Mohamed Mubarak is Senior Research Librarian at the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies Library (QFIS). He is also president of the Special Libraries Association – (Arabian Gulf Chapter) SLA-AGC. I sit down with him at the lovely QFIS library and talk to him about his history with the SLA-AGC, the upcoming SLA-AGC conference, and his thoughts on open access publishing.
Alwaleed Alkhaja (AA): First of all, thank you Mohamed for meeting me today. My first question is how did you get involved with the SLA-AGC?
Mohamed Mubarak (MM): Back in 2006, I was sponsoring myself to attend one of the SLA conferences in Muscat, Oman. At the time, I was working in the Arabian Gulf University library in Bahrain and my director happened to be a past president of the SLA-AGC. I was enjoying my time at the conference and attending different sessions when my director asked me if I wanted to join the SLA-AGC board. I simply asked her ‘what is the SLA about?”
I admit that I have previously heard of the SLA but I did not really think about joining it. She told me that I will learn a lot and that I will gain some of the leadership skills that I will later need for my career. She managed to convince me and I was later nominated to join the SLA.
Honestly, it was a good experience to introduce myself to different people with different backgrounds: from academia to the private sector. I started learning from this new environment and was able to transform some of the things that I learned to a decision-making level. I also started to take part in organizing a regional event (the SLA-AGC conference) that serves most of the information professionals in the region. The SLA-AGC membership itself allowed me to eventually progress to become the chapter’s public relations officer. From that the time I started understanding that, we as information professionals are not just serving the institute we work for but we are serving the profession of librarianship itself.
Organizing an annual event gives us the opportunity to invite other potential professionals to join the SLA. The SLA is a big organization that started in the US back in 1909; whereas the SLA-AGC is one of the oldest SLA chapters. I have been fortunate to be part of this organization and serve the profession of librarianship.
(AA): What are some of the main goals of the SLA-AGC?
(MM): Our goals and objectives are not different of the main SLA organization. These goals include providing information professionals with the opportunity to network with each other. Moreover by attending our conference and various workshops, these information professionals will have the opportunity to learn and develop their work competencies and skills, learn how to acquire new technologies for the work place, as well as develop their collection in a way that can serve their community.
It is worth mentioning that the SLA-AGC deals with a different culture than the one in North America, and therefore somewhat different challenges. We try our best to invite more people to our annual meeting, to give them an opportunity to be a member of the SLA-AGC (which I believe will help them discover how to become a leader in their profession and how to serve their communities in the best way. We still have a mission to complete: we need to develop our programs for each year, and invite more speakers to attend, and encourage more people to participate. By establishing a partnership with different institutions within the Arabian Gulf over the last twenty years, the SLA-AGC has been able to build good relationships with different government and academic entities.
(AA): The SLA hosts an annual conference, and I had the chance to be there last year. How was it in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates?
(MM): I received good feedback from different delegates. I was in the middle of organizing the conference and I can say that it was indeed a successful event in Abu Dhabi. It was also the first time that we organized the event with the very prestigious Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi. Also, it was very good in the sense that way that we managed to have a successful plenary session program. We worked very hard to bring the latest trend topics with the expectation of the professions in the region. I would like to think that we did a very good job! For sure, the next SLA-AGC conference in Doha will be a good opportunity to continue our successful journey.
AA: The conference in Abu-Dhabi was only my second SLA-AGC event (the first was a workshop I attended in Oman in February 2013). What I found interesting is that I met many librarians from outside the Arabian Gulf. Does the SLA extend its support to countries beyond the GCC countries?
MM: For sure! That is one of our main objectives. We should not really be limited by the name of the chapters (Arabian Gulf Chapter) but need to expand our support to professional librarians in the region and in the Arab world. We had a good opportunity this year to have people from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon as well. We are aiming to be an international event not just a regional event. We try our best to develop the chapter. We will continue aiming for the highest level of quality and international reach.
AA: What would you like to see in this year’s event?
MM: (Smiles) I would like to see a lot of new things! This year’s event will be here in Doha in partnership with Qatar University. For sure we have a lot of things in mind. We have a rich program for next year and we recently set out the call for papers (Deadline was 1st October 2013). We will need a lot of help from key players in Qatar. We are planning to have an event with QScience (which is part of Qatar Foundation) and we have a plan as well to have an event with the Qatar National Library of Qatar Foundation. We are looking forward to the next event!
AA: Now something more related to what QScience.com does; I would like to ask what is your opinion on open access ?
MM: Open access is a very important publishing initiative and I have been introduced to open access in my previous position as medical librarians, in which I used PubMed Central to retrieve articles for academics. I was surprised by the large number of accessible scientific articles. When it comes to open access, we have to think about developing countries, which don’t have the resources and financial support to get access to the scientific literature. Open access helps a lot of scientist and researchers around the world to get access to the latest literature. This is very important to continue to their research and education. I completely support it!
AA: As you probably know, some of the universities in our region do not have the financial support to get all needed journal subscriptions. How do you see the role of open access in developing research in the region?
Open access will help increase the research level a lot in the region and the world. I was involved in an advisory board for another publisher and some of the things that was discussed was how open access can develop research on a national and regional level. I think the Arabian Gulf has a low research output compared to other regions. Some researchers find it difficult to publish in high-impact journals and tend to publish in lower-impact journals. They eventually find out that their research does not reach the audience they wished for. Many open access journals still have the high quality peer review process and will allow their findings to be more accessible to academics worldwide. As librarian professionals, we should convince the different academic institutions in the region about the important of investment in open access. Some institutions have research funds dedicated for publishing and I would like to see some of these institutions to adapt more open access policies. There is a lot of great research that is published in the region but I consider it as gray literature because it does not have the opportunity to be seen by a lot of the people around in the world. Open access will be an important way for their work to be seen by researchers around the world.
AA: Thank you Mohamad for meeting with me and I look forward to seeing you again at the next SLA-AGC conference in Doha
The 20th Annual conference “Enhancing in Digital Knowledge Society’s Information Needs” in Doha, Qatar from 25th – 27th March 2014
For more information please visit: http://slaagc2014.org/