uploaded to a server as an archival SIP file in bulk, where our software takes over, presenting the swathes of rich content on the front end of the website.

Meeting archival standards: The site and content meet archival standards, with a METS descriptor using common metadata profiles including Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and PREMIS. It also meets accessibility criteria: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA.

Perspective from the Gulf

Find out more about what the project means to academics and students in the Gulf region in this video created by the British Library:

More videos about the project are available via the British Library website:

Press coverage

The site was launched on 27 October 2014 has featured in international media, including Huffington Post, BBC, International Institute For Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and Art Daily. Highlights include:

Explore the site

View the site:

Find out more

The Qatar Digital Library is one example of our practice developing online archives.  To find out more about our work and how it might benefit your organisation, please get in touch.



"Fantastic new Qatar #DigitalLibrary by @BritishLibrary and @QF. Bi-lingual #library of Gulf history & Arabic science"

Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, @edvaizey on Twitter

"We are diving in history and looking around. It’s like a door to the nineteenth century."

Anas Hasanain, Student at Qatar University, Doha

"Students, scholars – whether here, in the Gulf region or indeed anywhere on the planet – will be able to explore this material, find new learnings from it, make new connections and make new discoveries."

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library

"This is going to result in a whole new generation of historians, a boom in the historiography of the Gulf. This is profound; this moment right now is a milestone in the history of the region."

Dr James Onley, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern History, University of Exeter

Key services

  • Content Management
  • Graphic Design
  • Information Architecture
  • Online Collections and Catalogue Publishing
  • Special Technologies
  • Strategy Consulting
  • Usability Testing
  • User Experience
  • Web Development