03 November 2005

Librarianship in the Sultanate

by Nancy Bronte-Matheny

The scientific study of library and information science (LIS) became a formal source of academic inquiry only as recently as 1990 in the Sultanate of Oman, an Islamic nation located on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the size of Kansas, with a population of 1.7 million nationals (Selected Data..., 2003). Librarianship was not considered a profession in most Arab countries prior to 1990. Librarians were seen as clerks, and the majority in Oman only possessed the most basic education (Gardner, 1989).

Much of that has changed since the reigning monarch, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, recognized his country's need for qualified specialists in the field, as part of a greater modernization effort for the nation, now in the 35th year of his reign. Oman has made tremendous strides in the study of library and information science, as well with the technology required to keep pace with the digital world.

In this article, the reader will learn how the nation's largest academic university is leading change in information education, transforming the nation away from an oil sector-dependent economy into an information society of the future.
University Library System

Founded in 1986 and located on the outskirts of Muscat, Oman, Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) [Qaboos pronounced like train 'caboose'] is the leading national university in the sultanate, serving a population of approximately 8,000 students. The institution offers a Bachelor's degree in Library and Information Science, and two years ago added a Master's degree in Library and Information Science.

The Sultan Qaboos University library system collection consists of approximately 240,000 items spread among four campus university libraries: the Main Library, the medical library, the Commerce Information Center, and the mosque library.

The Main Library is centrally located at the university facing Mecca, in a 3-story building with separate entrances for male and female patrons, on the first and second floors, respectively. Study areas are also segregated by gender, although not strictly enforced. Archived periodicals and library administrative offices reside on the first floor. The reference, circulation, interlibrary loan, and reserves departments are situated on the second floor. Special collections, the general stacks, newspapers and periodicals, and microforms reside on the third floor.

The Sultan Qaboos University library system depends on Amicus, a product of LibriCore, Leuven, Belgium, for its primary on-site cataloging and library management software system. The university was the first library to use the Arabic version of Amicus, in the year 2000 (Omani University to..., 2000). Both English- and Arabic-language versions are available to patrons. The collection utilizes the Library of Congress classification system and the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules. Arabic and non-Arabic titles are integrated and shelved according to subject.

Students also have access to 33 major online databases, including LISA (Library & Information Science Abstracts) in both English and Arabic, from computer terminals located within the Main Library, or by remote access from home or office.

Primary issues associated with the SQU Main Library with implications for collection development are: language barriers (Arabic vs. English), government censorship, staff recruitment across ethnic, religious, and gender lines, and an information technology deficit shortened in recent years but still with room for improvement.

An additional collection new to the university is the Digital Library of the College of Arts and Social Sciences http://www.squ.edu.om/art/dig_lib/index.htm. That library is considered the first digital library of the university, which publishes research, papers and reports conducted by college faculty, in both Arabic and English languages.

The Center for Education Technology (CET)(http://www.squ.edu.om/cet/index.html), is not unlike the Learning Technologies Center (LTC) of the University of Arizona (http://www.ltc.arizona.edu/). Distance courses are facilitated through the expertise of the CET staff. The platform WebCT is used to deliver content, one with which most Arizona student's should be familiar. Moodle software is also used as a vehicle to construct online learning communities (http://moodle.org/).

The Center for Information Systems (CIS)(http://www.squ.edu.om/cis/index.html) is similar to the Center for Computing and Information Technology (CCIT) at the University of Arizona (http://computing.arizona.edu/), in its mission to support all computer-based information system requirements for the university. At the CIS, the center provides valuable training in information system topics, as well as its full support of all computing hardware systems at the university.

Professional membership may be established with the Special Libraries Association (SLA) - Arabian Gulf Chapter. It is understood, at this writing, that a student chapter does not yet exist, but that LIS students may matriculate conferences or workshops side-by-side with professionals in the field. The 12th Annual Conference of the SLA-Arabian Gulf Chapter will be held April 11 - 13, 2006, in Muscat, Oman (http://www.sla.org/chapter/cag/), further evidence of the countries progress and commitment toward information education.

In the near future, the archives of the Oman Room (Special Collections - Main Library), the leading Omani studies research resource in the world, will relocate to its new home on campus at the Oman Study Center. Furthermore, the Center will soon develop a digital library of its extensive holdings in monographs written about Oman or written by Omani nationals.

The Sultan Qaboos University libraries, Center for Education Technology, and Center for Information Systems combine to form a rich environment in which library and information students may come to a greater understanding of the possibilities of the emerging information society that is Oman.


  • Gardner, S. (1989). Censorship and librarianship in Oman. Library Journal, 114 (19), 54-56.
  • Omani university to use AMICUS system. (2000). Information Today,17(9), 59.
  • Selected data and indicators from the results of general populations, housing units, and establishments census (1993-2003) [Electronic Version]. (2003). Sultanate of Oman: Ministry of National Economy. Retrieved April 18, 2005, from: http://www.omancensus.net/fer/Figurs-indicators/Sultanate%20of%20Oman.pdf
How to cite this document:
Bronte-Matheny, N. (2005). Librarianship in the Sultanate. BiblioTech, 3(2). Retrieved [insert date here], from: http://www.sir.arizona.edu/lso/bibliotech/2005nov_vol3_no2

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