Interview with #SLAAGC President Mohamad Mubarak

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نص المقابلة مع محمد مبارك  باللغة العربية


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 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:

نص المقابلة مع محمد مبارك  باللغة العربية

MB arabic Interview with Affra Al Shamsi (Head of Medical Library, the Royal Hospital, Oman)

While attending the 19th Annual Conference & Exhibition of the Special Libraries Association – Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA-AGC) in Abu Dhabi last week, I had the chance to speak with Affra Al Shamsi (E-library and Resource Manager in the Oman Medical Speciality Board and Head of the Medical Library at the Royal Hospital in Muscat, Oman).

She was one of the organizers of the “Health Information Under Microscope: Challenges & Solutions” symposium that took place between 13-14 February, 2013 . The symposium was a collaboration between Sultan Qaboos University (College of Arts & Social Science and Medical library), Royal Hospital Medical library, Oman Medical Specialty Board and the SLA-AGC.

Affra Al Shamsi speaks with during SLAAGC2013

Affra Al Shamsi speaks with during SLAAGC2013

“librarians need to stand up, need to be more outspoken, and need to believe more in themselves”

Interview with Affra Al Shamsi (Thursday 25 April 2013):

[Alwaleed Alkhaja]: Hello Affra, and thank you for meeting with me. First, can you tell us about the history of the medical information symposium that took place in Oman?
[Affra Al Shamsi] :We started the symposium as an open day in 2005 in the Royal Hospital. The idea was to link up the doctors with the biomedical professionals along with the librarians and the publishers and to make transparent environments to discuss and share their thoughts and fears. It was successful, so we decided to do it every year. It eventually grew to become a conference for the Royal Hospital. We invited everyone from around Oman and we brought international speakers. Slowly, it started having a reputation, and people were coming from everyone, not just Oman. In 2012, it was the first year that we decided to merge it with Special Libraries Association (SLA), to give it more visibility for the whole region. It was a success. Since then, we have had a very good number of doctors attending, as well as nurses, pharmacists and others in the biomedical field. It is the only type of [regional] symposium that talks about information the medical field. All other events talk about medical practice and not information.

How was this year’s symposium in February different from other years?
This year we tried to make it more practical. I believe people learn more when they do things than just listening. We added a program that was more focused on practice. We had about five workshops and two tutorials and other lectures. We added ‘Training the Trainer’, which was novel. Instead of publishers giving lectures about their products, we made it more about training the attendees, to make them more aware of their products and how to use them. These workshops had a huge attendance. People really liked it!

Why do you think was the most successful part, that got the most attention?
There were two things: the workshops and ‘Training the Trainer’ sessions. The workshops were on key issues. We had international and local speakers. It was very interesting for people to attend.

Now, somewhat of a different question. What are some of the challenges faced by medical libraries in Oman?
It is not only in Oman. I think it is all around the region. It is budgets. Budget comes first usually. Then the second thing is the value of the librarians. Still, it [value of librarians] is not clear for many people, especially the decision makers. There is a lack of support for libraries and library-related projects.

What are some recommendations that might help the situation?
I think to fix this, librarians need to stand up, need to be more outspoken, and need to believe more in themselves and their message. Once they do that, they will get the attention from others to support them.

Do you think SLA will give you this support in Oman and help find you solutions to these problems?
Unfortunately there is not much support from the association. They can’t. I think legally and politically, they are not allowed to yet. But from the recommendations [from the SLA AGC 2013 conference] I heard yesterday, some of the libraries raised some of these issues. It was about creating better job descriptions, better library structures. And if the association will send these recommendations throughout the region, it will be the first step for the association to show its position in supporting the libraries, because until now, many of the libraries do not have proper job descriptions. Within the same country, each institution has different job descriptions and titles for librarians, as well as different salaries. How can we have much rule or influence if we still don’t have any kind of identify?

What’s next for your symposium next year? Anything special planned?
We have been approached by different countries in the region who want us to move it or rotate it in the region. This means that the symposium would be more regional like the main SLA conference. is an open access publisher, what is your opinion on open access?
I want to salute all open access publishers. Because as much as we librarians struggle for budgets, open access helps us with the first step. It has big value for us!

For more information on librarians’ resources:

For more information about the Special Libraries Association – Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA-AGC):

For more information about the Royal Hospital Medical Library:

-Alwaleed Alkhaja, PhD.