Special Library Site Visit – The Oman Library
Mrs. Amal Morsy, Library Director
Table of contents
Main Report of the Site Visit
About the library
Marketing and public relations
Oman Library website, intranet, and social media
Training for staff
Acknowledgement: I’d like to thank Mrs. Amal Morsy for giving three hours of her time on July 10, 2014, to walk me through the Oman Library, explain the library’s history and operation, and show me the work that has gone into making the Oman Library one of the most important regional collections in Washington, DC.
The Oman Library at the Middle East Institute holds the largest English collection of Middle East literature in Washington, DC, outside the Library of Congress. Its parent organization, The Middle East Institute, was founded in 1946 by a group of diplomats and scholars in recognition and anticipation of the need for accurate and rigorous scholarship in the post-World War II environment. They established a library the following year, 1947. The library was shuttered in 2009 and its contents, books, maps, and artifacts were boxed and warehoused at a remote site.
In 2013, the library reopened under the leadership of Mrs. Amal Morsy, and in newly renovated quarters, thanks to the patronage and support of the Sultan of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Director Morsy rearranged the shelving design, starting with a configuration she conceived, then created as a computer model, before actually externalizing the model as ordered shelves in a physical space. Several anomalies and irregularities in the original cataloging system required that over 20,000 volumes, documents and artifacts (including 60 rare volumes and documents) be re-catalogued, a process that is on-going.
About the library
The library houses over 20,000 books and periodicals, all devoted to the Middle East. The collection holds materials in French, Arabic, Hebrew, Ottoman Turkish and Farsi, languages spoken in the Middle East region. French is the most predominant due to France’s role in post-WWI governance of the Arab world. Materials span countries from Morocco to Pakistan. The general collection covers current events, history, culture, economics, religion, politics, and languages of the region, including an extensive collection on Islam and Islamic art, and items/artifacts categorized by language, and by date and provenance. Although most of the books are in English, there are many in Arabic and typically cover from the 1930’s to the present.
The Oman Collection is a special collection within the Oman Library that highlights the library’s benefactor, the Sultanate of Oman, and covers Omani society, culture, politics, economics, and development as well as geography, geology and climate of Oman. The library also houses a rare book collection with volumes dating back to 1702.
This special and invaluable collection is housed in a secured section of the library and its contents do not circulate. Currently, the library holds approximately 200 journal and serial titles, dating as far back as 1918. The library also holds a very extensive map and postcard collection. The Rare Book Collection contains mostly of books published before 1922. The Collection also contains rare and valuable maps, manuscripts, and copies of religious texts.
The library’s postcard collection, 21,363 items from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, was assembled by George Camp Keiser, an architect and the founder of the Middle East Institute, and Nancy Hull Keiser, his wife.
Here is a link to the library’s mission and vision statement: http://www.mei.edu/oman-library-mission-statement.
The Middle East Institute website (www.mei.org)
The Oman Library operates on a tight budget and no funds are provided for fee-based services. The director mentioned that OCLC provided cataloging and limited website automation, mobile device optimization, and ILL (inter-library loans) services for approximately $500 per year, but that she performs the cataloging, circulation and website automation along with four non-paid interns and she has achieved a modest ILL service with libraries in the areas mostly thorough networking and sharing of common holdings and requirements.
There are a number of reasons why OCLC might be a good investment for the Oman Library.
1) The Oman Library library director has done a great job of liaison and building collaborative and cooperative relations with local libraries as aforementioned. Libraries and scholars outside the local area could greatly benefit from having a degree of access to the Oman Library, and vice versa, MEI scholars could greatly benefit from access to resources outside the area.
2) The library could benefit from being a part of WorldCat, a union catalog that itemizes the collections of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories which participate in the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) global cooperative. It is built and maintained collectively by the participating libraries. Oman Library would have a more international identity, bringing with it respectability and credibility.
3) Scholars would get access to restricted, non-circulating, and special collections materials that partners would not normally lend, and the same level of collections at Oman Library would be discoverable by others outside the local area.
Marketing and public relations
Marketing and public relations are mostly handled by the library director, through networking efforts already mentioned, and through reaching out to professional friends and colleagues in the area. The library has an on-going relationship with the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center at University Sultan Qaboos in Oman and with George Washington University. It is open to the membership of the Middle East Institute, many of whom are scholars, local diplomats, and American foreign service officers posted to embassies in the Middle East region. The library has a very broad member base. The holdings include many articles and volumes that cannot be found anywhere else, a reputation that provides additional marketing power. The library also holds regular exhibitions and semi-annual book sales of donated and duplicate items, providing marketing and fund-raising efforts.
Additionally, the library sells duplicate and donated books regularly on Amazon.com marketplace.
The Library website, intranet. and social media
The Oman Library website is featured prominently on the MEI website, both of which are built on standard Drupal platforms. Clicking on the Oman Library block (one of three central destinations, the other two being a link to The Middle East Journal, and a link to information about language classes) takes one immediately to the library’s homepage. On the home page, a banner for the library is at the top, three static library photos are directly underneath, and below those photographs is a standard search box, allowing search by keyword, title, author, subject and call number. The right margin top features a special collection item (with a clickable link) that is changed weekly, beneath which is a brief description of library holdings and a clickable link to electronic databases, and beneath that is administrative information about the library. The main section continues with a description of the library and its holdings, a clickable link for donations, and information for connecting to the library’s Facebook page and to RSS readers.
The intranet serves the Institute and the Library as an organizational unit. It includes links to internal e-mail, the staff directory, human resources data processing, and the mei.edu page for in-house training.
The library started a Facebook page (screenshot above) when it re-opened in 2013. Library events that have occurred since then are well chronicled with Facebook posts, photos, and quotes.
Included in the library’s holdings are over 1000 digitized versions of books in the inventory. Library staff volunteers compare actual books to digitized editions held in HathiTrust and Internet Archives, then, if the comparison rings true, the information on the digitized edition is entered in the MARC record. In cases of government documents that are easy to access, the original is considered for discarding or disposal sale.
ILS systems, content management
The library uses an open source ILS product, Koha for cataloging, acquisitions and content management. Koha also provides various Web 2.0 facilities like tagging, comment, social sharing and RSS feeds, a union catalog facility, customizable search, circulation and borrower management, simple acquisitions system for the smaller library, and serials system for magazines and newspapers.
Koha was first developed as an open-source ILS system for the Horowhenua Library Trust in New Zealand in 1999. It is the first full featured open source integrated library system (Singh and Sanaman, 2011). It is web-based and provides an easy to use Web interface making it easy for The Oman Library’s volunteer staff to edit and add records directly into the online catalog. It allows batch importing and exporting of records and provides quick reporting of circulation statistics, making it ideal for Oman Library requirements. When the library was reopened in 2013 after a four year hiatus, the version of Koha was compatible with the version that had been used when the library closed down in 2009. Except for a few glitches the ILS system was quickly updated, up and running.
Using open source software for ILS is advantageous for special libraries such as the Oman Library for a host of reasons. It is low cost, customizable, interoperable, and independent of vendors. There are advantages and disadvantages to using an open source ILS system for a small, special library. Advantages include lower software costs because there are no license and maintenance fees, uncomplicated license management, lower hardware costs, scaling/consolidation potential for growth or shrinkage, community support from other developers/users, escape from the vendor lock-in that accompanies proprietary software systems, unified software across several applications (circulation, acquisition, serial management, content management, etc.), and quality software (Williams, et.al. 2005). The Oman Library has benefited from all these advantages.
Disadvantages may include hidden implementation and support costs after installation, minimal service support from a company that one might get with proprietary software, and security issues. Fortunately, Oman Library has not reported any of these as deficiencies. Luckily, Koha continues its development and has carved out a niche for supporting the ILS requirements for small specialized libraries.
Training for staff.
Staff training is conducted exclusively by the library director. Quarterly and as required, she trains mostly undergraduate volunteer interns in the use of the Koha ILS suite, collection development, and general librarianship best practices. The interns are bright and quick learners, and many of them have foreign language skills that help with cataloging and classification of books and artifacts.
Budgeting and the institutional culture.
The Oman Library does not have its own separate budget, even though the fund-raising it manages to achieve is not insignificant. Fund-raising provides for petty cash purchases for day-to-day operations, but the library director has to go to the parent institution, Middle East Institute, for large purchases and acquisitions, providing justification each time.
There are many reasons why the library and the parent institution would benefit from the library having its own discrete annual budget cycle. Asantewa describes the following four functions that budgets serve that would be applicable in the case of the Oman Library: budgets communicate to staff the availability of resources and the objectives that staff develops and is committed to seeking; budgets and a budgeting process provide a planning tool; budgets provide a contractual agreement between senior management and other shareholders, donors, contributors to allocate a specific amount of money to the meeting of specific goals and objectives; and budgets provide a policy tool that guides the running of the library and the parent organization, highlighting progress toward strategic goal, but also illuminating contradictions, inconsistencies and divergences from the mission’s overall objectives (Asantewa, 2003).
Just as it lacks an independent, discrete budget, the Oman Library also lacks a strategic planning component. A strategic planning model would include both, and would define and establish target destination goals for the library 12 to 18 months ahead. Green recommends that a strategic planning model for a library should include the following: targets based on past performance and on potential emerging opportunities; a regular meeting schedule to chart progress towards those targets; and a communication plan for keeping senior management and significant shareholder informed of that progress (Green, 2013). An effective strategic plan for the library, coupled with a disciplined budgeting process, would provide a solid basis for negotiating with senior management that could only have positive results for the library and for the parent institution.
The Oman Library is a well-run library that provides an outstanding source of information for scholars and foreign affairs practitioners. Its patrons and clients speak affectionately of its scholarly atmosphere and its rich collection of resources on Middle East countries and issues, many of which cannot be found in a similar setting outside the region. The library director, Mrs. Morsy, has done an outstanding job of setting up and operating the library with minimal resources at her disposal. She is clearly well-placed to take the Oman Library to the next level of excellence in terms of providing resources for the Middle East Institute membership as well as for the broader academic, scholarly and foreign affairs practitioner community.
Asantewa, D. (2003). Holistic budgeting: A process. Information Outlook, 7(8), 14-18.
Green, H. (2013). Adapting to the New Strategic Planning. Information Outlook, 17(1) January/February 2013: 13-15.
Singh, M. & Sanaman, G. (2012). Open Source Integrated Library Management Systems: Comparative Analysis of Koha and NewGenLib. The Electronic Library, 30 (6), 809 – 832.
Williams, J., P. Clegg and E. Dulaney. The Advantages of Adopting Open-Source Software. Abram. InformIT, May 6, 2005. Accessed August 2, 2014 at http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=376255