Collection guidelines

About the ISAW Library collection

Description of identified NYU programs in this subject or domain area

The Library of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World supports academic research, graduate studies, digital initiatives, and new forms of scholarly communication in the core areas represented by ISAW’s faculty, as well as the interdisciplinary, cross-boundary, and comparative study of the economic, religious, political and cultural history of ancient civilizations.

Description of interdisciplinary implications

In an effort to embrace a truly inclusive geographical scope while maintaining continuity and coherence, the Institute focuses on the shared and overlapping periods in the development of cultures and civilizations around the Mediterranean basin, and across central Asia to the Pacific Ocean. The approaches of anthropology, archaeology, geography, geology, history, economics, sociology, art history, and the history of science and technology are as integral to this academic enterprise as the study of texts, philosophy, and the analysis of artifacts. ISAW’s broad program of study requires a similarly wide knowledge base, and so the ISAW community draws on the resources of the collections at Bobst Library, which is responsible for Anthropology, Classics, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, East Asian Studies, and Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and the Stephen Chan Library of the Institute of Fine Arts, which also collects in the areas of Egyptology, classical art, architecture, and archaeology, and early Chinese art, architecture, and archaeology. As the Bobst and IFA collections emphasize art and literature, ISAW’s collection focuses more on material culture and documentary texts.

Scope of the collection

Support levels and strength/intensity of collecting

Western Europe:

The library aims to provide base-level information on Europe in the Roman period and late antiquity. Less emphasis is given to pre-Roman civilizations and the early medieval period.

Greece and the Aegean world:

The library aims to provide research-level depth on the Aegean region in the Bronze Age (Mycenaean and Minoan periods) and the Roman period. Base-level information is provided on the Classical Aegean and the Byzantine Empire. The collection contains some base-level information on Neolithic Greece.


The library aims to provide research-level depth on the Ptolemaic, Roman, and late antique periods, with a particular focus on papyrology. Some emphasis is given to the Early Dynastic through Late Period Egypt and early Islamic period. The collection also contains some base-level information on the Neolithic and Predynastic periods.


The library aims to provide research-level depth on the Hittite and Neo-Hittite period, with a particular emphasis on cuneiform Hittite texts. Some emphasis is also given to the Early Bronze Age, Classical and Hellenistic periods, and the Byzantine Empire. The collection contains some base-level information on the Neolithic period.

The Caucasus:

For the Caucasus, the library’s collection emphasizes the Bronze-Iron Age, the Classical Period, the region under the Sasanian Empire, and the early Byzantine period.

 Ancient Near East (including Arabian Peninsula, Southern Levant, and Iran):

The library aims to provide research-level materials on the Ancient Near East from the Akkadian Empire (late 3rd millennium BCE) through the Achaemenid Empire (330 BCE). Some emphasis is also given to the Uruk through Early Dynastic periods (4th-late 3rd millennium BCE) and the Hellenistic and Sasanian periods (330 BCE- 651 CE) and the Umayyad and early Abasside Caliphates, and the Byzantine Empire through the 10th century CE. Base-level information is also provided on the Neolithic and ‘Ubaid periods.

Central Asia:

The library aims to provide research-level materials on the Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods through the Tang Dynasty in Central Asia. Some emphasis is also given to the Bronze Age from the 3rd-1st millennia BCE and on the Islamic period through the Khwarazmian dynasty (1231 CE).


The library does not collect deeply in South Asian history, but some basic information is provided on the Indus Valley Civilization and the Hellenistic period.


The library aims to provide research-level materials on the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE), the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), and the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). Some emphasis is also given to the Zhou through Qin Dynasties (1046-206 BCE) and the Three Kingdoms-Sui Dynasty (220-618 CE). Some basic information is available on the Neolithic Period.

Other regions of East Asia:

The collection gives some emphasis to the Khmer Empire in Cambodia. Minimal-level materials are also available on Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and the Russian Far East, but these areas are not actively collected.

Regions outside the scope of the collection:

The ISAW Library does not generally collect materials on the South Pacific or the East Indies, the Americas, or Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Methodologies and cross-cultural subject areas:

The library aims to provide research-level materials on ancient science, medicine, and astronomy. Some emphasis is also given to numismatics. Base-level information is also available on archaeological methodology and zooarchaeology.

Languages collected:

Most holdings are in English, French, German, Chinese, Russian, or Italian. Other languages represented include Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, Dutch, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Mongolian, and Swedish. No languages are excluded, particularly for primary materials such as archaeological reports. For ancient texts, publications that consist of translations into modern languages (without the original-language text) are typically not collected.

General geographic specifications:

The ISAW Library collects materials on the history and archaeology of the world from Western Europe to the Pacific Ocean, with particular focus on the Mediterranean region, Egypt, Near East, Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Eurasian Steppe, Central Asia, and China.

General chronological specifications:

The subject matter of the collection stretches from the Chalcolithic (late Neolithic) Period through the 10th century CE, with a particular emphasis on the late 3rd millennium BCE to the 7th century CE.

Both current and retrospective titles are acquired, but the library generally does not seek out materials published prior to 1927.

Special format considerations:

The ISAW Library does not order electronic resources directly. Instead, it coordinates with NYU Libraries for centralized access to electronic resources, and suggests individual e-book and e-journal titles for purchase.

The library focuses on acquiring primary materials for the study of ancient history (archaeological reports, publications of tablets and papyri,  and critical editions of texts). Secondary materials (monographs, conference proceedings, journals, reference works, etc.) are acquired more selectively.

 Materials generally excluded include introductory general texts; works intended for a popular audience; and works outside our geographic and temporal scope (e.g. titles on New World archaeology, Sub-Saharan Africa, palaeolithic archaeology, medieval history). We collect collaboratively with Bobst Library, and secondary materials that are purchased by Bobst are typically not purchased for ISAW unless specifically requested by a member of the ISAW community.

Management of the collection

New acquisitions

New print materials are acquired by subscriptions and standing orders to core journals and monographic series and by title-by-title firm orders. The library avoids duplicating holdings of secondary materials with Bobst Library, though exceptions can be made for materials of core interest to our community. The library also avoids ordering print copies of items available electronically, either by licensed access through NYU Libraries or through open access, though exceptions can be made for materials of core interest to our community.

Weeding, deaccessioning, offsiting

The ISAW Library will selectively deaccession materials in the following categories:

  1. Duplicate copies of books, including reprints and simultaneously-published editions
  2. Superseded editions
  3. Materials outside of our geographic and/or chronological scope

Deaccessioned materials may be offered to other NYU Libraries for which they are more appropriate or offered to other institutions.

Items in the following categories may be sent offsite:

  1. Materials available electronically within the NYU Libraries system
  2. Secondary materials published prior to 1980
  3. Items published in languages other than the common languages of scholarship for ancient world studies (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Turkish).

In general, primary materials (excavation reports and text editions) covering geographic regions and time periods of core interest to ISAW’s faculty will not be deaccessioned or sent offsite, regardless of the categories above. Secondary materials in those regions, as well as primary materials in regions/periods of more tangential interest to ISAW’s faculty, may be considered for offsite storage.

Collection locations

The ISAW Library’s collection is housed inside the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at 15 E. 84th St., New York, NY. Some items in our collection are housed in NYU’s Offsite Storage.

Preservation & replacement commitments

The ISAW Library will often elect to keep preserve print copies of materials that are not held elsewhere in the NYU Library system. Materials not held at other NYU libraries may be deaccessioned if they are outside the library’s scope, and the library will endeavor to transfer these materials to a more appropriate library.

When possible, the ISAW Library will replace lost or damaged materials from its collection that are not held at other NYU libraries. Select items of core interest (in particular text editions and archaeological reports) may also be replaced if needed.