Beyond Books: A Synopsis of the Extraordinary Journey of UKH’s Library

By Raza Soran

UKH’s library has earned its way to the top ranks among Kurdistan’s libraries, with more than 75% of UKH students using the library regularly. However, achieving this success was no easy feat; it took significant effort to bring it to its current status. Through the dedication of the staff and directors, the library not only offers one of the best resources to students, faculty, and staff at UKH but also extends its services to the public.

The first library director, Amed Demirhan, served from 2006 to 2011. Afterward, Lesley A. T. Gaj, who initially served as the cataloguing librarian and then deputy director, officially became director in 2012. Their goals align with the founder, Mr. Nechirvan Barzani, focusing on creating an institution that contributes to the development of Kurdistan. To ensure a successful library, international policies have been implemented. While generally consistent, the library’s policies are reviewed and modified as needed. New policies are now in place for disabled individuals, ensuring accessibility to the library’s resources by all.

Ms. Lesley A. Gaj

UKH’s library has undergone numerous renovations to create the best atmosphere for knowledge seekers. Inaugurated in September 2006, it started as a large, empty open space with only a few rooms for staff. The initial four study rooms on the first floor were designated for master’s students.

At first, each department had its own small collection of books. In early 2007, the management ordered all learning materials to be transferred to the library, amounting to only six shelves’ worth of books. The transformation began in the summer of 2008 when the library underwent renovations, and additional resources were acquired. UKH’s library was the first in Kurdistan to implement a security system, aiding in mitigating material loss. Moreover, it pioneered open shelving, allowing students to freely browse materials. In 2008, students were granted permission to borrow books.

Over the years, the accumulation of materials has increased and diversified through various mediums. Initially, the only stocks purchased were for module descriptors of the courses offered at the university. It was not until a couple of years later that the library received a small general fund to cover the subjects taught at the university. Early on, a display board showcasing the work of their researchers (i.e., academic staff and PG students) was added for intrigued students to browse. With the availability of the general fund, digital databases, including EBSCOhost and JSTOR, were incorporated into the library and made accessible to all users. IT staff conducted multiple sessions to teach students how to access materials both on campus and off campus. The library now provides specific databases for various departments with current resources, such as UpToDate petroleum engineering and medical school resources. The library aims to create an e-library and a worldwide catalogue soon.

Many of the library’s books have accumulated through donations from the USA, various consulates in Erbil, staff, and other individuals. Furthermore, there was a significant influx of material between 2009 and 2015. Today, the library boasts a physical collection of more than 45,000 materials.

Another opportunity UKH’s library provides is to gain experience and knowledge through events and sessions. Over the years, UKH’s library has hosted numerous events, with the most notable ones being Environmental Day and the Women’s Day celebration. The library has also been a venue for art exhibitions. In addition to these events, the library has conducted numerous career development sessions, assisting students and the public with internships, data centres, and entrepreneurship. This included, among others, a collaborative session with the GIZ team in 2018.

Above all, UKH hosts one of the most important American centres in the region: The American Corner. Since February 2017, The American Corner has opened its doors to the public, offering the local community “an opportunity to access vital resources and information about the US and provide English language services.” The well-known corner, with almost 62% of visitors being non-UKH members, fosters numerous collaborations with the public. Examples of this include AMIDEAST-Erbil and WEDO, two important organizations providing education, training, and development assistance. Such collaborations grant access to activities that can facilitate individual growth and further one’s career or academic success. It also opens the door for those considering studying or working in America. This encompasses, but is not limited to, the US exchange program, the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship Program, the Leadership Program, and Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement (Fulbright TEA) Program. In addition, the American Corner offers English language learning activities, such as the book club, social club for foundation students, and English conversation club.

Furthermore, The American Corner embodies American values of free speech and challenging opposing ideas or norms. It serves as an excellent platform to raise awareness about important topics crucial for the welfare of society, including human trafficking seminars, women’s day workshops, cyber-security seminars, zero-waste projects, and On the Ground: Working to Preserve and Protect Heritage in Kurdistan.

The university Vice President, Professor Dana Mawlood, recently delivered an important seminar on “Iraq’s Growing Water Crisis: Management and Environmental Solutions.” The seminar was attended by diplomats, university presidents, dignitaries, and officials. The US Consul General in Erbil, Consul General of Qatar, presidents of Salahaddin, Lebanese French, and Duhok universities, as well as the Director General of Water and Dams in the KRG, attended the seminar, providing another example of the pivotal role played by UKH library.

In conclusion, with its long yet productive journey, UKH’s library has rightfully earned its place among the best in Kurdistan. Guided by the vision and policies of its directors, the library continues to provide top-notch materials, ambiance, and learning experiences. With a history of achievements, its growth and future goals are anticipated.

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