Library of the Week: 21st February: This week we have chosen the incredible Aga Khan Library in London. Find out more in this piece by Pedro Sánchez about the history of the library, the amazing collections (including rare and special collections) as well as more information on their digital collections. Thank you so much to the Aga Khan Library for taking part!
Although the Aga Khan Library is relatively young, the idea underpinning its development started in 2008 when the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) relocated to the same building in central London.
These two institutions continued working with independent libraries housed in the same facilities while keeping separate strategies, collections, and staff. In 2014, to better serve the community of researchers, students, and teaching staff, the libraries merged into the Joint IIS-ISMC Library, a new library combining two priceless collections to facilitate research in Islamic studies.
The Aga Khan Library came into existence in 2018, once it opened to the public in the newly built Aga Khan Centre. Since 2018, the Aga Khan Library has offered access to more than 54,000 volumes; in state-of-the-art facilities for students and researchers, from within and outside its parent institutions, to conduct research on the most varied topics within the field of Islamic studies.
The Aga Khan Library houses one of the most important collections in Europe for the study of Ismaili communities, their history, and beliefs. In addition, the Aga Khan Library holds vast fonds on Shia Islam, Quranic literature and other topics of Islamic Studies. The Library collection has significantly expanded to cover the historical and current development of Muslim civilisations and their cultural outputs and the situation of Muslim diasporas around the globe.
The rare and special collections at the Aga Khan Library comprise manuscripts, artworks, out-of-print publications, photographs, and maps produced in different periods and areas of the Muslim world. In addition to these materials, the Aga Khan Library has become the proud custodian of several research libraries and personal archives donated by acclaimed scholars in the field of Islamic studies.
The rare and special collections include an impressive selection of Ottoman books and precious items from the personal collections of renowned academics: the director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, Dr Farhad Daftary, and the late professors Annemarie Schimmel and Peter Avery.
In 2007, the Aga Khan Library purchased a collection of works by Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), a key figure of the Islamic modernism movement, consisting of three previously unrecorded manuscripts, thirteen printed works and one original studio portrait. The Head Librarian is currently preparing a critical edition of these unknown documents that will be published in 2022.
The Aga Khan Library is fortunate to have also benefitted from the donation of the personal archive and library of the late Professor Mohammed Arkoun. The Akoun Archive, soon available online, includes documents tracing his early childhood, education, academic career, and involvement with global institutions. It also contains preparatory work for his teaching and lecturing activities and countless research notes and drafts of his publications. Furthermore, the archive’s more significant section is his professional correspondence with fellow scholars, religious and political leaders, and personal letters to family and friends.
In 2019, the Aga Khan Library, to preserve, protect and facilitate the study of its rare collections, started a digitisation project that culminated with the launching of a dedicated open-access platform; the Aga Khan Library Digital Collections, which is accessible at www.agakhanlibrary.digital
At the Aga Khan Library, we invite you to browse our collections through EDS and visit us at the Aga Khan Centre. To know more about the collections, our interlibrary loan services, or to arrange a visit, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow us on Twitter : @AgaKhanLibrary
Pedro Sánchez – Aga Khan Library
‘All images copyright of Aga Khan Library, reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holder.’
You can explore the library’s collections on Discover and find contact details on their Discover information page.