Middle East Collection

Materials from and about the Middle East and North Africa are acquired by Columbia University Libraries to support the instructional and research programs of the University. These programs vary from beginning undergraduate courses to post-doctoral research. They generally fall under the aegis of the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian & African Studies, the Middle East Institute (Department of Education National Resource Center), the Turkish Language Program, the Iran Center, the Armenian Program, the Center for Palestine Studies, and the Institute for Israeli and Jewish Studies.

General Description and Guidelines

The Middle East Studies librarian is responsible for selection, acquisition, and processing of all materials from the Middle East and North Africa, in all languages. The librarian is responsible for the selection of all materials about the Middle East and North Africa in Western languages and shares selection responsibility for materials in Slavic languages dealing with the area.

We collect both trade and scholarly materials, including books, serials, government documents, audiovisual items, etc. The holdings of the libraries on the Middle East and North Africa are well over 300,000 titles. Selection of material to be acquired is based on the following criteria:


We collect in virtually all areas relevant to the Middle East and North Africa, with the exception of modern Law (although the Law Library does have some), Science and Technology (although we do collect the History of Arabic Science), Medicine, and finally children's books, cookbooks, and textbooks. There is a strong emphasis on collecting in the fields of History, Religion, Language and Literature, and the Social Sciences. Classical texts in all fields, Reference works and Biblographies are collected extensively.


By far the largest of the vernacular collections is the Arabic, followed by Hebrew, Turkish, Persian and Armenian. There are also smaller collections in Kurdish, Maltese, Pahlavi, etc. For books in vernacular languages, we only collect those with some relevance to Middle East or Jewish studies. For example, we would not acquire a book in Arabic on Greek philosophy unless it also dealt with its transmission to the Arabs. Books about the Middle East and North Africa are collected in all Western languages. There is also an important Slavic component.

Geographic Area

The geographic area covered consists of North Africa; including Mauritania, Morocco, and the Western Sahara, Algeria, Tunisia, Malta, Libya, Egypt, Sudan; and the Middle East; including Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Armenia.

Historical Period

While we collect on the Middle East from earliest antiquity, the emphasis on the period from the rise of Islam, i.e. the 7th century onward. By the same token, we acquire materials published in all periods, but our major effort is to keep up with current publications.

General Considerations

  • Largely due to the lack of bibliographic control of the area, we rely heavily on Blanket (or Approval) orders to cover the region. We participate in the Middle East Cooperative Acquisitions Program of the Library of Congress to acquire our materials from Egypt, (Iraq), Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula. We rely on the Library of Congress Office in Karachi to acquire our Iranian publications. Likewise, we have approval plans for Armenia, Israel, Morocco, Turkey and Persian language materials published outside of Iran. Lebanon, and to a lesser extent Syria, are well covered bibliographically and here we select from dealers' lists.
  • As a general rule vernacular materials are never duplicated. Western language materials and especially those in English may have added copies or copies in more than one library according to perceived need. When new editions appear, they are purchased if they are not in CLIO (the Columbia Online Catlog) or if they substantially enlarge, update or improve the previous editions. The same is true for reprints of earlier editions.
  • Periodicals and newspapers are collected selectively. Periodicals are cataloged for the appropriate library and bound volumes are in the stacks. Newspapers from the area are housed in Lehman Library. We try to get one vernacular and one English paper from the main countries; others have only one or none. Microfilms of newspapers are cataloged.
  • Recently we have begun to collect non-book format materials. This includes CDroms, electronic books and journals, films, etc. dealing with the Middle East and in all languages. These are all cataloged and can be found in Clio.
  • Columbia has several cooperative agreements with other institutions. The main one is with New York University. Students and faculty of either institution have access to the other's libraries. In addition, the two Middle East Studies librarians coordinate the purchase of expensive items from extra funds allocated for this cooperative purchasing program. Likewise there is cooperation and extra funding for North Africa, where Columbia specializes in Moroccan publications and New York University specializes in French language publications from Algeria.
  • Columbia is also a member of the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago. While not as strong in Middle Eastern materials as in other areas, the Center does have many expensive sets and long runs of newspapers on microfilm. These can be borrowed on Interlibrary Loan and provide a great supplement to our own holdings in these areas.
  • Gifts are welcomed as long as the donor realizes that the Libraries may or may not add all the material to its collections. The final decision rests with the Middle East Studies Librarian. Materials not added to the collections are used for exchange, sold to students and faculty, etc.
  • Suggestions for additions to the collection are always welcome from students and faculty. If it is a book that is recommended, and it is still available, every effort will be made to acquire it. If it is a periodical or newspaper that is being recommended, a decision is made in consultation with the library that will house it, as they must pay for the subscription, mailing, and binding costs as an ongoing commitment.

Collecting Levels

The literary output of the Middle East and North Africa varies considerably from country to country. Among the Arab countries, Egypt and Lebanon are the largest producers of books. We try to get the most important books from each of these countries, while at the same time acquiring as much as possible from each of the countries in the area. This is determined by the availability of bibliographic information, reliable dealers, budgetary constraints, etc.

Evaluation of Coverage by Country
(both from & about each country)
[see CODES below]

Country ECS CCI
Afghanistan 3F 2F
Algeria 3W 3W
Cyprus (North) 3Y 3Y
Cyprus (South) 2X 2X
Egypt 4W 4W
Iran 4W 4W
Iraq 4W 4W
Israel 4W 4W
Jordan 4W 4W
Kuwait 4W 4W
Lebanon 4W 4W
Libya 3W 3W
Malta 3X 3X
Mauritania 2X 2X
Morocco 4W 4W
Oman 3W 3W
Qatar 3W 3W
Saudia Arabia 2W 3W
Sudan 3W 3W
Syria 3W 4W
Tunisia 3W 4W
Turkey 4W 4W
United Arab Emirates 2W 3W
West Bank & Gaza 2W 3W
Western Sahara 2W 2W
Yemen 2W 3W


ECS = Existing Collection Strength

CCI = Current Collecting Intensity

2 = Basic Information

3 = Study or Instructional Level

4 = Research Level

5 = Comprehensive

E = English Language

F = Selected Foreign Langauge & English

Y = Primarily in One Foreign Language

X = English & the Language(s) of the Country

W = Wide Foreign Language Coverage

Islamic Studies Collection

Islamic Studies covers all aspects of Islamic life and culture worldwide, especially art, history, literature, philosophy, and religion.