All Arabic printed books published after 1970 and many older books that came into the British Library from the India Office Library are included in Explore the British Library. Most serials acquired since 1970 are also in Explore the British Library. This guide details the transliteration scheme used and gives advice about searching.
Many journals and newspapers are not yet included in Explore the British Library. Please contact us if you are looking for a particular Arabic-language journal. A growing number of records contain Arabic script, and can be searched using original script, but it is still necessary to use romanisation to find all available items.
Transliteration of Arabic script
Since 1970 Library of Congress Romanisation has been used. Full details of the scheme are on the Library of Congress web site. In brief:
Brief outline of ALA/ LC Transliteration of Arabic script
* Short vowels are transliterated as a, i and u, long vowels as ā, ī and ū
- The definite article 'al-' does not vary eg. al-shams, al-din
- Diphthongs are represented by aw and ay eg. Sayf al-Dawlah (NOT Saif al-Daulah)
- Doubled letters are written twice, except for vowels which are written ā, ī and ū. eg.'ilmīyah (NOT 'ilmiyyah).
- Conjunctions are written in full eg. bi-al-Qahirah, wa-al-kitab, except for li-eg. lil-mustaqbal
- Ta' marbutah is written 'ah', except in an idafah construction where it is written 'at', eg. al-qadiyah, but qadiyat al-mar'ah
- When searching, you do not need to add diacritics: just the letters are sufficient.
The definite article 'al-' at the start of a name
The definite article occurring at the start of a name transliterated from Arabic is omitted. eg. when searching for works about al-Mutanabbi, enter Mutanabbi.
References from alternative spellings of names
Where works by an author are available in European languages as well as in Arabic there may be a cross reference from alternative spellings of the name e.g.. Nawal al-Sa'dawi is spelled Nawal El Saadawi on most English translations of her works. The internet version of the catalogue will not alert you to any alternative spelling of the name. In order to find all the works by a particular author it is necessary to check the form of the name used in the catalogue entry and repeat the search using this form. The same applies for institutional or corporate names.
'Explore the British Library', the new interface to the catalogue currently available as a Beta version, links alternative spellings of names to the form used in the catalogue. If you are looking for works in Arabic or works translated from Arabic, using this interface may make searching simpler and more effective.
Inconsistencies in the catalogue
We try to ensure that catalogue entries use consistent spellings but we are aware that there are some variations not yet corrected. Older Arabic books with some parts in a European language were included in the main British Library catalogue using a different transliteration scheme. Not all of these entries have been corrected so you may find different forms of name for the same person. There are also some inconsistencies in the transliteration of place names (eg. Jiddah/Juddah, Irbid/Arbid, Urdunn/Urdun). To ensure that you find everything we have, you may need to try different spellings.
A large proportion of books in Arabic cannot be found if you search by subject because not all records contain subject headings. Subject searching is useful so long as you remember that what you find does not represent all of what we have. A useful way to search is by keyword, using one or more relevant Arabic words eg. ta’lim (enter talim), siyasah/siyasi/siyasiyah etc. and trying different combinations of words, so that you pick up most of what we have.
A growing number of records contain additional fields in Arabic script, and can be searched using Arabic script. As yet only around 15% of books contain Arabic script, so if you will need to search using transliteration to ensure that you find all available items.
'Ayn and hamzah in the middle of a word
Some records with the letter 'ayn or hamzah in the middle of the word cannot be found through standard searching; to find these books you need to enter a space in place of the 'ayn or hamzah eg. search on mu tamar rather than mutamar. Most books will be found through a standard search (eg. mutamar), but to ensure you see everything we have you need to search in both ways ie. with a space and without.
Dr Colin Baker Head of Near and Middle East Collections: in particular for: Arabic manuscripts; Manuscript catalogues; Qur'ans and Islamic enquiries; Classical Arabic literature; Islamic sciences and medicine; Judaeo-Arabic.
Dr Debbie Cox Curator of Arabic Collections: in particular for: Arabic printed books; Printed book catalogues; Newspapers and periodicals; Modern history; politics; sociology and culture of Arab Middle East & North Africa; Modern Arabic literature.
Asian and African Collections
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)T +44(0207) 412 7000 (ext. 4635)
Dr Colin Baker, Head of Near and Middle East Collections
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7645