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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 respectable library of approximately 150,000 volumes covering the whole of Islamic civilization.

The library collections comprise material in print, manuscript and audiovisual materials. The manuscript collection consists of approximately 640 volumes of literature in Arabic, Persian and Turkish (including Ottoman Turkish) and Urdu. The audiovisual resources comprise, in the main, microfilms of rare books and manuscripts (535 reels). Among the printed books there is a collection of approximately 3000 rare items, including a collection of ca. 700 volumes of Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Turkish books printed by lithography.

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. These aspects include 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, encyclopaedias and dictionaries of the Islamic world.

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 Indonesian project. Moreover, materials from the Arab Middle East are well developed because of the nature of the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Islamic Studies Library.

Membership in the Shastri Institute has resulted in a representative, albeit incomplete collection of South Asian materials related to the vast field of Islamic studies. And the Indonesian project (1989-2009) provided large holdings of materials from Indonesia in different languages.

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 recently the IIS has developed various courses geared towards undergraduate students. This inevitably impacts 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 expanding the following areas:

  • Persian/Iranian studies with a focus on literature, anthropology, and  linguistics
  • Arabic studies with a focus on literature, translations, linguistics, philosophy, theology and history of sciences
  • Ottoman and Turkish studies with a focus on the Ottoman period
  • Urdu literature with a focus on modern and pre-modern
  • Modern literature and literary criticisms, particularly for literature of Arabic and Persian
  • Islamic Art History in both Turkish and Persian as well as secondary literatures

The main languages of the collection development of materials and sources of the ISL are Arabic, English, Persian (Farsi), Turkish (including Ottoman Turkish), Urdu, and Indonesian (Bahasa and Jawi). 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 Librarian and Liaison Librarian of the Islamic Studies Library. Both librarians work closely with the faculty and other McGill Branch libraries in developing the collection.

Collection level definitions are derived from the American Library Association's Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements, 2nd. ed., 1996.

Islam 4 5
Islamic References 4+ 4+
Islam in the modern World 4- 4+
Philosophy and Logic 3b 4
Islamic Law 3b 3b
Social History, ethnology and anthropology 3a 4
Arabic Language and Literature 3a 3b
Turkish Language and Literature 3a 3b
Persian Language and Literature 2 3b
Urdu Language and Literature 2 3b
Bahasa Indonesia and Jawi Languages and Literature 2 2
Political sciences 2 2
Islamic Fine Arts 2 2
Islamic sciences 1 2


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