An open manuscript

Aga Khan Library Digitises Special Collections of Islamic Manuscripts and Rare Books

The Aga Khan Library, London, in collaboration with Bloomsbury Publishing, has launched a Digital Collections website, showcasing manuscripts, artworks, rare books, out-of-print publications, photographs, and maps which have been produced in different periods and areas of the Muslim world. As the custodian of several research collections and the personal archive of the late Professor Mohammed Arkoun of acclaimed scholars, the Aga Khan Library has digitised over a hundred valuable books both for preservation purposes and to provide access to audiences around the world. The accessible format enables users to easily magnify text and flip through pages without affecting the source material. This represents a significant milestone in the services provided by the Aga Khan Library in promoting scholarship on Islam, past and present.

The collection contains a range of materials that span the history, politics, customs, and beliefs that have shaped contemporary global Muslim communities. In this first phase of the digitisation project, the Aga Khan Library has completed the digitisation of books from its Ottoman Collection, which reveal almost a century of profound transformations in the Ottoman Empire. Starting in the Tanzimat (an era of reform), they cover the foundation of the Republic of Turkey and the rise of Ataturk and his social and cultural reforms.

Commenting on the launch of the Aga Khan Library’s Digital Collection, Dr Walid Ghali, Head of the Aga Khan Library and Assistant Professor at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, remarked:

“Since the inauguration of the Aga Khan Library, London in June 2018, we have been looking at solutions for how we help safeguard the Islamic studies collections and improve access for research.  We decided to launch the Aga Khan Library Digital Collections as our contribution towards serving a wider range of scholars and users around the world. Digitisation assists with preserving heritage of Muslim communities that go back thousands of years. This work and the collaboration with other libraries will increase the production and dissemination of knowledge.”

Following the launch of the Digital Collections website, the Aga Khan Library organised a public lecture entitled, The Strength and Promise of a Shared Idea, which explored global initiatives which are being undertaken in the field of heritage preservation. Peter Herdrich, Director of the Digital Library of the Middle East and the Cofounder of the Antiquities Coalition, spoke about the Digital Library of the Middle East and the challenges he had faced during his project of preserving heritage in conflict areas of the Middle East. The lecture was followed by a rich discussion on policymaking and the enforcement of legislation to protect heritages of all kinds. Discussing his work, Peter Herdrich said:

“It is clear that the threat to the cultural heritage of Yemen is serious and one of worldwide concern. And I think the situation there illustrates the dangers we have become more familiar with in recent years that threaten the cultural material we all love and want to see thrive. And this is where the Digital Library of the Middle East returns. The DLME is a digital database, a virtual construction at which you can access records of cultural heritage materials from museums, libraries, archives, media and intangible heritage collections.”

At present, the Aga Khan Library holds more than 1,000 titles in its collection of rare books, including manuscripts, as well as out-of-print and first editions of essential titles in the field of Islamic studies. The Library also houses a growing collection of over 50,000 titles, covering a range of subjects - historical and contemporary - on Islam, in English, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Gujarati, and Sindhi, amongst many other languages.

It is anticipated that the Aga Khan Library will complete the digitisation of its entire rare books collection by 2022.

View the Digital Collection Website