Maulana Azad Library is regarded as second largest University Library of Asia with more than 11.5 lakh books/documents. The foundation of the Library was laid in 1875 when Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a great social reformer of his time, established a school that later became Mohammaden Anglo Oriental College in 1877 and finally Aligarh Muslim University in 1920 by an Act of Parliament. The foundation stone of the Library was laid by Lord Lytton, the then Viceroy of India. That is why, the Library was originally named as Lytton Library.
The present grand seven storied building surrounded by 4.5 acres of land in 1960 was inaugurated by Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India and was named as Maulana Azad Library, after the name of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the great Educationist, Statesman & the first Education Minister of independent India. The Oriental Division of Maulana Azad Library comprising of about two lakh printed books & periodicals including 10,000 items belonging to rare category in Urdu/Persian/Arabic/Hindi. Sanskrit forms the most significant part of the collection. Donations received from great bibliophiles and literary persons are designated as special collections by the names of their donors. The Urdu collection with more than one lakh books on almost all aspects of Indian Life and Culture forms the largest part of Oriental Division. A substantial number of rare and out of print publications of 19th century belong to the Scientific Society of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Fort William College (Kolkata), Delhi College, Agra College and from the Royal Printing Presses of the court of Delhi and Oudh.
One of the most priced collection of the library is its collection of about 16000 rare manuscripts, one of which written on parchment in Koofi script is claimed to be inscribed by Hazrat Ali (the fourth caliph of Islam), 1400 years ago. Several royal decrees of Moghal emperors namely Babur, Akbar, Shahjahan, Aurangzeb, Shah Alam etc. and also translation of Sanskrit works such as Bhagwad Geeta, Mahabharata and Leelawati in Persian by Abul Faiz Faizi, a scholar in the court of Moghal Emperor Akbar are some of the highlights of the manuscripts collection of this Library. No wonder than, the Library known for its collection of oriental manuscripts is frequented by the scholars of Orientalia and Medieval India. Yet another highlight of the Manuscript Collection is the painting of TULIP flowers, considered as magnam opus of Mansoor Naqqash, the celebrated artist in the court of Emperor Jahangir. Some other valuable Sanskrit works translated into Persian forming part of manuscript collection are Ayurveda in Telugu and Bhasdas in Malyalam script written on palm leaves. Apart from the collection of orientalia the Library has a vast collection of books in English belonging to different subjects especially in Science Technology.
The library provides the whole university campus wide access to online journals through a well-equipped Computer Lab. Digital Resources on many subjects are made accessible through a Digital Resource Centre, established in January 2009 in the Library. All the issue able books in the Library are bar coded for automated check in and check out. About 5000 students, teachers and other members of the University visit the Library daily. The library is open from 8.00 a.m. to 2.00 a.m. (next day).