For centuries, manuscript collections were in the hands of the rulers, local feudal lords, and renowned religious families. Printing came fairly late to Afghanistan, but with the shift from the handwritten manuscript to the printed book, various collections were formed. Kabul has a public library (1920) with 60,000 volumes, and the library of the University of Kabul has 250,000 volumes. There is a library at Kabul Polytechnic University with 6,000 volumes and a government library, at the ministry of education, also in Kabul, with 30,000 volumes.
Prior to the devastating civil war, the Kabul Museum (founded in 1922) possessed an unrivaled collection of stone heads, basreliefs, ivory plaques and statuettes, bronzes, mural paintings, and Buddhist material from excavations at Hadda, Bamian, Bagram, and other sites. It also contained an extensive collection of coins and a unique collection of Islamic bronzes, marble reliefs, Kusham art, and ceramics from Ghazni. In nearly a decade of warfare, however, the museum was plundered by the various armed bands, with much of its collection sold on the black market, or systematically destroyed. As of 2003, the Kabul museum is slowly beginning some restoration. Also in Kabul, is the Kabul University Science Museum, with an extensive zoological collection and a museum of pathology. There are provincial museums at Bamyan, Ghazni, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Maimana, and Kandahar. Major religious shrines have collections of valuable objects. Due to the chaotic political situation in the 1990s, it is impossible to determine the state of any of its collections.
In March 2001, the Taliban dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhas and sold the debris and the remains of the original sculpture. Small statues of the Buddhas in Foladi and Kakrak were destroyed. Most of the statues and other "non-Islamic art" works in the collections of the Kabul Museum were destroyed, including those stored for security reasons in the Ministry of Information and Culture. UNESCO has undertaken a plan to conserve the archaeological remains and the minaret at Jam, and to make it a World Heritage site. The minaret was built at the end of the 12th century and at 65 meters is the second tallest in the world after the Qutub Minar in New Delhi.