Islamic studies collection policy

History of the Collection

The Islamic Studies library was founded, along with the Institute of Islamic Studies, in 1952. It has grown from a modest departmental library to a well-known library of over 125,000 volumes and a growing number of electronic resources covering the whole of Islamic civilization.

At present, the library collections comprise material in print, audiovisual and electronic materials, as well as manuscripts and rare books. The printed books collection includes approximately 10,000 reference books such as bibliographies, encyclopedias, language dictionaries and manuscripts catalogues. The audiovisual resources comprise CDs (for language study), DVDs (fiction and documentary movies), microfilms and microfiches (primarily reproductions of rare books and manuscripts). The rare books and manuscripts collection is made of approximately 3,000 items, among which Turkish Incunabula, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Turkish lithographs, as well as Arabic, Persian and Turkish (including Ottoman Turkish) manuscripts.

In general terms the collection aspires to cover the entire range of Islamic civilization (Islamicate). Geographically this is meant to include South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.), Southeast Asia (Indonesia, etc.), Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan), the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and the Yemen), and North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and the Sudan).

The holdings of the Islamic Studies Library stand together with those of the Robarts Library of the University of Toronto as the premier library resources in Canada for the research on the Islamic world, and indeed as among the most important collections in North America.

History of Collection Development

Historically, the collection development focus was on the traditional aspects of Islam and Muslim culture including theology (kalām), law (sharī’ah), philosophy (falsafah), and Quranic studies as well as Ḥadīth studies and Sufism (taṣawwuf). There was and continues to be a strong focus on collection of reference materials particularly those pertaining to bibliographies, encyclopedias and dictionaries of the Islamic world.

Based on Faculty and students' research interests, some of the geographical areas have naturally been collected more heavily than others. For example, South Asia (particularly India and Pakistan) is strong because of the interests of the founder, W.C. Smith and Southeast Asia (Indonesia) because of the IAIN Indonesia Social Equity Project. Similarly, McGill's membership in the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute for many years resulted in a representative, albeit incomplete collection of South Asian materials related to the vast field of Islamic studies.

Current Collection Development

The main task is to maintain a strong collection that is poignant to undergraduate, graduate, researchers as well as visiting scholars. Traditionally, the ISL served a graduate body, however over the past ten years the IIS developed various courses geared towards undergraduate students. This inevitably impacted the collection development to a broader and more nuanced collection balancing different research levels and interests. Moreover, the ISL continues filling in glaring lacunae and completing incomplete sets.

Currently, the focus is on the following areas:

  • Arabic studies with a focus on history of sciences, law, literature, philosophy, and theology
  • Middle East History with a focus on the modern and pre-modern periods
  • Persian/Iranian studies with a focus on literature, anthropology, and linguistics
  • Turkish studies with a focus on the Ottoman period
  • Urdu studies with a focus on modern and pre-modern literature

The main languages of the collection development of materials and sources of the ISL are Arabic, English, Persian, Turkish (including Ottoman Turkish), Urdu, and Indonesian. However, materials in other languages continue to be collected including European languages (French, German, Italian, and Spanish) as well as materials in other Islamic languages including Bengali, Hindi, and Malay, among others.

Academic Programs and Liaison

The Institute of Islamic Studies offers a range of courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels in Anthropology, Islamic History, Tradition, Law, Philosophy, Science, Theology, Languages (Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu) and Modern Arabic Literature as well as modern developments in the Islamic world, such as Nationalism, Islamism, Secularism and Resurgence movements.

Collection development is the responsibility of the Head of the Islamic Studies Library who works closely with the faculty and other McGill Branch libraries in developing the collection.


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