Guide to the Research Collections



When the Oriental Division was formed in 1897, it was one of the smaller, less developed collections in the library; it is now one of the leading resources for Eastern studies. Although the tremendous growth of published materials in the older civilized nations of Asia and the scope of the division preclude comprehensiveness in any single area, the holdings include many unique materials. The following table of the Oriental collections shows that holdings have approximately doubled in size with each quarter century.

1867 Astor Library3,321 volumes
1911 New York Public Library15,000

Early interest in Orientalia is evident from Joseph Cogswell's 1854 report on the Astor Library: "[The] greater part of those [families and branches of languages] of Asia and Africa, are represented in the collection. It contains the best works on the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the cuneiform inscriptions, and the other curious records of the ancient nations of the East, which recent discoveries have brought to light." Cogswell mentions two works in the collection never printed for sale, "Seven Seas: a Dictionary and Grammar of the Persian Language" in seven volumes and "Sabda Kalpa Druma of the Rajah Radhakant Deb," a Sanskrit dictionary.1 A gift of $10,000 from John Jacob Astor in 1878 was used in part to add important titles in this field.2

The Lenox Library did not collect Oriental works extensively, but its librarian, Wilberforce Eames, made a large collection of Chinese literature for his private library. In 1909 he sold to the library about half of his collection, "consisting mostly of the Chinese classics, original texts, and commentaries thereupon, largely examplars from the library of the noted Professor James Legge."3

The first chief of the Oriental Division, Dr. Richard Gottheil, a professor of Semitic languages at Columbia University and an editor of Syriac texts, was interested in Arabica. Through the generosity of Jacob M. Schiff during the years from 1900 to 1915, the acquisition of classic Arabic literature and Islamic materials made the division one of the outstanding centers in the country at that time. The income from a $25,000 fund established by Schiff permitted the purchase of 250 Arabic manuscripts in 1934.

From the beginning, Egyptology has been a strong subject area, but it is not now collected in the great depth which marked earlier acquisition policies. The Arabic and Near Eastern collections were also very strong until the 1930s, but since 1950 the collecting emphasis to some extent has swung to the Far East; in 1966 materials relating to Japan formed the fastest growing area. Armenian and Georgian resources are small but represent strong and rapidly developing fields.

The PL-480 Project was established in 1962 for India, Pakistan, and the United Arab Republic; in 1964 Indonesia and Israel were added for several years and in 1966 Nepal. The Library of Congress administers appropriations granted under the provisions of Public Law 480 (The Agricultural Trade and Development and Assistance Act of 1954, as amended); these funds are used to purchase foreign currencies to finance an acquisition and distribution program for books and booklike materials for participating United States libraries. The New York Public Library receives comprehensive sets of government publications at the national and state levels, every commercially published monograph of research value, and a wide selection of commercially published serials from India, Pakistan, and the United Arab Republic; newspapers were received in the early stages of the program from India alone but were not retained. Institutional publications are received from India; this type of material from other

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countries is acquired by the library on international exchange outside the program. By far the largest volume of material has been received from India--approximately 45 percent of the yearly total received (36,000 pieces out of a total of 80,000 at the end of 1964). Not all of the material has been cataloged; in 1966 approximately 20,000 pieces were in a deferred category. However, accession lists and catalog cards prepared by the Library of Congress for the material bear code numbers by means of which materials may be located.

The distribution of materials in the Oriental Division by area shows that the collection of Arabica is numerically the strongest, with the Indian, Ancient Near Eastern, Japanese, and Chinese collections following in that order. The subject groupings are based on those given in the introduction to the division's published Dictionary Catalog; figure totals are based on a later census and certain categories (Africana, Ethiopica, and Korea) have been added.

General Oriental studies6,500 volumes
Ancient Near East (Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.)7,900
Africana (in languages using Arabic script)200
Language, literature and civilization of:
Central Asia250
Southeast Asia1,300