Arabic collections

Early 14th century botanical illustration
Early 14th century botanical illustration from Dioscorides’ De materia medica (Or 3366, ff. 15v-16r)

Our collections comprise over 100,000 volumes of printed books, periodicals and newspapers; more than 15,000 manuscript works in about 14,000 volumes; and a range of other materials.

About the collection

Our Arabic collections include material held by the British Museum prior to 1973 and acquisitions made since then, together with the collections of the India Office Library which were transferred to the British Library in 1982.

We hold Arabic manuscripts, printed books, journals and newspapers, popular and traditional music, maps, stamps, and a small number of DVDs and other digital resources. Books, journals and newspapers are purchased from Arab and Islamic countries in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Our collections also include early newspapers and printed books, illustrated manuscripts, calligraphy, in addition to archival material which is mainly in the India Office Records. Prints, drawings and photographs are to be found in the Visual arts collection.

What is available online?

Details of our Arabic printed holdings are mostly available in our online catalogue Explore the British Library.  We also have a detailed list of Arabic newspapers held by the British Library, arranged alphabetically by title. Newly catalogued manuscripts are included in the Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts. For details of manuscripts described in our printed catalogues, please consult our guide Guide to Printed Arabic Manuscript Catalogues.

A selection of our scientific manuscripts are currently being digitised as part of a joint project with Qatar Foundation, the Qatar National Library and The British Library. These are available via the Qatar Digital Library.

You can find also images relating to Arabic material in the British Library Images Online.

The material digitised through the Endangered Archives program includes several Arabic collections from the Middle East and Africa.


The Qatar Digital Library also includes archival material in Arabic and English which relate chiefly to the Middle East and Gulf from ca. 1600 to 1947 and form part of the India Office Records.

British Library collection items are described in our Asian and African studies blog, to which you can subscribe if you wish to receive regular updates. We also tweet information on news, discoveries, bibliographical resources and collection items on Twitter.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Arabic manuscripts are available to read in the Asian and African Reading Room. Some especially valuable or fragile manuscripts are restricted and available only in exceptional circumstances. Self-service photography is allowed for certain categories of material, provided that its condition allows this.

To locate individual Arabic manuscripts you will need to consult our catalogues.