Monday, March 14, 2011

Gulf SLA Meeting 2011, "The Shifting Sands in the Middle East!"

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Please welcome Darrell Gunter to Shore's virtual team of industry analysts and enjoy his commentary below on the recent Gulf SLA conference]

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the 17th annual conference for the Gulf SLA. As my family and friends learned of my pending travels to Muscat, Oman they expressed their great concern for my safety and sanity. I reflected on my reasoning for attending this meeting and I actually started to question why was I about to travel 7,000 miles over a 24 hour period with two connecting flights to a region of the world that was experiencing significant unrest. This unrest is due to people who want their freedom, who want an education, who want an opportunity to provide a better life for themselves and their families. As AIP (American Institute of Physics) is an important publisher of Physics literature, I felt a sincere obligation to attend the meeting and I am glad that I did.

The meeting was held at the opulent Palace Hotel that is fit for a king. Actually it was built for a king but the sultan decided not move in and it was sold to hotelier. The conference attendees were from all over the Middle East. There were about 40 vendors ranging from publishers, aggregators, and book scanners to a vendor selling a $10,000 personal listening chair!

The conference opened on Tuesday and closed on Thursday. I had the opportunity of attending the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the Middle East AIP engages the sales agent Integrated Information Network, led by Dr. Mehrdad Fahimi and his key lieutenant Kamron Robert Karden who is supported by Faryar Fatemi (Sales & Marketing Manager). My Middle East Colleagues arranged a series of meetings over the two days for all of the publishers they represent.

As a first time visitor to this region, I was impressed with every library director and administrator that I met, as they were very clear about their goals and objectives, their challenges and opportu nities. Over the course of the two days I was able to actively participate in 7 substantial meetings! With all that is going on in the Middle Eas,t you would think that maybe attendance would be down or that the attendees' conversation would be on the uprising activities in several of their neighboring states. No, they were focused on how they were going to build their respective collections and improve the education of their people and improving their universities research profile and rankings.

The conference featured two fantastic speakers from the US. Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive was the opening keynote speaker. Brewster in his most enlightening way provided the audience with all of the exciting developments at the Internet Archive. Steve Abrams, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Markets for Gale Cengage Learrning was the Thursday keynote speaker. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend his session as I departed late Wednesday night. However I did speak with Steve on Wednesday and I asked him what his topic was going to be and he replied that he was going to share with them the recent developments in the STM industry. Knowing Steve, his presentation should have wowed them as well.

The conference was organized by Mohamed Ghali Rashid who is a board member of Arabian Gulf Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. By my guess, the conference attendance was around 1,000 people!

In every meeting each librarian/ adminstrator stressed that their objective was to build their collections. Based on these conversations, I would put the Middle East Universities in one of three categories. 1.) Early Adopter – the United Arab Emirates University has built up a great collection and they are looking to round out their collection. 2.) Mid streamer – This university has a good basic collection but not as complete as the “Early Adopter”. 3.) Best intentions – These university librarians have several challenges, Funding, war, administrators who do not understand the value of electronic journals and books. I found each of the people representing these institutions to be very engaging and committed to their user community.

The highlight of me attending the meeting was to meet Dr. Faiza A. Al-Bayati, the Library and Information Science Specialist for the country of Iraq. She was invited to attend the meeting on behalf of Dr. Fahimi. As we gathered before the opening prayer for the conference, Dr. Al-Bayati shared with me her challenge and opportunity of rebuilding not only their collection but also their infrastructure and personal. As she explained in great detail her vision and plan for rebuilding the library system she had a big smile and her demeanor was full of courage and compassion. As our US librarians are concerned with mere budget cuts, she is dealing with a very complex issue on many different levels. Her determination and tenacity is a true testament of being one of today’s true heroes.

Our next meeting was with Mr. Ibrahim Al-Mahdi, the Director of Information Systems Services for the Yemen Center for Information Technology in Higher Education. His vision is simply to build a quality collection. He appealed to the publishers to provide them with quality trials so that the faculty and administration can evaluate the quality of the research materials and related databases.

We then had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Rashed Abdulrahman Ali, the Collection Development Director for the United Arab Emirates University. Mr. Rashed Abdulrahman Ali was most gracious and open about their plans for the enhancement of their collection. He and his other colleagues, made a point to visit with each publisher’s stand in the exhibit hall.

Last but not least is the Qatar Foundation, that is building a library to serve the public, the universities, research and other government corporate entities. This foundation founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, as a vehicle to convert the country's current, but temporary, mineral wealth into durable human capital. The representatives from the foundation advised the publishers to be patient as they build their collection.

Of the publishers in the exhibit hall I was quite impressed with the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals. They have launched their multi-discipline open access platform QScience . Arend Kuster, the Managing Director stated that they just launched within the last twelve months. With all of the traditional publishers beginning to launch their open access initiatives it is very exciting to see a new entrant in the market place.

With all of the turmoil that is occurring in the Middle East and the citizens of several countries protesting to fight for the freedom, there is another protest that is occurring and it is the protest for education and research. It is this protest that will be a part of the changing sands in the Middle East. Educating their people will ensure that their future economy will be based on knowledge workers and as they say the “all ships no what their size will rise with the tide!” It is this type of vision, leadership and compassion that will certainly change the sands in the Middle East for the betterment of their citizens, institutions, their countries, the Middle East and the world.

For those vendors that did not attend, I would suggest that you do attend the 18th annual Gulf SLA meeting next year so that you can be a positive part of the changing sands of the Middle East. Oh, I forgot to mention that the food and hospitality was awesome!

Mr. Steve Abram and his Gale Cengage colleagues

Brewster Kahle and Darrell W. Gunter

Mohamed Ghali Rashid, board member of Arabian Gulf Chapter of the Special Libraries Association

Dr. Faiza A. Al-Bayati, the Library and Information Science Specialist for the country of Iraq
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