Networking and Learning in the Middle East

The SIBF/ALA Library Conference

September 22, 2017

The Networking Library Lounge at the Sharjah International Book Fair/American Library Association Library Conference.
The Networking Library Lounge at the Sharjah International Book Fair/American Library Association Library Conference.

Librarians from across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf (MENA) gathered at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the third annual SIBF/American Library Association (ALA) Library Conference, November 8–10, 2016. Approximately 350 librarians participated in programs, training, and networking in both Arabic and English over three days, giving them a chance to learn from international experts from both the MENA region and the US.

Then–ALA President Julie B. Todaro opened the conference with an update on ALA’s Libraries Transform campaign, stressing library transformation as essential to the communities libraries serve. Miguel Figueroa, director of the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries, provided the second day’s keynote on the importance of exploring trends and signals around us and how they point to preferable futures for our work.

“The Sharjah International Book Fair/ALA Library Conference is an excellent reminder of the many futures libraries and information professionals will help create for their communities,” Figueroa says.

The conference offered interactive programming, with in-depth facilitated discussions that addressed how to build stronger library associations in the MENA region; the importance of research impact and writing; and successes, struggles, and challenges in school libraries and with reading initiatives. Other conference highlights included a poster session with 20 participants and a location within SIBF that allowed attendees to combine professional development with acquiring materials for their libraries.

With the tagline “Read More,” the 35th SIBF drew a record-breaking 2.3 million visitors who reviewed and bought books and materials from 1,681 publishing houses representing 60 countries. Approximately 1.5 million titles were available for purchase. The Librarians’ Lounge (sponsored by SIBF and library-related companies) was a popular spot for informal networking and information about new products and services.

Looking ahead

The fourth annual SIBF/ALA Library Conference, November 7–9, will feature even more professional development opportunities. The conference will offer two full days of productive continuing education, networking with colleagues, and opportunities to share ideas in formal and informal settings with experts.

ALA President Jim Neal and Sohair Wastawy, executive director of Qatar National Library, will each deliver keynotes. Neal’s talk is aptly titled, “Libraries Transform—Libraries Lead—Libraries Fight,” while Wastawy will map out the road ahead with “Libraries in the MENA Region Moving Forward: From Tradition to Transformation.”

Interested in attending the 2017 SIBF/ALA Library Conference? Register at


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