Encouraging dialogue in the Gulf

Carolyn Kirby reviews the Dialog Regional

Symposium, held at the SLA Gulf Conference in Kuwait


he stunning Regency Hotel Kuwait was the backdrop for the gathering of several hundred library delegates at the annual SLA Gulf Conference in April. With a buzzing exhibition hall, lively plenary sessions and plenty of opportunity for networking over the buffet lunches, it was a very valuable conference. Shortly after the opening ceremony, Taylor & Francis hosted the inaugural Dialog Regional Symposium, a discussion forum attended by around 25 librarians and consortia directors from across the Gulf region. The round-table symposium covered three key library topics: managing online research; social media in the library, and open access. Each topic was addressed with a short introductory presentation, followed by lively table discussion and reporting of each group’s findings. To kick off the event, Lorna Berrett, head of communications at Taylor & Francis, presented ‘The Road to Online Research’, focusing on the findings from a recent ‘Twitter party’, which explored librarians’ and researchers’ experiences of digital research practices. Building on the findings presented by Berrett, the group discussed the importance of information literacy in their institutions. Interestingly, the emphasis placed on information literacy varied significantly, ranging from formalised, compulsory sessions (even requiring students to receive an attendance stamp to be presented in their faculty classes), to more informal, ad hoc arrangements such as traditional LibGuides. The use of video tutorials was also considered an important channel for reaching library users outside of the physical library space – something that users are increasingly demanding when seeking

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information on managing their online work. Next up, Houeida Charara, an infocommons librarian at the Lebanese American University, addressed the group with her thoughts and experiences on the use of social media in the library. With a clear message that students are selective in who and where they are willing to receive information from, Charara stressed the importance of knowing your audience when managing social media channels. This was backed up by interesting statistics showing the increased levels of engagement with her institutional and student union’s social media channels, in comparison to the library’s. The general consensus in follow-up discussions seemed to agree with Charara’s viewpoint, including one delegate sharing that a student-led WhatsApp group had seen the most success in getting library information out to their users. Another key point raised was the need for a policy around content generation and management, in order to avoid the pitfall of libraries holding multiple neglected accounts. Finally, Taylor & Francis opened discussions on the impact of open access (OA) on the library. Drawing on information shared by

‘Overall, this discussion gave an invaluable insight into the issues faced by libraries in the Gulf’

librarians in other regions, the conversation covered topics such as the challenges of communicating with researchers about OA opportunities in a timely manner, the requirement for librarians to become a ‘knowledge bank’ on funding mandates, publisher models, embargo periods and much more, the strain on library resources to process APCs and manage repositories, and ultimately the changing role of the librarian from that of facilitator of access to research, to facilitator of publication of research.

All delegates agreed that they are in the very initial stages of implementing OA at their institutions, many just starting to apply institutional level policies, but nothing is


mandated by funders at the moment. Also emphasised was the need to educate researchers around OA opportunities, and to address widespread concern from authors in the region that OA would inevitably lead to plagiarism of their work.

The Dialog Regional Symposium fits into a wider calendar of Dialog events run by Taylor & Francis, all aiming to address industry topics and challenges. Overall, this discussion gave an invaluable insight into the issues faced by libraries in the Gulf, and in particular the value of sharing experiences with peers at events such as this – a great chance to take information home, which can be applied to real life in the library.

Fatima Abdul-Hamid, technical services department manager at the National Scientific & Technical Information Center (Kuwait Institute For Scientific Research), concluded: ‘I found it very interesting and challenging because it covered the latest trends in the library such as open access and social media. The interaction [with other Dialog delegates], exchanging knowledge and information with specialists also from other countries, which helps us to see where we are, where we heading and what is our position.’

Carolyn Kirby is open access sales manager at Taylor & Francis


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