MELCOM (UK) was founded in the late 1960s as the Middle East Libraries Committee, against the background of the expansion of Middle Eastern studies in Britain following the Hayter Report of 1961. More resources at that time were being allocated to the development of existing libraries serving the field, and new centres were also being established and building up new collections. The Report itself had recommended the creation of inter-university committees to cover “library needs” in a co-ordinated manner, and MELCOM was the first such venture in the field of “Orientalist” librarianship.
The two prime movers in setting up the organisation were the late Professor J.D.Pearson, then Librarian of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and Dr D.Hopwood, Middle East Bibliographer at St Antony’s College, Oxford.
The first meeting was held in Cambridge on 2 June 1967. A pattern of twice-yearly meetings was established, which has never altered, although there have been occasional conferences for specific purposes.
There was never any formal membership structure, and participants have included not only librarians and archivists working in university libraries, the British Library and specialist research centres, but also lecturers, bibliographers, information officers, booksellers and others interested in Middle Eastern books and information sources.
The main function of MELCOM has always been to provide a forum for personal contact, discussion and exchange of information and ideas among British Middle East library specialists and bibliographers. The Middle East has been defined for this purpose as meaning the Arab world, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel (but excluding Hebraica and Judaica), Iran, Afghanistan and the Muslim & Turkic peoples of the former Soviet Union, in all cases since the rise of Islam.