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The Taliban: a study of book collections on the Taliban in academic, public and West Point libraries

Seamus Scanlon (Center for Worker Education, The City College of New York, New York, New York, USA)

Collection Building

ISSN: 0160-4953

Article publication date: 5 July 2011




The purpose of this study is to document and compare the extent of book collections on the topic of the Taliban in selected academic libraries in New York and New Jersey, the New York Public Library and the military academy at West Point.


Books on the Taliban were chosen as an index of the Afghanistan war since the Taliban are its major defining element. WorldCat was searched ( using the following criteria: “kw: taliban” > “English” > “Non‐Fiction” > “Non‐Juvenile”. In total 1,668 titles were found. Duplicates were eliminated, as were theses, government publications, ephemera and other items. Closely related titles were amalgamated. Only works that had “Taliban” in the title or subtitle were chosen from the cumulative groups above, resulting in a total of 83 titles.


Only two libraries crossed 50 percent of the “core” collection of 83 titles. A total of 27 percent of the 83 titles (n=22) were not held by any library, and only seven books were in all libraries. New York Public Library topped the modest rankings and scored above the academic libraries and West Point. West Point ranked last by a big margin (29 points). New York Public Library scored better than all the academic libraries with 49 percent of the 83 titles, followed closely by Columbia University with 46 percent. There was an eight‐point drop to 38 percent for New York University, which modestly outpointed the 35 percent for Princeton.

Research limitations/implications

A possible research limitation is that the degree of library holdings may not reflect the low level of engagement by the public, academia and military in the ongoing wars.

Social implications

The research may indicate a low priority by collection development librarians in public libraries and in the libraries of academic and military colleges to develop a comprehensive collection of material on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The paper argues that more extensive collections should be built despite the media and the general population's antipathy to the war. A comprehensive collection for students, scholars, the public and the next generation of officers about a contemporary war which has profound financial, political and military sequelae should be a priority for collection‐building librarians.


The low holdings of books on the Taliban, and hence the war in Afghanistan, in public and academic libraries and the library of West Point may reflect the low level of interest of the US population in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq (and Libya).



Scanlon, S. (2011), "The Taliban: a study of book collections on the Taliban in academic, public and West Point libraries", Collection Building, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 131-134.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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