Although the necessity of the formation of a separate Oriental Collection was stated by Hungarian scholars already in the 19th century, it was established as a special unit within the Library thanks to the efforts of the then Vice-President, the outstanding Orientalist Louis Ligeti (1902–1987), only after the restructuring of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1949. The Collection, known at that time as the Oriental Library, was opened in 1951 on the ground floor of the Palace of the Academy to become the main reference library of Oriental studies in Hungary. Its development, including the Oriental design of its reading room, praises the Turcologist László Rásonyi who headed the Collection from 1951 to 1961. He selected its East-related stock from the old divisions of the Library. In addition to contemporary monographs, the Collection became enriched by 16th–18th century books written about the Orient or in Oriental languages. The holdings also include the most comprehensive Hungarian collection of periodicals of Oriental studies together with unique manuscripts. The acquisition of the periodicals started in the 19th century, accordingly we have complete serials from these most prestigious journals. From among the manuscripts the Tibetan, Turkish and Hebrew collections are of international importance, the majority of which were donated to the Library. In addition to the special units described below a few manuscripts from Ethiopia, India and the Far-East are also to be found here.
The Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is based on the 30,000 volumes donated by the Academy's first president, Count József Teleki (1790–1855), to the Learned Society in 1826. With this collection, 600 manuscript volumes and 409 incunabula (books printed before 1500) were acquired by the Library, whose Department of Manuscripts had been an independent unit since 1861. Its first head was archaeologist and art historian Flóris Rómer (1815–1889), regular member of the Academy. Although incunables and old Hungarian books had from the start been committed to the care of the Department, it was only in 1891 that their classification in sixteen orders was finished and a catalogue was made accessible to the public. The Department's Rare Book Division was set up in 1954. In the same year the bulk of pre-1800 foreign and pre-1850 Hungarian books was transferred to the Department from the Library's main stacks.