Qatar National Library – a Building Shaped for the Future

Ayub Khan, IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee member, shares his impressions of the new Qatar National Library


Qatar and its Library

I was privileged to attend the official opening of the new Qatar National Library (QNL), on April 16 2018, as President of CILIP, the UK’s Library and Information Association. I packed my chain of office, as befitted the occasion. The medal set off airport alarms at both ends of a long journey and drew puzzled looks from security. The opening ceremony, and the chance to explore a brand new world-class national library made the long flight and the security checks well worth it.

Qatar is one of the world’s wealthiest countries and spared no expense on its national library, which is part of a new Education City development in Doha. The combined public, university and national library is thought to have cost at least $300 million. Qatar is a very hot country and the diamond-shaped building features a corrugated glass facade and a reflective aluminium ceiling designed to diffuse the bright sunlight, while a sunken patio filters light into the lower levels and staff offices. Air conditioning keeps the temperature comfortable.


The Design Focus

According to Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who designed Seattle Central Library, QNL’s exterior shape is based on a folded sheet of paper. Whilst the emerging structure’s external characteristics were hard to conceal, details of the interior design were kept secret until the building opened last year. The internal space is organized around three main aisles connected by column-free bridges that provide study spaces, reading rooms, exhibition areas and an auditorium that can be separated by a retractable screen.

The aisles radiate from a triangular central area which has been compared to a public square. It constitutes a valuable social space and has the capacity to host a wide range of events. With comfortable seating and tables, a meeting place is provided at the heart of the building.

Koolhaas set out to create “a monument to the enduring value of the book” and his tiered shelving design makes each book in the collection visible. The bookshelves, which are made of the same white marble as the floor, stretch out in terraces across the 138-metre-long library.

Contemporary architectural design confidently and seamlessly blends the traditional and ultra-modern. QNL houses more than a million books and makes another five hundred thousand titles available electronically.  The library is designed to appeal to all generations and interests and to take users of all ages on a journey of discovery.

The Feel of the Building

The 42,000 square metre library is massive. It is hard to convey in words just how huge it feels inside. The basic building materials are stone, steel and wood which are used to create a vast and open space that looks stunning. “The interior is so large it’s on an almost urban scale,” said Koolhaas. “It could contain an entire population, and also an entire population of books.”

QNL can accommodate thousands of visitors – who move around the different levels on a wheelchair-friendly sloped elevator. As well as artificial lighting and air conditioning, the library has a system which returns books automatically to the section where they belong.

The subterranean Heritage Library, visible from the main library above, is reminiscent of an archaeological excavation. It houses many rare and important items of international significance relating to Arabic and Islamic culture. Preserving the past for Qatar and the world is a key function for QNL. A state-of-the-art conservation suite includes the IFLA Preservation and Conservation Centre for the Arab Countries and the Middle East.

The Opening Ceremony

His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani placed the library’s millionth book on the shelf, Al-Bukhari’s Abridged Collection of Authentic Hadith, as part of the  grand formal opening ceremony. Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, had shelved the Library’s first book, a Qur’an manuscript, back in December 2016.

The new Library opened in November 2017.  Since that date, it has welcomed 161,000 visitors, registered 51,000 new members, and lent more than 300,000 books with well over half from the children and young people’s sections. High-ranking guests attending the official opening included members of royal families, ambassadors and other VIPs, from more than fifty countries. IFLA President Elect Christine Mackenzie was among the guests.

Smart Cities and Smart Libraries

QNL reflects Qatar’s determination to become a knowledge economy no longer defined by dependence on natural resources. It is both a national and an international institution designed as a model library for a new age where people from all nationalities and backgrounds can come together to contemplate, create and interact.

A new wave of ultra-modern libraries is being built around the world and Qatar is a prime example. Smart cities demand smart libraries, particularly with big data and heightened awareness of environmental issues. Visual impact and bold architecture make strong statements, affirming commitment to culture and learning. A key internal design principle, so evident at QNL, is making space that is convenient to access and use, and where people can freely interact. Good design influences behaviour.  As former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”


Photographs kindly supplied and approved for use by the Qatar National Library.

Author Details

IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee member Ayub Khan is Head of Libraries and Face to Face Services for Warwickshire County Council in England. He is Digital Lead for the Society of Chief Librarians and President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). In 2013 he was awarded an MBE for his services to libraries. He has written articles and publications on library design and theory, including a book: Better by design[1] and regularly speaks to audiences in the UK and abroad. He co-authored the section on library and information centres in the Metric Handbook[2].

[1] Khan, Ayub (2008) Better by design: an introduction to planning and designing a new library building. (London: Facet Publishing)

[2] Buxton, Pamela (2015) Metric handbook: planning & design data. 5th ed. (London: Routledge)


New Space Brings New Hope: Tusen Ord Sparking Chinese Children’s Imagination

by Xushuiqin

Wuhan Children’s Library

In China, there is a gorgeous city with the Yangtze River passing through, named Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province. This city has a public library, the Wuhan Children’s Library ( which provides free services for 1.5 million children.

Figure 1. Wuhan Children’s Library








Figure 2. Reading Room in Wuhan Children’s Library

The library building is an excellent historical building under cultural relic protection. In the past 88 years, it has been quiet and elegant, and received little public attention. However, it is different now. It is becoming an eye-catching and dynamic paradise for local children to read happily and grow up healthily. The dramatic change can be attributed to the new space in the library, Tusen Ord.  Tusen Ord is a children’s imaginative reading space, the first in public libraries in China. Its Chinese name “Qian Zi Wu” implies “many words in the house”. Since the project was introduced from Sweden, its English name adopts the word from the Swedish Tusen Ord, meaning a thousand words.

Figure 3. Tusen Ord gateway
Figure 4. Inside Tusen Ord

Tusen Ord in Wuhan

Tusen Ord in the Wuhan Library covers an area of 296 sq m over two levels and was constructed at a cost of about 1 million yuan (approximately US$155,000). The facility consists of six activity areas, including a Wish Tower, Rainbow Bridge, Chu Room, Swedish House, Mysterious House, and Dream Theatre. The design of each area is integrated into four elements of character, place, wish  and question, with props and facilities used to carry out activities, and equipped with some excellent children’s books and specially designed reading spaces.

Figure 5. Mysterious House
Figure 6. Dream Theatre

Tusen Ord in Borlänge

The design of the facility is modelled on the Tusen Ord in Borlänge, Sweden, retaining some Swedish characteristics and incorporating a large number of Chinese elements. The Swedish Tusen Ord (thousand words) is a project sponsored by Young Eagle, the Kulturcentrum Asken, Studieförbundet Bilda and the Swedish Church in Borlänge with assistance from the library in Borlänge and the Future Museum  (

Details of the Facility

In Wuhan’s Tusan Ord, children may make their own wishes in the centre of the Wish Tower. They can play games together, during which they get to know that dreams will come true through mutual help and hard work. Children can take a panoramic view of Tusen Ord from the Rainbow Bridge, looking at figures on the Photo Wall and stories on the Window Wall. There is a Story Telling Cabin and mini-world drawers in the Swedish House. Children complete tasks using their hands and minds and enjoy experiences of great value.

Figure 7. Story on the Window Wall
Figure 8. Mini-world drawer

Many interesting games are available including chess and silhouette stories with story background boxes. Children can happily enjoy using their imaginations and being creative while playing games or working at the tables. Many unexpected treasures are awaiting discovery by the children in the Mysterious House. Open question and answer sessions allow the children to think outside the box under the guidance of their teachers. In the Dream Theatre, children make full use of the costumes and props on stage to play various roles in the performances, show their dreams and experience life’s joys.

Figure 9. Silhouette story
Figure 10. Peking opera facial masks

China’s intangible cultural heritage items, such as Peking Opera mask, dough sculpture, mini kites and paper cutting are reflected in the decoration of the space.

Chu Room takes Hubei characteristics of Chu culture as its decorative style, setting up three activity scenes: a mini ancient opera stage, Chinese hieroglyphic printing, and the game Huarongdao, in three kingdoms of ancient China. Children can direct their own activities, shadow play, experience typography and challenge ancient Chinese folk puzzle games.

Figure 11. Shadow play
Figure 12. Shadow play

Maintaining Relevance

Tusen Ord emphasizes flexibility in its design. Since its opening in 2016, library staff have changed exhibitions and presentations to ensure that children using the facility maintain their curiosity. New scenes and theatrical enhancements have been used to stimulate children’s imagination.

Figure 13. Library staff preparing new decorations
Figure 14. The new ceiling

Children’s Activities

Through scenes, props and activity design, children use their imaginations under the guidance of teachers to create their own stories around the four elements of character, place, wish and question. They act out the stories and present them using art, music, dance and drama.  Children of all ages find their favourite reading spaces and read books while lying, sitting or lying on one’s stomach.  Librarians combine picture books and activities, taking a picture book story as a blueprint, creating an active atmosphere, and using stories as the launching point for the activity being undertaken. The children participate actively in the story, involve themselves in the plot and think and act creatively.

Figure 15. Children’s activity
Figure 16. Children’s activity

The Results

Tusen Ord has helped the library successfully attract more readers. In 2017, 964,454 readers entered the Wuhan Children’s Library, enjoying reading and participating in the activities.  Because of the remarkable impact, a school, Po Yang Street Primary School, has introduced the Tusen Ord project to build its Sunshine Castle learning centre, which has benefitted more than 1,400 children aged from six to twelve years.  A new space, modelled on Tusen Ord but with different scenes, has been constructed.

Figure 17. Sunshine Castle in Po Yang Street Primary School

Chinese children when compared with children in other countries are frequently perceived to be lacking in imagination. Through the efforts of librarians and teachers in China and the construction of new imagination space in public libraries and schools, the present situation is likely to change. To give more children opportunities to experience Tusen Ord, Wuhan Children’s Library plans to develop chain branches in more areas of the city and promote the concept to the entire city of Wuhan and eventually throughout China.

Figure 18. Children spending the night in Tusen Ord

Author details

Xushuiqin currently works in the Wuhan Children’s Library in its counselling and training department. She is responsible for children’s reading and the promotion of research.  She has combined her love of reading with the love of children and is proud of the achievements of librarians. Xushuiqin received a master’s degree in library Science from Central China Normal University in 2012. She was a member of the cultural delegation who visited the Kulturcentrum Asken (Asken cultural centre) in Borlänge, Sweden, in 2015 and received training from the teachers working in Tusen Ord.  From September 2015 to December 2016, Xushuiqin participated in the planning and construction of Tusen Ord in Wuhan and has been responsible for activities planning, compiling lesson plans and teacher training. 徐水琴


The Madrid Pavilion at the Thirty-first Guadalajara International Book Fair

by Helen Ladrón de Guevara Cox 

The Book Fair 

The largest Spanish language book fair in the world takes place in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. Each year, the fair exhibits books and carries on its activities at Expo Guadalajara, the largest convention centre in Mexico, located in the southern part of the city. The structure has 119, 000 square metres of space.  (

From 25th November to December 2nd, 2017, people gathered to learn about new book titles, meet with writers and participate in a variety of academic conferences  related to the culture of the book, libraries, information, communication  and other related fields. The fair included recognition ceremonies for outstanding authors, librarians, book collectors, poets, journalists and related professionals and daily cultural events with live music, theatre, art exhibitions and other events provided  by the guest country. Attendance exceeded 814,800 people.

The most outstanding event at the Fair is the Opening Ceremony where the winner of the FIL Literary Prize in Romance Languages  (Premio FIL de Literatura  en Lenguas Romances) ( is recognized and receives the amount of US$100,000.  In 2017, the winner of the international competition was the French writer Emmanuel Carrère  (

The Madrid Pavilion at the thirty-first Guadalajara International Book Fair

The Madrid Pavilion

The thirty-first Guadalajara book fair in December 2017 featured the city of Madrid, Spain. The space highlighted in this blog is the Madrid Pavilion that resembled an amphitheatre. The pavilion was designed by the Spanish architect Alberto Campo Baeza ( and took the form of a tall cylinder painted black on the outside with an inscribed phrase that read: Ganarás la Luz (You will gain the Light). The slogan is the title of an outstanding work by the Spanish poet, León Felipe. León Felipe has been considered by scholars to be included in the generation of year 27. He left Spain in 1938 and began a voluntary exile in Mexico, where he died (

The interior of the pavilion displayed pure white bright light and presented a fabulous sight. The inside of the cylinder resembled a bullring with uprising bleachers and had several purposes. The primary one was for the Mexican audience to have an encounter with Spanish authors. It was also intended to provide a more relaxed atmosphere with book stacks to exhibit and sell books published in Spain and to present a more intimate space within the convention centre for book presentations and writers to speak about their literary work and more interestingly to hold debates that stimulated interaction with the public.

Inside the Madrid Pavilion.

Librarians attending the Book Fair noted a resemblance of the design to the Stockholm Public Library designed by Gunnar Asplund.

The Madrid Pavilion was an outstanding success for reading and enjoyment of books from Spain at the thirty-first Guadalajara International Book Fair.

Author details

Helen Ladrón de Guevara Cox is Chief Advisor, Grand Centre of Library and Information Services, New State of Jalisco Public Library, Mexico. Helen is a teacher, graduate and Master of History at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico. She received a master’s degree in library science from the State University of New York and was the founding director of the Jalisco Historical Archive, and the first woman director of the Institute of Libraries of the University of Guadalajara. A recent project has been the development of the master plan for the new public library of the state of Jalisco. In 2017, Helen was awarded the Jalisco Prize in the workplace. Helen is a corresponding member of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section.

Celebrating Stunning Canadian Urban Library Branches

by Barbara Clubb


Over the past decade, newly built and renovated public library branches have showcased great Canadian architects and their spectacular, innovative work. This blog draws attention to the stunning achievements in public library branches in Canada and highlights libraries in the following communities:

  • Brampton (Gore Meadows Community Centre and Library)
  • Calgary (Nose Hill branch)
  • Edmonton (Jasper Place branch)
  • Mississauga (Meadowvale Community Centre and Library)
  • Ottawa (Beaverbrook branch)
  • Toronto (Scarborough Civic Centre branch)
  • Vaughan (Civic Centre Resource Library) and,
  • Waterloo (John M. Harper branch).

The libraries feature striking design, excellent use of natural light, technological and physical adaptability, accessibility and flexibility, environmental sustainability and sensitivity to surroundings, both natural and cultural. The results have created remarkable points of pride in the eight communities. Technology is leveraged at every turn and includes self-check systems, maker-spaces, creative studios, wireless access, hot spot loans and more. Four branch libraries are inclusions in larger community facilities. Yet print has not been forgotten, and there are lots of books. Continue reading