The library was built around the needs of the Anthropos. It was planned as a specialized library for the editorial staff and concentrated on literature from the fields of Ethnology, Linguistics, Religious Studies, Folklore, Prehistory, and Physical Anthropology. At the time when the library was moved from Austria to Switzerland it contained 15.000 volumes. Four fifths of it was safely moved to its new home; the rest of the library was confiscated by the Gestapo and turned over to the University of Vienna. After 1945 these volumes were returned to the Institute.
During its stay in Fribourg (1938-1962) the library grew to 40.000 volumes. In addition to an emphasis on the languages of Oceania, the ethnographic literature on New Guinea was also expanded. Further, a section was devoted to Latin America.
With the move to Sankt Augustin the library was opened to the public and was further developed both by the Society of the Divine Word and by the support it received from public and governmental sources. A valuable addition in 1971 was the acquisition of the private library of Professor Franz Bernhard, which was especially rich in linguistic materials from India, especially its northern regions, including Tibet. At present the library contains 102.000 volumes. In addition it has more or less complete runs of 1.400 journals and currently subscribes to 305 journals. New acquisitions concentrate on: general works in the areas of Ethnology, Religious Studies, and Linguistics; monographs on Oceania with special emphasis on Papua New Guinea, on Southeast Asia, Africa (West, East, and Central), as well as on Middle and South America.
For those using the library there is a card catalogue with an alphabetic listing according to author and subject. An electronic catalogue is in work. A useful addition to the library is a small collection of microfilms which contains primarily manuscripts on linguistic materials. Attached to the library is an archive containing the materials of deceased members of the Institute (manuscripts, photos, slides, and recordings). According to the judgement of specialists, the library has a unique place among the other specialized anthropological libraries in Germany.