Qatar National Library is located in Education City an initiative of Qatar Foundation. Designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The folded paper concept defines the exterior shape and interior volumes. The National Library is The University and Research Library, and The Metropolitan Public Library of the digital age.
The sloped surfaces of the project create three large terraces that are stacked with 300 bookshelves, visible from a central communal space. An open plaza concept creates a large civic space and is far removed from the hush of librarians of the past. The library looks boldly forward and embraces the new paradigms of the digital age.
A Heritage Library with rare Arabic texts, A Children’s Library with a cylindrical multipurpose classroom and cinema space, digital media production facilities, performance spaces, writing and tutoring center, digitization and restoration, restaurant and café. The QNL project was announced on 19 November 2012 by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation. The Library soft opened to the public on Tuesday 7th 2017 and was formally inaugurated in 2018.
The Qatar National Library’s mission is to spread knowledge, nurture imagination, cultivate creativity, and preserve the nation’s heritage for the future. QNL is achieving its mission by creating and sustaining an intuitive and trusted information environment in a culturally and technologically superior setting.
With these goals stated the vision and requirements for the Media and Audio Visual systems were created. Media systems were required to be an integral part of the Library's strategy and support the delivery of the Library's mission. Accessible and relevant to all ages promoting not only reading but providing a catalyst for creativity. Architecturally the Media Interactives were required to compliment the iconic design of the building and modern lines and form of the space.
A defined and powerful set of concepts was developed for the Media Interactives. Leveraging the libraries digital assets as well as creating new content, games and experiences.
Four large interactive media walls were created to wrap around the automated book returns located in the main plaza area while a further eleven double sided monolithic totems were placed beyond the café on the far side of the plaza.
In the Heritage Library a number of small interactive displays allow visitors to acces and look through the rare texts and books as well as watch video material related to the exhibits. Augmented reality wayfinding in the Plaza and book terraces allows visitors to locate amenities and locations within the library. The augmented reality screens also allow the overlay of event information onto the viewed locations such that current and upcoming events in the Special events space and Auditorium can be viewed directly with the augmented reality view of the location.
The Media walls play an important role in reaching out to visitors and primarily act as an attractor to draw people to discover the broader library offering. Viewed at distance the Media walls show information about library programs and events, whilst informative content is designed to pique the visitor’s interest. When a visitor interacts the section of the wall they are using provides information just for them whilst the rest of the wall continues to display content to visitors further away and in the general vicinity. Once a visitor starts to use the Media wall they may take a light weight stroll through a range of topics or move more deeply into the libraries digital catalog.
The totems also allow catalog access as well as some fun learning activities and games. Temporary digital exhibitions can be hosted on the totems, the first of which was an insightful and surprising introduction into the insights from data visualization. The Media walls and Totems are highly flexible with a powerful content management system and publishing interface allowing each of the several departments to easily and frequently change content, create new attraction elements and fully leverage these digital surfaces to excite visitors and make literature (printed and digital) relevant and accessible.
A central server room contains the media servers for all of the interactives. These servers host the applications and the content management system. Video from the media server graphics cards is sent over fibre to each display and user interaction is fed back to the servers as USB over fiber. The Media walls comprise 48 Microtile LED rear projection cubes each, a total of 192 for the four media walls. Each media wall is fitted with directional speakers covering the area directly in front of the wall and independent for the two users that can be supported simultaneously. A camera built into the side bezel of the media wall allows for user postcards to be created with Library backgrounds.
Each of the eleven double sided Totems is comprised of two sets of five flat panel displays behind a single sheet of anti-reflective glass. It was noticed during workshops that the glass affects the colour of the display and a number of glass types were tried in order to reach an acceptable colour match between the Media walls and the Totems. The power of prototyping and workshops to achieve good quality outcomes cannot be overstated.
Augmented Reality Wayfinding
The Augmented Reality Wayfinding units comprise a flat panel display and rear mounted camera on pole which allows the display to be panned and tilted. An Arduino processor captures the camera information to allow the correct positioning of the wayfinding graphics and overlay information.
The Audio Visual systems within the QNL support the Special Events Space, Auditorium, Media Lounges, Study spaces, Teaching spaces and meeting rooms. It was desired to have reliable simple to use systems yet with sophisticated capabilities including accessing the Library's digital catalog, support for BYOD, Video Conference and the like.
The Special Events Space is a key part of the open plaza design providing a key civic space within the Library environment. The Space has informal terrace seating for around 250 people and is outfitted with a large fine pitch LED display and sound system able to cater for talks, presentations, seminars, small musical and stage performances, lectures and other functions. With its open layout Library visitors may wander through the space and encounter activities taking place, which may vary from content on the LED display to community programs and other library initiatives. The Special Events space may also be enclosed, an ingenious wrap around curtain can used to create a more intimate space. The sound system and associated DSP allows for the configuration of the sound system to be changed to suit the two modes and the corresponding acoustic environment. A portable technicians console can be put in place to control sound, stage lighting and video for events with higher production values whilst an easy to operate touch panel located at the stage facilitates impromptu use and simpler requirements.
The Auditorium is an enclosed flat floor space with a stage that can be raised and lowered as required. The room can be used in either a lengthways or sideways configuration allowing for a greater flexibility in hosting events. Like all the systems in the building the emphasis has been on simplicity of operation and whilst the space can be operated by a technician to achieve higher production values the space can be very easily set-up and used from a single touch panel with all parameters fully automated to ensure clear crisp vocals for all variety of presenters without feedback and without the need for intervention with the system.
The Media Lounges allow up to six users to watch or listen to media in comfortable surroundings. Custom coffee tables with built in headphone storage and controls provide high quality audio for talking books, audio media and for video media.
The Library contains a further 46 spaces with audio visual fit out as well as regular flat panel digital signage displays. It is perhaps fair to say that a building of this nature comes with its fair share of challenges not least Architectural and Interior design integration, but also the Acoustic considerations for an open plan library. Like almost all projects if coordination of the audio visual systems with all the other elements is achieved at an early stage as was the case at QNL then things tend to just slot into place without any unpleasant surprises.
In line with the open plaza design and desire to create civic space the concept of a Soundscape for the Library was developed. With a degree of cool the intention was that this was not to be an audio guide and perhaps closer to silent disco. Library Visitors may collect a pair of wireless headphones on the way in. The headphones open up an extra level of experience to the library space, in the Children’s library talking books play, whilst if you walk into the plaza a new sound scape awaits, walk into the Special Events space and the audio changes to match the video material playing or during an event switch channel for the Arabic translation. In the heritage library the headphones support the video clips and media for the interactive screens, whilst if you join the architectural tour of the building you can listen to your guide describe the vision and concepts that led to the construction of the iconic building. Bluetooth beacons located around the building allow the Headphones to recognize their location and provide the appropriate audio channel or soundscape zone. Drop in charging units in the same interior design finishes as the reception counter keep the headphones charged and ready for use. The same RFID tags used for the physical books prevent the headphones walking out of the door.
Once the concept had been defined a local system integrator and international media specialist were brought on board to install the Audio Visusal systems and Media Interactives. At every step of the way the Clients vision was protected and it was ensured that the sub-contractors were able to deliver the highest quality outcome.
By developing contract specifications not only for the Media technology but also the development process, quality standards and project methodology it was possible to deliver a highly custom solution involving a great deal of end user input and collaboration. To ensure a high level of client satisfaction a design lab was created to allow not only the developers to work on the application software and content but importantly to allow all stakeholders from the various Library departments to regularly review the applications and provide input to allow all the subtlety of the end user requirements to be incorporated.
Pictures below show a Media Wall, a Totem and a Wayfinding point during an end user workshop for the development of the application software.