Central Asian Turkic collections

Nasir al-Din's observatory at Maragha, from the 16th-century <i>Sheibānī-nāmah</i> (Or.3222, folio 105r)
Nasir al-Din's observatory at Maragha, from the 16th-century Sheibānī-nāmah (Or.3222, folio 105r)

The Central Asian Turkic collections comprise approximately 4,600 volumes of printed books, periodicals and newspapers, over 200 manuscripts and a range of other materials including maps, music scores and sound recordings.

About the collection

Collected from 1753 by the British Museum and since 1973 by the British Library, the Central Asian collections include written and printed material in a variety of Turkic languages spoken across Eurasia. Our largest collections are in Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Uzbek, although we also hold items in Bashkir, Chagatai, Chuvash, Crimean Tatar, Karakalpak, Tatar, Tuvan, Uighur, Yakut and a number of smaller Turkic languages. Material in Old Turkish collected by Aurel Stein during his three expeditions to Central Asia (1900-1916) will be described separately.

The three most widely used scripts for the Turkic languages are Perso-Arabic, Cyrillic and Latin, and the Library’s collections include examples of all three. In many cases, all three scripts are represented in a single language collection, as the materials held include mediaeval manuscripts, 19th century publications by Western and Central Asian authors, and 20th century poetry, prose and scholarly works produced inside the Soviet Union and by the Diaspora.

The Central Asian Turkic collections also incorporate numerous scholarly works in a variety of non-Turkic languages about the Turkic languages and the history, culture and literature of the groups that speak them. These items come from Western, Soviet and post-Soviet sources.

Highlights of the Central Asian Turkic collection include:

What is available online?

Details of our modern Central Asian Turkic printed holdings are mostly available in our online catalogue Explore the British Library.

Details of 39 Chaghatai manuscripts are included in:


Digitised manuscripts are searchable on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site.

You can also find images relating to Central Asia and the Turkic world in the British Library’s Images Online.

The material digitised through the Endangered Archives programme includes a selection of 18th and 19th century manuscripts from the Kokand Khanate and Fergana Valley (EAP630); and recordings of the Ashug minstrel music in Azerbaijan (EAP149). Further projects are anticipated.

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?

The Asian & African Studies Reading Room is where you can consult printed materials, manuscripts and archives. Some especially valuable or fragile material is restricted and available only in exceptional circumstances. Self-service photography is allowed for certain categories of material, provided that its condition allows this.

In addition to the online catalogues mentioned above, details of some additional material are available in the Reading Room:

  • Catalogue of Aramaic, Armenian, Georgian, Hebrew and Turkish printed books (London, 1979 - a xeroxed copy of an older card catalogue)
  • Waley, M.I. Periodicals in Turkish and Turkic languages: a union list of holdings in U.K. libraries (London, 1993)

How to guides

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Find Persian manuscripts

Details of Persian manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Arabic manuscripts

Details of Arabic manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Hebrew manuscripts

Guide to finding Hebrew manuscripts in our online catalogues

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services