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Qatar National Library

Qatar Digital Library

Doha, Qatar

Building a better online world through digital repatriation

  • Making historic Gulf documents available in the Middle East for the first time
  • Robust infrastructure powering simple workflow, delivering bilingual content from multiple sources
  • Multi-year, multi-library partnership

The British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership is an ambitious, multi-year project to digitise, catalogue, conserve, and interpret records relating to the Gulf region held at the British Library. The Qatar Digital Library (QDL) is the public-facing online archive that delivers the Partnership’s mission to the public.

Cogapp designed and developed QDL on behalf of the Partnership and launched it in October 2014 after more than three years' work. QDL provides access to a growing digital archive, currently over 1.8million records, in Arabic and English, for academics and casual users alike.

We worked for over five years with both libraries following the launch of the archive, enhancing and developing the site. In addition to multiple new features, we added the ability for more data sources to contribute to the archive, making it a truly unique collection of archival material.

“We are diving in history and looking around. It’s like a door to the nineteenth century”
Anas Hasanain, Student at Qatar University, Doha

Building a better online world through digital repatriation

Before QDL, to view important historical documents relating to the Gulf you had to travel to London. The QDL has made it possible for people in the Gulf to research the history of their country and region without leaving the house. It was hailed as “a milestone” at launch.

“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

The site is accessed from across the world, with most visits from the Gulf region.

“The sources are being returned – virtually – to their countries of origin through digitisation, and opened to all. Previously accepted histories, ideas, and even identities can be tested anew by an incomparably wider readership than before.

In short, the QDL heralds a realignment of who writes the Middle East’s history.”
Matthew Teller, Quite Alone

Building a better online world for people who use the Qatar Digital Library

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.

“You’re holding a map from 1880 on your 21st-century iPad”
High-school student, Doha

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.

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.

Development priorities are informed by surveys and analytic tools, helping ensure the site remains user-focused as user needs evolve.

“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

Building a better online world for our client

The British Library needed a system that worked with their existing infrastructure - they wanted to ‘hand off’ a digital package containing text, translation, images etc to be displayed on the QDL.

We built a system that met these needs, as well as providing reporting if things go wrong (e.g. translation is missing).

The Qatar National Library needed a website that reflected their status as a leading national library, especially considering the physical library was not open when QDL launched. This applied to the infrastructure as well as the front-end.

The QDL is bilingual (Arabic and English) on the user-facing side as well as behind the scenes in the Drupal CMS, including authority terms, glossary, etc. This makes the system easy to administer for users in Doha or London.

Moving our industry forward

Qatar Digital Library was an early adopter of IIIF technology and we’ve presented the benefits of IIIF on QDL across the world, as well as writing about it on our blog.

The site received worldwide press coverage including BBC, The Guardian, and Times of Oman. This raised the profile of QDL and we hope it helped inspire the next wave of online archive projects.

The Drupal interface Arabic translations were committed back to the open source community, meaning anyone developing an Arabic Drupal site doesn’t need to translate the interface.

Creating an environment where everyone can do their best work

A risk when working across multiple organisations and locations is that communication breaks down and the working environment suffers as a result. To mitigate this risk, we regularly get together in-person with both libraries, be it in Doha, London, or Brighton. Outside of that, we speak weekly by phone and use the online project management tools to make sure everyone has a shared understanding of priorities.

We also invited the British Library team for a hackday with us. You can see the results on our blog.

“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