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Arabic and Arab World studies

Collection Details

Arabic and Arab World studies held at SOAS Library [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

There are about 48,000 monographs in this part of the collection, of which some 40,000 are in Arabic. There are also separate holdings of periodicals, maps, sound recordings, manuscripts, unpublished theses and electronic resources.

History and development

Arabic material has been a significant part of the Library’s holdings from its inception in 1917. Arabic is language of the Quran and of religious scholarship of Islam, and was the official language of the massive Islamic Empire which stretched from the Atlantic to Central Asia and parts of India (including Spain). In modern times it is the official language of the twenty member states of the Arab League. It is also the language of one of the World’s richest literatures, stretching in an unbroken tradition from pre-Islamic times to the present day. As such, it has always been central to the study of large parts of Asia, including many countries beyond the boundaries of the Middle East, and of many parts of Africa.The western language material on the Arab countries of North Africa is the responsibility of the Africa Section, with the notable exception of Egypt, as is explained in the separate section on North Africa (Maghreb).


The collection had developed in parallel with the School’s research and teaching requirements. As a central part of classical Orientalist studies, the religious, legal, historical, linguistic and classical literatures are very well represented. The teaching of Arabic as a modern language, and the growth of interest in modern Arabic literature has led to major growth in this part of the collection, as has the development of interest in the politics, economics, law and social development of the modern Arab world

Because of the very large numbers of books published in Arabic, both in the Middle East and other parts of the World, and a very significant effort to publish the Arabic classical heritage, there is a need to be selective in collection development. The Library specialises in Arabic material from North Africa (Maghreb) under the MELCOM Specialisation Scheme.

General arrangement and access regulations

Mainly open access. Older monographs (pre-1880 publications), archives, manuscripts and microforms are closed access.

Post 1880 monographs are arranged in two sequences, Arabic (Standard and dialects, which include Maltese) and Western language publications.

The Western language collections are arranged by countries. Within these country and regional groupings the collections are arranged by subject. The Arabic materials are arranged by subject.

The exceptions are the large collection on Islamic law and the positive law of Arab countries, and the art and archaeology collections which are held in the relevant subject sections of the Library.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Central Asia and the Caucasus, Near & Middle East and North Africa, South Asia.


Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

Languages of material

Arabic, English, French, German, Judeo-Arabic, Maltese.


Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Communication and media, Development, Economics, Education, Environmental sciences, Geography, History, Human rights, Industries, International relations, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Sociology, Travel, Women.

Languages as linguistic focus

Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Maltese.

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Archival materials (includes non-published & mixed material), Audio materials (includes cassettes & CDs), Books, Computer files (includes CD-ROMs & other electronic material), Manuscripts, Maps (includes all types of cartographic material), Music (only includes printed & manuscript music), Newspapers (includes microfilm editions), Official publications, Serials, Theses, Visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos & films).

Total size of collection

48,000 volumes

Size of collection - vernacular

40,000 volumes in Arabic, some maps

Size of collection - western

8,000 volumes, some maps

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Content date range

1600 to present

Interlibrary loan procedure

Co-operative agreements

  • MELCOM scheme: responsibility for publications in Arabic from North Africa and publications in Persian from Iran.
  • SCOLMA scheme: includes responsibility for African languages, Algeria, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia, as well as other countries south of the Sahara.
  • University of London agreements:
  • a) Siberian languages, including Eskimo and Aleut
  • b) Asian language texts on Middle Eastern Archaeology
  • c) Byzantium in Asian and African languages and works on the Asian and African aspects of Byzantine history
  • d) Descriptive works on the minor Finno-Ugrian languages
  • e) Law. Asian and African law in Western, Asian and African languages, including current legislation and law reports, with special responsibility for South Asian law.
  • British Library agreement

Collection policy

The Library aims to acquire the important contributions to Asian and African scholarship published anywhere in the world in the humanities and social sciences, as well as representative collections of literature written in Asian and African languages. It aims to be responsive to changing interests and new developments; at the same time it bears in mind its role as a leading national and international resource for Asian and African studies. For the text of the policy apply to the Director of Library and Information Services.

Retention policy

At present all material is retained with the following exceptions: outdated editions of teaching texts, multiple copies of teaching material no longer used, material for which there is no evident demand, material which has been replaced by microform, unless it is of historic value. Academic advice is normally sought before a decision is taken. Apply to the Director of Library and Information Services for further information.

Collection Catalogue Information


The online library catalogue offers access to all material acquired since 1989 and a substantial part of the material collected prior to that date. Work to add records for the earlier collections from the card catalogue is ongoing and by the end of 2002 all material acquired since 1979 will be included as well as significant parts of the rest of the collection. For those who cannot access the card catalogue on site the Library's catalogues have been published (details below).

Catalogue transliteration schemes

Since 1989 all records have been created using the current Library of Congress transliteration schemes, with the exception of Japanese which uses Modified Hepburn. As records are added to the online catalogue the transliterated records are being updated to these schemes.

Catalogue scripts

The current cataloguing and some of the earlier records for the following languages contain author and title fields in the relevant script: Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Ladino, Persian, Yiddish.

Collection printed catalogues

Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of SOAS
Gacek, Adam
London: SOAS., 1981

Links to other collections

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