The Fisher Fine Arts Library maintains a major research collection covering pre-historic to contemporary art, with emphasis on traditional western subject areas such as the Italian Renaissance, western art of the 19th and 20th centuries, contemporary global art, and criticism.

The Fisher is the primary research collection for the College of Arts & Sciences' History of ArtArchitectureFine Arts, and the Department of Visual Studies program. The Department of the History of Art, formed in 1960, offers an undergraduate major and undergraduate courses in Ancient Near Eastern art, Egyptian, Islamic, South Asian, East Asian, Greek, Roman and Etruscan; Early Christian and Byzantine; Medieval; Italian Renaissance; Northern Renaissance and Baroque; Nineteenth and Twentieth Century; and American and Contemporary Art. The Graduate Group in the History of Art, which consists of members of the Department, faculty from other Penn departments, and curators and scholars from other Philadelphia institutions, offers courses leading to the A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in the fields above as well as in Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian art, Islamic art and South Asian art. The Group admits about 10 new students each year.  The Graduate Group in Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World (AAMW) is an interdisciplinary program of courses leading to the Ph.D. degree in the ancient cultures surrounding the Mediterranean basin, and the Graduate Group in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies offers courses in East Asian art leading to the A.M. and Ph.D. degrees. 

The collection also supports Penn Design's graduate studio programs in Fine Arts which includes a range of media from photography and painting to time-based media and performance art. Research centers or collections affiliated with the Fisher Fine Arts Library also include the Institute of Contemporary ArtSlought Organization, the Penn Museum of Archaeology and AnthropologyArchitectural Archives, and the Arthur Ross Gallery.

1. Chronological

The Fisher's collection focuses on all chronological periods.

2. Formats

Formats constituting the collections include annuals, monographs, exhibition catalogs, periodicals, databases and other reference resources, multivolume-sets and catalogues raisonné, scholarly series, audio-visual materials, electronic image resources, and videos.

3. Geographical

The Fisher collections are international in scope with emphasis on the North America and western Europe. Recent purchasing efforts are targeting publications from the Middle, South, and Far East Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Australia, and Scandinavia. Recently, the Fisher has expanded its reach to include publications from Latin America and Africa. 

4. Language

All Western European languages are collected extensively and others selectively.

5. Publication Dates

The Fisher collects current publications, earlier twentieth-century, nineteenth-century materials extensively, and earlier materials selectively.

The Fisher has several foreign and domestic approval plans covering scholarly, trade and technical, museum, and gallery publications. Smaller-scale purchasing arrangements have been established with independent arts presses and distributors.  Rare or special collection materials are procured through antiquarian dealers. Title-by-title purchases through catalogs, book fairs, vendor alerts, and patron requests supplement the larger-scale acquisition practices.

The following subject areas are not collected: popular treatment of art subjects or media, art education, aesthetics, antiques and collectibles, auction catalogs, and crafts.  The following are collected on a very selective basis: art conservation, numismatics, textiles, arms and armor, and jewelry.