The Near East Collection at Yale University Library is one of the oldest collections in North America, established in 1841 with the appointment of Prof. Edward Elbridge Salisbury (1814-1901) to teach Arabic and Islamic studies at Yale University.
Building a library for this subject was difficult as Arabic-script printing was still in its infancy at this time, and printing presses were not yet widespread in Middle Eastern countries. Nevertheless, Salisbury was able to select and collect important books and manuscripts, laying the foundations of a collection which has evolved to become one of the most comprehensive collections in Arabic and Islamic studies in the United States.
According to Leon Nemoy (1901-1997), formerly curator of Hebrew and Arabic Literature at Sterling Memorial Library, the Arabic collection consisted of:
The librarian for Middle East studies selects materials published in the Middle East and North Africa in Middle Eastern and Western languages: books, serials, microfilms, manuscripts, archival and audiovisual materials, and electronic resources to support the teaching and research needs of Yale faculty and students working on topics related to the Middle East and Islamic studies.
The Near East Collection at Sterling Memorial Library has amassed a considerable amount of materials in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Western languages related to Near East studies. Today, the Sterling Memorial Library houses more then 400,000 items relating to Near East studies in Western languages and spread over numerous libraries and collections.
There are over 250,000 Arabic and Persian volumes covering a wide variety of subject areas. In addition, there are ca. 1900 periodicals, 1500 documentaries and classical motion pictures, and ca. 1300 Arabic film posters housed in the Department of Manuscripts and Archives. The collection is particularly strong in classical texts, Islamic law, history, philosophy, and Arabic literature. The majority of the materials are in Arabic. The Arabic and Persian collections are housed mainly on the 6th floor of Sterling Memorial Library and are classified according to the Library of Congress Classification System. The older collection, containing materials classified under the old Yale classification system, is housed on the 7th floor of Sterling.
The manuscripts--some 4,000 codices in Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish--are housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Some of the manuscripts are very old, including a 7th century Quran leaf and a partial 8th century Quran in 134 leaves.