İSAM (İslam Araştırmaları Merkezi) is the best research library in Turkey for Ottoman and Islamic studies. The research center’s strength lies in its combination of a relatively extensive collection of printed volumes with a number of important digitized collections of archival documents. The research center is located in the Bağlarbaşı neighborhood in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul.

The facade of the İSAM library


The idea for a research center for Islamic studies developed as an outgrowth of the İslam Ansiklopedisi project of Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı (Turkish Religious Foundation) in the late-1980s. The encyclopedia, which is now nearly finished, printed its first volume in 1988 and now has published forty-two of the forty-four planned volumes covering approximately 18,000 topics related to Islamic studies. In 1988 the Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı established the Islamic Research Center to help facilitate the research of graduate students and scholars who received fellowships from the foundation. In 1993 the encyclopedia project and research center were merged to form Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Araştırmaları Merkezi (İSAM). The present location of the research center was established on the campus of 29 Mayıs Üniversitesi in 1988 and has been serving Turkish and international graduate students and scholars ever since.


İSAM probably has the best collection of printed volumes and serial journals related to Islamic history and religious studies in Turkey. In addition to these collections, the library also has several important digital and special collections.

Printed Volumes and Special Collections:

The library’s printed material includes 237,000 volumes and more than 3,500 serial journals. Religious sciences and Ottoman history constitute the library’s strongest fields, although the library has a good collection of works published in Turkish related to a wide range of disciplines. With respect to religious sciences, the library has many of the most important primary religious texts published in Arabic related to hadith, tafsir, fiqh, kalam, and other Islamic religious disciplines. Secondary literature on these subjects is strongest with respect to works published in Turkish, although the library has a decent collection of works published in English and other foreign languages related to Islamic studies. The library’s other strong area relates to Ottoman studies. Here, the library has an extensive collection of published editions of primary sources, as well as monographs and other scholarly works related to the history, literature, and culture of the Ottoman Empire. While the library’s collection is mostly Turkish, researchers can find many important scholarly works in other languages (mostly English) related to Ottoman studies.

The library’s collection in non-Ottoman Islamic history is considerably weaker. Even so, the library has many of the most important published primary sources in Arabic and Persian and a fair collection of secondary material (again mostly in Turkish). Despite this relative weakness, this portion of İSAM’s collection is still probably the best available in Turkey. The library also has a nice collection of dissertations which have been donated over the years by researchers who have conducted some portion of their graduate research at the center.

One of the unique aspects of the library’s collection is the files it maintains on over 19,000 subjects related to Islamic studies. These files are the product of the research for the İslam Ansiklopedisi entries and contain photocopies of encyclopedic entries, articles, and other references related to the file’s topic.

Lastly, the library has an extensive reference collection and a fair number of serial journals. The reference collection includes all major encyclopedias, bio-bibliographic reference works, and dictionaries researchers will need in the course of their studies. The library’s serial journals focus on scholarly publications related to Islamic studies and Ottoman/Turkish history. In this respect, the library’s journal collection includes many titles from the early twentieth century or from small Turkish journals which are often difficult to find in North American and European research libraries. The shelving organization of these materials is extremely poor. While encyclopedias and other multi-volume works are always shelved together, they are never organized according to volume number. This presents a problem when trying to locate a single volume of a serial journal on a shelf with more than one hundred printed volumes!

Databases and Digital Collections:

İSAM has a number of important databases and digitized collections which are available to the library’s researchers.

The database of manuscripts in Turkish libraries (Türkiye Kütüphaneleri Veri Tabanı) is probably the library’s most important database. With approximately 709,000 entries for manuscripts and printed works from 122 different libraries in Turkey, the database is an invaluable tool for researchers who work with Islamic and Ottoman manuscripts.

In addition to this database, the library has a number of other databases which have collected bibliographic information on all theses produced in Turkish universities related to Islamic or Ottoman studies—to date this collection has more than 260,000 entries.

The library also has several digital collections which are of interest to Ottomanists. Firstly, the library has an extensive collection of Ottoman court records. The collection includes digitized copies of the Ottoman court records (mahkemenin kadı sicilleri) located in Turkey and other countries. The collection has records from the İstanbul Muftülüğü, the court registers of Milli Kütüphane, as well as the court registers for much of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Crimea,  Damascus, Aleppo and Jerusalem. A full list can be accessed at the Kadı Sicilleri Kataloğu Veri Tabanı.

In addition to these court records, the library also has a modest collection of digitized manuscripts, the Ottoman newspaper Takvim-i Vekayi, and a collection of the Ottoman provincial yearbooks (salnameler). The library has also compiled a useful search engine for Ottoman treatises (risaleler) and articles (makaleler), which provides a PDF copy of the original article. The database is particularly useful for locating early twentieth-century scholarship published in Turkey. On top of this, the library is entrusted with the personal archives and music collections of some twentieth-century Turkish historians.

Research Experience

Working at İSAM is a relatively straightforward process. The library has many tables located across three floors, most of which are equipped with electric outlets in the floor. The library’s collections are mostly stored in open stacks which researchers may browse as they like.

The library has an online catalog of its collections which can be accessed from any of the computer terminals on each floor of the library. Although the catalog is only in Turkish, its relative simplicity renders it accessible to non-Turkish speakers. The search function of the catalog only has three options: title name (eser adı), author (yazar), or publication place/publisher (yayın yeri/yayınlanan). Researchers looking for material published in a non-Latin alphabet should keep in mind that the library’s materials are cataloged according to the conventions of modern Turkish transcription. In this regard, the library suggests that researchers not include Arabic or Persian grammatical features (idafa/ezafe, i‘rab, etc.) in their search terms.

The library’s workspace is comfortable, although some areas are poorly lit and often crowded. The library’s great collections and location near a number of universities have made it a popular destination for study. Most mornings the library is relatively empty, but after lunch many students arrive to do homework and other assignments. Despite the occasional crowds, the library is still a relatively quiet place to get work done.

While the library offers wireless internet, connections from many places in the library are weak and slow. Passwords for the library’s six wireless connections can be obtained from the front desk. Researchers must enter their email and personal password (last name) in order to connect to one of the wireless networks.

The interior of the İSAM library

The interior of the İSAM library


İSAM is open every day between 9:00 and 23:00 except holidays, however the library’s digital collections, documentation files, and photocopy services are only available to researchers between 9:00 and 19:00. The library is wheel-chair accessible, although the tea garden (mentioned below) can only be accessed via a flight of stairs.

The library is open to graduate students and university instructors. Researchers intending to work at İSAM may enter the campus of 29 Mayıs Üniversitesi after receiving a guest pass from the guard at the front gate. Researchers may obtain a membership card for İSAM which will provide them access to the campus and the research center by completing an application at the circulation desk of the library. The application consists of a simple form, proof of a researcher’s affiliation with a university or research center, and the submission of one passport sized photograph. Membership cards are generally ready within one business day.

Reproduction Requests and Costs

The library has a photocopy center that will produce photocopies or scans for 5 kuruş per page (as of 10 October 2013). While researchers may request that most things be copied, there are limits on recently published books, theses, and certain other material. Generally the photocopiers are reluctant to scan more than fifty pages of any item as above this the files become too large to email.

Researchers may also make requests for reproductions of the library’s digital collections. These requests are made through a library patron’s account after signing in to view any of the digital material. Requests for copies from the digital collection generally take a couple of days to process as each request is sent to the center’s director for approval.

Transport and Food

İSAM is easily accessible by a number of forms of public transportation. Several buses that leave from Üsküdar and Kadıköy pass by a main intersection that is 150 meters from İSAM’s entrance. Dolmuşes, which are a little more expensive, but probably faster, also pass along the same main road. Dolmuşes leaving from Kadıköy depart across the street from the main bus stop, while dolmuşes from Üsküdar leave next to Selmanağa Camii. The library may also be reached via a one-kilometer walk from the Altunizade Metrobus stop.

There are many food options in close proximity to İSAM. There is a cafeteria (yemekhane) on 29 Mayıs Üniversitesi campus which is open to researchers at İSAM. Lunch is served to the library’s patrons between 13:00 and 14:00 and costs 5 TL. The lunch is healthy and filling, but may pose problems for vegetarians and others with special dietary requirements. There are also a number of restaurants in close proximity to the research center; Melek Ev Yemekleri serves good food with many vegetarian options for 8 TL/per plate. Next to the library, there is a small cafe which provides glasses of tea free of charge and nescafe for 60 kuruş a cup.

Contact Information

İcadiye Bağlarbaşı Caddesi, No: 40

34662 – Üsküdar


Tel: +90 216 474 08 50 / Fax: +90 216 474 08 74


Resources and Links

İSAM Home Page

İSAM Library Site

Written by Christopher Markiewicz

10 October 2013

Cite this: Christopher Markiewicz, “İSAM”, HAZİNE, 10 October 2013,

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