Collection Development Policy 2016

CDP - Introduction

Building the nation’s memory

The Library aspires to enable Australians to understand their diverse social, cultural and intellectual histories by collecting and preserving Australian publications and unpublished collections—in print and digital forms—so that they can be enjoyed by current and future generations. It also aspires to build a rich collection of print and digital resources that enable learning, research and understanding of the Asia-Pacific region and Australia’s place in the world.

(National Library of Australia Corporate Plan, 2016-20, Strategic Priority 1)

Purpose of the Collection Development Policy

The Library’s Collection Development Policy defines the scope and nature of its collecting of Australian and Overseas materials. It sets out the key principles that underpin the ongoing development of the Library’s national collection and from which the Library’s decisions to acquire materials flow: why, what, when and how to collect. The Policy covers materials of different types of intellectual, literary and creative content, in either published or unpublished form, across different formats, and delineates when the Library takes responsibility for the long-term preservation of and access to materials.


Historically, the Library built its collections as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library from 1901 until 1960, when the National Library was formally established under its own Act and the majority of the collections were physically transferred with the opening of the Library’s building in 1968. The history of the foundation collections and subsequent collecting directions can be found at history of the collection, with an overview of collection highlights.

Since 1960, the Library has regularly revised its collecting policy to reflect changes in the internal and external environment, taking account of trends and innovations in publishing and content creation, information technology and collection management, changing research paradigms, legal frameworks and social, political and cultural contexts.

As a living document, each iteration of the Policy aims to provide guidance for staff, other libraries, users and the community on the Library’s collecting activities across different formats and subject areas. Significant changes were made to the overseas policy in 2011-12, but the Australian collection policy was last reviewed in 2007-8. The 2016 iteration represents a significant revision to the Policy as a whole.

What is different about the revision?

This revision establishes a new approach to the Policy framework, content and structure. It seeks to:

  • create a cohesive set of principles and priorities across all collecting areas, framed as a single policy, allowing for more strategic development of the collections in alignment with Library corporate planning
  • move away from highly defined collecting rules and procedures for different types of materials towards a Library-wide approach based on common principles
  • integrate physical and digital collecting through a set of common principles and priorities
  • allow the Library to be more flexible in adapting its collecting activity to meet future challenges, innovations and types of publication or creation of materials
  • provide staff with a strong, flexible framework for decision making, that allows them to weigh and judge factors such as format, content, relevance and significance of materials against stated principles, considerations and priorities.

A single policy approach

At the centre of the Policy is a continuum collecting approach─from comprehensive collections, where relevant materials are acquired to the greatest extent possible, through representative collections, where the Library selects a manageable amount of material to represent a type, creator or subject, to selective collections, where items of national priority or special significance are identified and collected.

For the first time, common priorities are applied across the continuum and across collection formats. This opens up the possibility of creating rich collections across priority areas. For example, complementing a significant personal archive with website material and social media feeds.

The contemporary environment for building collections

The context for the creation and development, management, interpretation of and provision of access to collections has changed significantly over the last decade for all major research libraries world-wide. Libraries everywhere are moving from an era of acquiring, owning and preserving all their own materials, according to defined institutional collecting guidelines, to an era where networks of collaboration, cooperation and licensing can provide ready access to global digital content.

Sustainability and stewardship

  • It is now necessary to distinguish between what is ‘in the collection’, that is, owned and preserved by the Library, and what the Library does not ‘own’, that is, licensed resources and collection materials owned by others but which users can access via the Library’s catalogue or via the national discovery service Trove. Trove, for example, brings together content from a range of different collecting institutions in a single experience by aggregating metadata. 
  • The Policy defines principles by which to determine what the Library should acquire, what it should aim to preserve in perpetuity (i.e. what it should take stewardship of), and what it should provide access to through another trusted collecting institution or vendor. Access can take many forms, from the purchase of a license to allow the Library’s readers to access material, through to arrangements with partner institutions for collaborative digitisation of materials.
  • The Library must balance its mandate to ensure treasured materials are preserved for the Australian people in the long-term with the need for efficient allocation of resources, including minimising duplication of both storage and digitisation processes where material is already widely available. In affirming the Library’s ongoing stewardship role, the new policy approach also underlines the importance of collaboration between institutions to develop secure, efficient and accessible collections for Australians.
  • The Library must determine also whether it is able to guarantee long-term preservation of a work. For this reason, Australian resources acquired through licenses are purchased with a perpetual license when possible, which includes an agreement allowing the Library to obtain a copy of the files should the provider no longer be able to provide access. Although the Library aims to optimise discovery and access to materials not held in the collection and, when in scope, provide perpetual access to them, at times international licensing arrangements or copyright provisions mean such decisions are outside the Library’s control.
  • The Library aims to preserve digital materials acquired for the collection when technically possible, but the technology and system processes required to make these collections accessible to the public are not yet always well developed.

Volume and variety

  • The Library’s collecting program is marked by rich variety and mass volume. Each year, the Library adds many tens of thousands of items to its collections, encompassing a great diversity of material type, content, focus and subject matter.
  • The ease of production and distribution of born-digital materials, whether published materials such as ebooks or unpublished materials such as photographic archives, has resulted in an exponential increase in material potentially available for the Library to collect. At the same time, individuals, organisations and government departments are divesting themselves of existing print collections, resulting in a sharp increase in offers and requests for the Library to house and preserve physical material, both published and unpublished, for long-term stewardship.
  • This increased volume and variety, combined with static or declining staff resources, has placed considerable strain on the Library’s acquisition processes, ability to respond to offers within appropriate timeframes, and capacity to collect proactively or fill collection gaps. The Policy aims to support staff to connect strategic priorities to the operational environment and to ensure the Library retains the capacity and capability to acquire, manage and make collections available in the current context.

Collaboration and networking

  • The collecting process now inevitably places a higher priority on collaboration between acquisitions staff in different areas of the Library, and between collecting institutions. The Policy sets out the primary relationships of the Library in relation to other Australian libraries and collecting institutions, while affirming the role of the Library in providing Australians with access to the resources they need to support their research, education, understanding and enjoyment. It provides a guide to enable a greater degree of cooperation in the development of collections in the national interest.
  • The Library works collaboratively with other national, state and territory collecting institutions, to ensure that together we:
    • build a comprehensive national collection, accessible to all Australians
    • preserve the published outputs, intellectual and creative endeavour of Australian people and organisations
    • capture Australian voices published overseas
    • make the Library’s holdings widely known and accessible
    • repatriate material digitally when appropriate.

Changing nature of scholarship

Changing research practices and the evolving nature of collection resources impact on the type of materials the Library can collect permanently, as well as shifting the paradigm from collecting to access, especially with resources from the wider world. The Library takes particular responsibility for stewardship of eResources in the humanities, social sciences and the arts, but not in science and technology.

Shifting attitudes toward data sharing, methodologies in eresearch, and the nature of academic discourse all have implications for the Library’s collecting. These also affect collaboration, with an increasing role for other trusted institutions and stakeholders in ensuring that data sets and the outcomes of research are preserved for the long-term.

Integrating physical and digital

The revised Policy applies consistent criteria to collecting works based on the intellectual, creative, literary and social content of the material. With few exceptions—most notably websites—the Policy does not provide separate guidance for physical or digital format variations. The changing technology of library materials exists within a continuum of Australian life—discussion, debate, creativity, intellectual production and the recording of everyday life have been part of Australian society for centuries. Future users will be able to research these activities in the Library’s collections across a range of communication technologies, from early Australian broadsides to 21st century social media sites.

Legislative framework for published materials (legal deposit provisions)

The Library was separately established under the National Library Act (1960), which outlines the responsibility to create a comprehensive collection of library material relating to Australia and the Australian people. For this purpose, its collecting role is further defined in the Copyright Act 1968, including provisions requiring Australian publishers to deposit a copy of their publications with the Library (legal deposit provisions). 

From February 2016, legal deposit provisions have applied to both digital and physical publications, ensuring that the Library’s comprehensive collections include forms of publication such as the web and ebooks as well as more traditional formats. More information about the legal deposit program, including information on what and how to deposit, is available—legal deposit.

Developing online collections

The Library is committed to making its collections as accessible as possible. Digitisation, as well as aggregation of metadata, is critical to increasing discovery and use of the collections. To this end, the Library participates in the Australian Newspapers Plan (ANPlan), leading a vibrant cooperative program with state and territory libraries and other organisations to collect, preserve and digitise Australian newspapers. For other materials, the Library actively works to make more of its physical collections freely available online. The Library’s digitisation policy and corporate plan complements this Collection Development Policy.

Acquisition and selection procedures for born digital materials, including pictures and manuscripts, have been updated to include a risk assessment for any large acquisitions of digital material to ensure that the long-term preservation issues are considered.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections

Collecting of material created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has been a significant focus of the Library in recent years, and the Library has obtained rich archival, pictorial and oral history collections to support this aim. By their nature, the Library’s earliest collections were limited to perspectives on Australian culture reflected through European tradition. Australia has also been recorded and reflected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through artistic, cultural, social and intellectual expression and traditions, but not necessarily represented in written form and thus in previous Library collecting. In the revised Policy, the Library actively seeks to redress this through placing a strong priority on collecting material created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, both retrospective and contemporary.

Ethical collecting

In accordance with guidelines outlined in the Australian Best Practice Guide to Collecting Cultural Material, the Library exercises best ethical and professional practice and judgement in collecting cultural materials, including respecting First Nations protocols, cultural restrictions and sensitivities. The Library undertakes appropriate due diligence, including provenance research, and is accountable and transparent in acquiring material by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange. The Library complies with Commonwealth governance, performance and accountability rules.

The Library ensures cultural material has been legally exported from the country of origin and intermediate countries. The Library does not acquire material where there are suspicions it was obtained through unauthorised means or theft from individuals or other repositories. The Library reviews new information about an item in the institution's collection and undertakes further investigations, if required.

The Policy sets out various methodologies for acquiring materials in the section ‘how we collect’.

CDP - Principles

Purpose of collecting

The Library develops, interprets and preserves a rich and diverse collection which inspires, delights and educates Australians. The Library’s collections extend understanding of issues of contemporary significance, build strong community connections, and underpin its leadership activities.

National Library of Australia Corporate Plan, 2016-2020


The National Library of Australia’s statutory role is to collect, preserve and make accessible Australia’s documentary heritage, as well as to collect materials that enable learning, research and understanding of Australia’s cultural, strategic and political role in the Asia-Pacific region and the wider world. This role is recognised through the National Library Act 1960 as well as the legal deposit provisions in the Copyright Act 1968.

The collections aim to capture:

  • contemporary Australian publishing
  • a documentary record of Australia’s diverse social, cultural, creative and intellectual histories through acquiring published, special and unique materials that will support research and interpretation
  • Australia’s place in its geographical region, through collecting materials specifically to support study of Asia and the Pacific, and
  • to provide access to materials from the wider world, with a focus on resources that underpin the humanities, arts and social sciences and contribute to the research process.

The Library’s staff use the principles outlined in this policy to exercise appropriate judgement in building a national collection of physical and digital resources for the Australian community, now and into the future.

Comprehensive, representative and selective collecting

The Library collects contemporary and retrospective material through three approaches:

  • Comprehensively: for Australian published materials, based on the Library’s legislative responsibilities to collect all Australian publishing in print or digital form
  • Representatively: where not all forms of published or unpublished materials can be captured and preserved, or when there is a need to represent a particular subject, person, group or issue
  • Selectively: acquiring materials and collections by applying knowledge of subjects, formats, people, places, events and issues of national significance, and exercising judgement based on the key principles for selection and stewardship.


The Australian collections include material created by Australians, whether locally resident or expatriate, created or published in Australia, or containing substantial content relating to Australia and the Australian experience. 

The Library aims to comprehensively collect Australian publications in order to reflect the full diversity and range of Australian life depicted in the nation’s published record, both contemporary and retrospective. 

The Australian published collections comprise works that have been made available in some form to the public and contribute to the record of information, discussion and debate within the public sphere. These include contemporary and retrospective books, journals and magazines, government publications, newspapers, maps, music and websites.

When it is not possible to acquire a copy of every publication, the Library collects a representation of the breadth and diversity of materials made available to the public, in a variety of formats including ephemera, posters, websites, blogs and social media.

The Library intentionally acquires a wide range of unique materials documenting the lives and activities of Australian people, places and events that have shaped society. These include personal papers and archives, organisational records, pictures, oral histories and folklore recordings that support research, creative and interpretative use.

The Library also selectively acquires special or formed collections assembled by others, and keeps them together to support research. They may be published or unpublished and have a particular research subject, such as the Crome collection of aviation materials; or an historical association, such as the Australian Inland Mission collection; or a creative interest, such as J.C. Williamson’s musical and theatrical materials.

Unique and special collections aim to support research, creative and public use by the Australian community. The Library promotes special collections as important sites of knowledge and as unique documentation of human endeavour: people, traditions, events, ideas and values, culture and the creative arts. These collections also provide insight into the historical, social and political contexts of both their use and impact.


The Library selectively collects overseas resources to enhance understanding of the Asia-Pacific region and to provide context to Australia’s place in the wider world. The Library acquires overseas resources that support research, learning and understanding by Australians.

Collecting from and about the countries of Asia and the Pacific is the Library’s highest priority after its Australian collecting responsibilities. Asian collecting predominantly focuses on the countries of East Asia and South-East Asia. Works published in Asia and the Pacific are acquired in relevant languages. In addition to books, maps, journals, magazines and newspapers, selective collecting for this region may encompass pictorial material, ephemera, websites and audio-visual.

The Library also collects Western language works on Asia and the Pacific published outside the region. These provide context for broader understanding of a country’s development as well as its place in the world. In particular these support research into Australia’s relationships within the region.

The Library selectively acquires or provides access to publications from the rest of the world that provide an understanding of issues and topics affecting Australia. Collecting supports research in history, society and culture, especially interpretation and analysis of global issues, current events and social trends. The preference is for works that analyse the social aspects of a subject and present subjects in a broad context. All overseas materials relating to Australia’s history, society and development are included in the scope of Australian collecting. 

Overseas rare and antiquarian materials may be collected in high priority areas. Rare materials may be collected for their intellectual or historical value, or for their value as an artefact, for exhibition, for the study of bibliography, print or cartographic culture, or because they have significant provenance. When available digitally, the Library will consider providing access to these rather than acquiring them for the collection.

The Library acquires or provides selective access to international reference resources preferably in digital form to support research across multiple disciplines, especially in the humanities, creative arts and social sciences, preferably in digital form.

When overseas resources are freely available online, the Library will support online access rather than take responsibility for long-term stewardship of the materials.


In selecting materials, priority is placed on building on the existing strengths of the Library's collections, to ensure rich and developed collections that have range, depth and cohesion.  The Library may also aim to fill specific gaps in the collection. Collecting primary sources and documentary heritage material is a priority.

Priority in Australian collecting is given to:

  • National significance: materials that record the lives and activities of people and organisations of national prominence or influence
  • National interest: people, places and events that reflect Australian society
  • Representation of the rich diversity of Australian society, in rural and regional as well as urban areas, and the experience and encounters of everyday life, including aspects of Australia that are inadequately documented
  • Representation of cultural and linguistic diversity, including materials in languages other than English
  • Material produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Priority in Asia-Pacific collecting is given to:

  • Collecting from China, Japan, Korea and, within South-East Asia: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and East Timor;
  • Collecting from Melanesia: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia
  • Resources relating to the ‘modern era’, as defined by each country
  • Works supporting research on history, politics, government, economy, culture, environment, social issues and intra-regional concerns.

Priority in collecting from the wider world is given to: 

  • Contextual understanding of Australia's history, society and development, from Indigneous people and places, European exploration and discovery to the present day.
  • Issues and topics affecting Australia, especially politics, history, government, international relations, the environment, energy and resources, economy, trade, first nations and the movement of peoples, demographic change, health trends, music and the arts, social and cultural issues.
  • All aspects of the Australia-New Zealand relationship and Antarctica
  • For reference materials, resources that support research in the humanities, social sciences and the arts and enhance Australian research endeavours.


The Library collects work in an extensive range of formats, ranging from printed books to handwritten manuscripts, digital archives to ebooks and oral history audio recordings in analogue or digital form. The Library responds to the changing formats of publication, intellectual and creative endeavour by aiming to acquire and preserve works or collections in the format that best represents their creation and content. However, the Library also considers the cost and ease of preservation, as well as accessibility for users.

The Library may collect works in multiple formats in order to provide better access to a publication or work. The Library may also acquire variant formats where imprints or copies are of a higher quality or carry significant provenance or add other value. Multiple editions and versions of a work may be collected, where there are variants, arrangements, additions, alterations or new or revised intellectual content.

Selecting formats

Where a collection or work is available in more than one format, the following factors are taken into account in deciding which format to collect:

  • The format that represents the collection or work at its best, providing the richest experience for the user
  • How accessible the work or collection is and how to best support research 
  • How well and efficiently the format can be collected and preserved, for perpetuity, and the cost of doing so.

Additionally, for published materials:

  • The format that best represents how the work was distributed to the public
  • Formats that reflect developments and trends in publishing
  • For overseas publications, digital formats will be preferred whenever available 

Additionally, for unpublished materials:

  • The formats that most represent the working life, research, creative or intellectual processes of the collector or creator or most effectively embody the subject.


  • The Library aims to store and preserve Australian materials in ways that ensure access for current and future generations in perpetuity.
  • Where collections or items are stored and preserved in other trusted national or international institutions, the Library may provide access to the resource without taking responsibility for its long-term preservation and access or acquiring a copy for the collection. Collaborative relationships are the usual mechanism to achieve this.
  • For overseas ebooks and other resources only accessible through the purchase of a license, the Library will endeavour to obtain a perpetual access agreement.
  • For overseas journals, databases and newspapers, the Library may provide access through aggregated networks and does not commit to providing perpetual access.

Relationship with other collecting institutions

The Library works with other collecting institutions to ensure that Australians have access to resources and that the national collection is acquired, stored, managed and preserved. As a member of National and State Libraries of Australasia (NSLA), the Library is committed to collaborative collection development.

The Library works in collaboration with:

  • the National Library of New Zealand and the Australian State and Territory Libraries, to ensure the collection and long-term preservation of Australasian library material
  • the National Archives of Australia, recognising its responsibility for preserving Commonwealth government records
  • the National Film and Sound Archive, recognising its responsibility for preserving the national audio-visual collection
  • the ACT Heritage Library, for documenting Canberra and the ACT region
  • the Australian Music Centre, recognising its role in promoting and developing Australian music
  • other libraries, archives, galleries, museums and heritage organisations in the higher education sector and state, regional and local institutions where collecting interests connect.

Indigenous collections

The Library recognises the importance of acquiring materials created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and actively engages in this endeavour, whether acquiring materials for its own collection or working cooperatively with other institutions to create a national collection. In particular, the Library:

  • acquires published and unpublished material dealing with all issues concerning Indigenous Australians
  • cultivates respectful relationships with Indigenous people and communities, collaborating in collecting and managing Indigenous cultural property
  • works in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to support the acquisition and preservation of Indigenous language and related collections
  • has a Memorandum of Understanding with AIATSIS to provide access to materials supporting family reunion
  • aims to support Indigenous communities to gain access to relevant collections, including through repatriation of digital copies of collection material.

CDP - What we collect: Australian published collections


The comprehensive collection of Australian published material is a key statutory responsibility of the National Library.

Together, the published collections:

  • document Australian lives, experiences and activities
  • provide insight into cultural and artistic expression, and entertainment
  • record discussion, debate and opinion in the public sphere
  • ensure a record of government and public policy formulation
  • showcase Australian literary traditions
  • preserve Australian-produced research and cultural output.

The Australian published collections are housed and described as books, serials (newspapers, journals and magazines), government publications, maps, music, ephemera and posters, and websites. These collections may also include materials that, while not meeting the criteria for ‘publication’, most appropriately are managed together with published material due to their format or nature. In a similar manner, published materials may reside in the Library’s other collections, such as personal archives and organisational records.

‘Published’ material

The Library’s published collections primarily record contributions to Australia’s public life. The modern publishing environment is not only highly diverse, facilitating individual and niche publishing, but often blurs the space between private correspondence and public circulation. Distinguishing a ‘publication’ can be challenging in this environment – particularly in dealing with social media networks or books produced for a highly limited audience, such as a memoir intended only for family members. The Library’s published collecting balances the need for full representation against the importance of ensuring the collection is not too heavily weighted towards works of highly limited circulation.

The Library also recognises the importance of collecting material with significant social, cultural, political, artistic or research value, even where this may not meet a strict definition of ‘published’. This includes collection of such material produced by individuals and organisations – for example, local or family histories produced for a limited audience - as well as collection of ‘grey literature’ – which may include working papers, conference presentations and other non-commercial works.

Comprehensive collecting

For all published Australian materials, the Library’s collecting aims to be sufficiently comprehensive that researchers interrogating the collection could extrapolate an understanding of the entirety of Australian published output. When possible, comprehensive collection of Australian publications is achieved through acquiring a copy of every published work. When it is not possible to collect every work, a combination of comprehensive and representative collecting approaches are used, minimising collection gaps in subject matter, format type, author group or other category of material.For example, the Library collects a sampling of catalogues from Australian art exhibitions, rather than attempting to collect each one produced. In a similar way, acquisition team resources are likely to be more strongly allocated to seeking out works which are poorly represented in the collections, than towards ensuring complete compliance for high-volume publication programs such as mainstream romance fiction.

Collecting priorities

Publications at risk of being lost are a high priority for the Library’s published collection program, and especially for retrospective collecting. ‘Fugitive’ editions, or publications with only a few surviving copies, take priority over material already preserved and made accessible in other trusted Australian collections.

Collection of primary source materials from Australia’s early history, both from within Australia and reflecting upon Australia, is a key priority across all the published collections. Providing a record of exploration, history and discovery, both triumphs and failures, informs Australia as a modern nation. The Library equally places the highest priority upon collecting published materials created or produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, both retrospective and contemporary. 


Definition and scope

In the context of Library collections, books comprise standalone textual or other literary works which have been made available to the public, including ebooks, printed books and any emerging forms of book publication. In the Library, book publications are technically termed Monographs, to distinguish these from serial periodicals, and are uniquely identified by an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).


The Library’s comprehensive collection of Australian books dates from the earliest published mentions of the continent through to the present day. Along with the serial and newspaper collections, this extensive corpus documents the development of Australia as a modern nation, through the complete published record.

Published books both shape and reflect Australian culture, creating common experiences, passing on knowledge, and reflecting debate and diversity, through fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, scholarly and popular books. Books have endured as the principal format for published material through centuries, evolving through various technologies, from old and modern bindings, through to ebook formats.

Collecting intent

The Library seeks to comprehensively collect Australian book publishing. This collection is intended to fully record the literary, intellectual and artistic contributions to public discussion that occur through book publication. This is chiefly achieved through collecting a copy of each Australian book with original content, which has been made available to the general public. This collection covers all subject areas, genres and disciplines.

Books distributed only to a defined audience, such as those produced for a family, community or organisation, are also selectively collected where they add to the social, cultural and historical understanding of Australia, especially around topics and communities which are otherwise underrepresented in the Library’s collections.

The Library also seeks rich representation of Australian literary culture in its collections and, to this end, may acquire variant printings or signed or annotated copies. A sample of highly limited book editions and artists books are collected, in order to reflect Australia’s literary, artistic and book-making culture. Where resources allow, a small sample of printed blank or template volumes such as diaries, calendars, or student workbooks may be collected to reflect this aspect of Australia’s print culture.


Even in a comprehensive collection, the Library makes priority decisions in allocating resources to acquiring material. This section explains the priority areas for the Library in pursuing acquisitions in comprehensive collections as well as in selective collecting of variant copies and imprints.

The Library’s highest priority for Australian book collecting is to ensure the diversity and breadth of Australian publication is adequately represented. Collecting rare and original works, along with publications of a type, subject or author community which is underrepresented in the collection, will take priority over content which is replicated in existing publications.

The Library also recognises the importance of Australian publishing imprints to Australian literary culture and society, and collecting this material is a key responsibility of the Library.

As a national institution, the Library places priority on detailed coverage of people, places and events of national scope and impact, including variant copies and editions of works of enduring literary influence.

Periodicals, including newspapers, journals and magazines

Definition and scope

Periodicals broadly include all those publications which are published at recurring intervals. The term is used here generically to include newspapers, scholarly journals, magazines, gazettes, newsletters, reviews, digests, yearbooks or occasional papers published in series, either in print or digitally. The Library technically uses the term ‘Serials’ for such publications, because these are normally published at intervals under the same title but in a new edition and on a continuing basis. They are typically referenced by volume, number, date or issue and uniquely identified by an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).

In the context of Library collections, this section covers all periodical publications, which are available to the public, they are considered to have been ‘made available to the public’ where they are offered for sale, distributed to subscribers or made freely available. Where circulation is restricted in some way (e.g. a newsletter restricted to members of a professional association) collection is out of scope for the published collections.


Every year, the Library collects hundreds of thousands of issues of ongoing Australian periodical publications, from major metropolitan newspaper editions, through speciality magazines and academic journals, to community and organisational publications.

Through regular publication, periodicals provide a unique long-form view of Australian culture. Whether through regular reporting of corporate or technical information, or tracking changing fashion, technology or research, periodicals document both change and constancy over time.

In cultivating ongoing audiences, periodicals also provide insight into the development of Australian identities and communities, whether geographic, linguistic, cultural, professional, religious or interest-based. At the same time, national newspapers and popular magazines showcase the issues, opinions and events that captured the whole nation’s attention, bringing these diverse communities together.

Collecting intent

The Library seeks comprehensive coverage of Australian periodicals, reflecting the significant diversity of Australian life, research and reporting, as well as the preoccupations, interests and events that unite the nation.

Given the volume of these published in Australia each year, it is not feasible to collect every publication which may qualify as an Australian serial. In choosing what to collect, the Library emphasises collection of all publicly available periodicals with substantial original content reflecting Australian life, culture, research, public policy or government, and aims to ensure that all aspects of serial publications are represented in the collections. In the case of newspapers, comprehensive collection is undertaken in collaboration with Australia’s state and territory libraries.

The Library comprehensively collects all issues of titles which have been selected for inclusion in the collection, ensuring a long-view of the changing format and content in that publication.


The Library prioritises collecting periodicals with Australian content above those with exclusively overseas created content. As with other collections, original and unique content is prioritised over publications comprised of content already published elsewhere. Publications with significant textual or artistic or other creative content are prioritised over those with a purely administrative function.

In acquiring retrospective serials, the Library seeks to fill gaps in existing serial collections, sourcing individual issues to ensure a complete run of each collected serial title. Priority is also placed on acquiring retrospective serials which reflect aspects of Australian culture or life which is underrepresented in the collection.

Collaboration and the Australian newspaper collection

The Library is a member of the Australian Newspapers Plan (ANPlan), alongside state and territory libraries. ANPlan partner libraries share responsibility for collecting and preserving Australia’s newspapers, ensuring a comprehensive collection on a national scale, as well as efficient use of resources. Under ANPlan, the National Library takes responsibility for collecting and preserving newspapers of public record, including national newspapers, subject-based newspapers, Indigenous newspapers and ethnic and linguistically diverse newspapers. These newspapers are collected comprehensively, while other Australian newspapers are collected selectively, according to the priorities listed in this section, along with consideration of Library user requests.

Government publications

Definition and scope

Government publications include material published by all levels of Australian government, local, state, territory and commonwealth. This section of the policy is intended to complement the other sections of the Collection Development Policy in providing additional advice on the collection of government material to that found in the specific format sections. This includes material in a wide range of formats, including books, serials, websites, maps, ephemera and posters.


Australian lives are shaped by the decisions, policies and services provided by government agencies. Government publications constitute a significant proportion of Australian publishing, and play a diverse range of roles in Australian society, including:

  • promotion of discussion and debate around public policy, e.g. discussion papers
  • accountability and reporting, e.g. Treasury reports or Australian Bureau of Statistics publications
  • providing guidance and advice, e.g. pesticide information booklets
  • documenting research and development
  • artistic and cultural expression
  • recording heritage and creating new knowledge.

Libraries have traditionally provided a key access point for government publications, which, when published in hard copy, can be costly and difficult to obtain. As policies and services change, publications can quickly disappear from circulation. Library collections ensure a comprehensive record of the decisions and output of government is kept and made accessible.

Much government publication takes place on the web, either through downloadable documents or through website information. With almost universal internet access in Australia, these publications are easily accessible without a mediating institution such as the Library. However, there are challenges for the long-term preservation of this material, which can disappear extremely rapidly and entirely, particularly in times of governmental change. Through collection of such material, the Library retains an essential role in ensuring enduring access and preservation of government information, whether electronic or hard copy.

Collecting intent

The Library aims for comprehensive coverage of commonwealth, state and territory government publications, in order to provide access and preservation to the complete record of Australia’s civic functioning. The Library’s ability to achieve comprehensive collection, particularly of website material, is highly dependent upon both available technology and cooperative arrangements with government publishers. Collaborative arrangements are pursued with state and territory libraries to ensure comprehensive coverage of state and territory material.

Where comprehensive collecting is not possible, the Library seeks to collect material in accordance with the priorities outlined in the principles, and places the highest priority on Commonwealth Government material.

Priority material includes major policy initiatives, parliamentary publications, and the output of public agencies with significant publishing responsibilities, such as the Commonwealth Scientific Information and Research Organisation, and the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Local government publications are collected where they reflect aspects of Australian life or culture, or contain significant artistic, research or literary material, or shed light on the development of broader Australian public policy.

The Library is often able to provide greater access to collected government material, especially that which was freely available at the time of publication, than to commercial material. Where it is possible to provide free web access to collected government material, electronic copies will be preferred to facilitate this. However, this preference must be balanced with ensuring cost-effective collection and preservation of material. Priority is placed upon collection of material at risk of disappearing or where major changes are likely to occur, such as during machinery of government changes and events.


The Library works with state and territory libraries to ensure collection, description, access and preservation of government publications. This collaboration ensures a shared responsibility, reducing duplication and increasing the efficiency for all Australian libraries.

The National Archives of Australia (NAA) retains responsibility for preserving Commonwealth Government records. To ensure efficient and effective collecting activity in both institutions, the Library may collaborate with the NAA where the institutions’ collecting responsibilities intersect.


Definition and scope

The Library’s web collection comprises a variety of web publishing, including online newspapers and journals, blogs, social media, wikis and web pages. Ebooks and ejournal material made available via the web is collected in accordance with the collecting policies for books, journals and government publications. Web applications that are not publications, such as banking, booking or purchasing applications, are not collected. The Library does not intentionally collect illegal material published on the web.


The web is one of Australia’s most significant and influential publishing platforms. Since the mid-1990s, Australians have used it to publish information, commentary, discussion and debate on cultural, social and political issues. Content published on the web ranges from the deeply scholarly to popular material, from in-depth research and commentary through to accounts of daily life.

The National Library commenced archiving websites in 1996, and its selective Pandora collection became the second public web archive in the world. Ensuring that the collection was publicly accessible has been core to the Library’s approach to web archiving from the inception of the program. In 2005, the Library commenced capturing annual snapshots of the .au domain.

Unlike print-based publishing, online publication takes place in a dynamic, interactive and often unmediated environment, often blurring the lines between publication and communication. This poses particular challenges for collecting institutions, including how to accurately archive a rapidly changing medium and how to distinguish publication from other web uses, such as commerce or private communication. Web publications disappear quickly, posing real risk that crucial parts of Australia’s early 21st century documentary history will be lost altogether.

For all these reasons, collecting websites is both a critical activity for the Library, and a highly challenging one.

Collecting intent

As a core aspect of collecting Australian publishing, the Library has a responsibility to create a comprehensive collection of Australian web publications. The Library’s web archiving activities are designed to be as comprehensive as possible, providing researchers with a collection that accurately represents the breadth and interconnectivity of the web and its content, and replicates the depth and dynamism through coverage of selected high-priority subjects.

The interconnected and fast-changing nature of web publishing poses significant challenges to this aim: it is impossible to preserve in an archive all Australian web publishing exactly as it appeared at every moment in time. For this reason, the Library approaches web collecting through three types of activity:

  • Regular ‘snapshots’ of the entire Australian web domain .au to capture the diversity of Australian life, people, places, events and ideas at a selected period in time
  • Thematic collections with deeper coverage of selected events, issues and sectors to capture matters of national significance, e.g. coverage of the 2007 federal election; the Australian Government Web Archive
  • Frequent archiving of selected websites to document the complete publication content as it changes over time. Websites are selected according to the priorities below.


In selecting websites, issues, events and sectors for more in-depth coverage, the Library applies the priorities specified in the Principles section of this Policy. In addition, priority is given to:

  • discussion, debate, research and commentary about or contributing to the formulation of Australian public policy
  • the diversity of cultural, social, research and business publishing on the web
  • ‘grey literature’:  information and works produced by all levels of government, academia, business and industry not controlled by commercial publishing.

The Australian domain collection (.au)

The Library undertakes collections of all websites published in the .au domain, sometimes called whole-of-domain harvests. The priority in undertaking these collection events (‘snapshots’) is to capture comprehensively the breadth and diversity of Australian web publishing at any one time. In order to ensure this breadth, the Library captures websites at a relatively high level, collecting most content from each site, but is not always able to capture the whole. As a capture of the Australian Domain takes several weeks to complete, this collection does not capture all, or even most, version changes to websites within the domain.

Thematic web collecting

The Library creates thorough web collections relating to priority events and issues, or content produced by selected sectors. The Australian Government Web Archive (AGWA) is an early example of this approach. The AGWA aims to include content from all commonwealth government agencies.

Thematic collections ensure a documentary record of changes in Australian policy and culture, as well as memorable moments in Australian history. Such collections also provide representation of areas of Australian life documented primarily through the web, and less well represented through other forms of publication. By focusing on a defined topic, they also capture the interactivity of web publishing, and the way related websites influence each other.

Thematic collections of web content aim to provide comprehensive coverage of relevant web publications, to a complete or almost complete depth. Collection frequency will be determined by the nature of the collection, and will be carried out as necessary to ensure thorough topic coverage.

Events covered include national political and cultural events as well as events within or influential upon scholarly and research communities.

In addition to the priorities articulated in the Principles statement, issues selected for thematic coverage will include matters of public policy debate, as well as issues affecting Indigenous people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, rural and regional populations, and economic, social, business and research communities. Selection of issues to cover in themed collections is also influenced by the ease and resource intensity of archiving sites, and is subject to the Library’s available technology and expertise. Thematic and selective website collecting is not restricted to websites from the .au domain, but includes material considered Australian as articulated in the principles statement.

Selective website collecting

The Library selects high-priority websites for thorough collection. Websites are selected which cover the activities and views of organisations, individuals and communities who contribute to public debate and shape Australian policy and society; websites that provide commentary, journalistic coverage, research or debate on political, social and cultural affairs, or that provide research and scholarly resources. Timely collection is particularly important for selective collecting, ensuring that records of rapidly unfolding events are kept.

Social media

The Library does not distinguish social media as a distinct collecting category of material, but applies the same approach to collection of social media material as to other web material.


The Pandora archive results from a collaborative effort with other cultural institutions, including state and territory libraries, the Australian War Memorial and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Where possible, the Library actively seeks partnerships with trusted institutions to increase efficient collection of web materials.


Definition and scope

The Library’s map collections contain cartographic and geospatial materials. The terms ‘maps’ or ‘mapping’ may be used to describe all types of geospatial media, including topographic and other thematic maps (planning and land use, environmental change, infrastructure, demography, political boundaries etc), maps produced in series, hydrographic charts, real estate plans, atlases and gazetteers, globes and cartographic games, digital products, and source material such as aerial photographs

While maps collected are generally published materials, some unpublished or manuscript mapping is also collected, particularly that of individuals or agencies who have created or used maps as part of their life and work. The collecting of cartographic literature, books, serials, websites and other materials is governed by the Principles set out in those sections of the Policy.


Traversing across technical, scientific, artistic and social significance, the Library hosts the largest cartographic collection in Australia. From planning maps, to maps of natural formations, through street directories and aerial photographs, maps record change over time, providing unique insight into human impact on our surroundings. The interconnectivity of maps between areas also illustrates and sheds light on boundaries and connections, and the movement of Australians and their impact around the world.

Collecting intent

As part of its national heritage responsibilities, the Library collects, preserves and makes accessible maps and other geospatial materials relating to Australia’s documentary interests. The collection comprises historical and current cartography relating to Australia and other nations, with particular emphasis on countries and regions during periods of Australian engagement with them. 

The geographical focus of the Library’s collection is on Australia and its territories, and on Antarctica, the South Pacific, South East Asia and other regions in which Australia has clear historical, commercial, diplomatic, military or other significant interests.

In collecting maps that document Australian culture and society, the Library focuses on places and events located on the Australian continent and its territories, and on the activities of Australians overseas. The Library’s collection is strongest in the European mapping tradition, and maps relating to early European exploration of Australia are a collection focus.

As part of its record of Australian publishing, the Library comprehensively acquires mapping produced by federal and state government agencies, as well as commercial and other maps. Local government maps, as well as commercially produced tourist maps and other ephemeral material, are representatively, rather than comprehensively, acquired.

In order to effectively record change and understand connections, maps in series are comprehensively collected, ensuring that the Library has complete coverage of ‘the Grid’.

Digital mapping

With the development of digital mapping, the Library must carefully consider what is able to be collected and delivered, given current and future capacity. Mapping generated digitally by government and commercial suppliers is collected, along with the metadata needed to archive and access mapping in this form.

Electronic spatial data, along with software necessary to access it, is acquired selectively. Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) products and databases intended for use in the creation of maps are generally not collected. The Library negotiates with data creators and map producers to ensure ongoing archiving and future access to spatial data and products.

Specialist geospatial websites which are identified as significant for future research are archived as part of the Library’s web collections.

Geospatial Positioning System or Global Positioning System (GPS) products and databases intended for use with mobile navigational devices, for tracking, location and other synchronous and positional application are not collected.


The Library works with other institutions to ensure the most appropriate home for rare or unique maps. For example, material relating primarily to Australian participation in armed conflicts may be referred to the Australian War Memorial. The policies and activities of state and regional libraries also have a bearing on the Library's collecting priorities and procedures. On the other hand, the Library may collect mapping where the agency of a particular country does not provide ongoing preservation or access, as in the case in some Southeast Asian countries.


Definition and scope

The Library collects Australian published and unpublished music scores, covering a range of musical styles, historical and contemporary music. This section specifically refers to the Library’s collecting policy for music scores, mostly published but also some unpublished music and formed collections.

‘Music scores’ is the term used generically to describe all types of ‘notated’ music: sheet music, full and vocal scores, parts, albums and anthologies, song and hymn books, commentaries that include printed music, educational resource kits, some with accompanying audio and mixed media. The term also covers unpublished music manuscripts either in the hand of the composer or copyist, digitally notated music, and facsimile reproductions.

The Library also collects personal archives, websites and oral histories relating to Australian composers, performers and music organisations, ephemera and photographs capturing musical performance and the music trade, unpublished audio recordings of folk music and dance, and wider music-related resources to support research and study. These other types of music materials are governed by the principles set out in those sections of the Policy. With the exception of materials collected as part of archival collections, the Library does not collect published recordings of Australian music, which is the responsibility of the National Film and Sound Archive.


The Library’s music collection forms the largest research collection of music scores in Australia and its broadly-focused Australian collection is unique. The Library aspires to collect all music created by or for Australians, or that has an Australian context or association, past and present. The collection as a whole documents the role, place and history of music in Australian society from European settlement to the present. 

The music collection also supports research leading to creative work, performance practice and scholarship. The Library acquired formed collections of historical European music, often in editions and bound volumes of the type imported into Australia in the 19th century, such as in the Helm Collection, as well as music created in the region.  While the Library no longer actively collects overseas music, it selectively acquires additional materials that add to existing collection strengths or support the Library’s public programs (for example, exhibitions), because of the limited number of institutions in Australia which provide access to rich music collections.  The Library also supports access through digitising and copying music, where copyright permits, and through interlibrary loan.

When nationally and historically significant, the Library selectively acquires and adds to formed collections of performance sets used in Australian musical life, whether the items were published in Australia or not. Usually these have Australian provenance and often have performance markings and annotations (exemplified by the J.C. Williamson collection of opera and music theatre scores and parts, Symphony Australia’s unpublished Australian orchestral and vocal works, and the State Theatre collection of music played to accompany silent film in Australia).  The Library does not normally acquire sets of contemporary performance materials, which are the responsibility of specialist music libraries in teaching institutions or organisations such as Symphony Services International that support professional performing ensembles.

The Library manages the International Standard Music Number Agency for Australia, as a free service to the Australian music publishing industry. Music publishing in Australia remains a largely niche industry, made up of independent publishers and small subsidiaries of global music publishers producing music on a relatively small scale. The Australian Music Centre fills a significant gap for Australian composers by acting as a ‘publisher’ on demand, under a special reproduction licence agreement for its represented composers.

Collecting intent

The Library aims comprehensively to collect sheet music and scores published in Australia, in all languages and formats and across all genres and styles of music.

This includes variant editions, as well as copies of items where these contain particular provenance, annotations, or distinguishing features. The Library also comprehensively acquires Australian Music Centre publications for research, access and preservation.

The Library endeavours to acquire music published overseas by Australian creators (composers, arrangers, lyricists) comprehensively, as well as overseas music that has some aspect of Australian content or association, or that relates to events of direct interest to Australia. For the purpose of understanding the history of musical culture in Australia, the Library selectively collects overseas music popular or performed in Australia during specific time periods, including overseas music distributed in Australia by Australian agents. The Library will selectively add to such collections, in particular where there is an association with an Australian performer, composer or collector, or supplement existing series, for the purposes of research. The Library may selectively collect music scores from the wider region, specifically to support the study of the Asia-Pacific. It also provides access to international collections of music scores through eResources and subscription based services.

The music section may acquire unpublished Australian music, either as part of a formed collection of Australian music works or as individual manuscript scores created by a significant Australian composer.  Where musical works in manuscript are acquired as part of a personal archive, these manuscripts are held together with that archive in Manuscripts and are not held in the Music collection.  However, the Music section may acquire a reproduction of the same work in facsimile or in published form, if available, to support wider access.  The Library proactively collects and fills gaps in the collection through special projects, with a priority on collecting music created by Indigenous musicians and diverse cultural communities in Australia.


The Library has a formal collecting and archiving agreement with the Australian Music Centre whose main role is to facilitate and promote the performance and understanding of music by Australian composers.  The Library refers users to the Centre for lending and copyright information.

The Library’s role in acquiring music scores is complemented by the National Film and Sound Archive which aims to collect, preserve and provide access to moving image and recorded sound material and associated historical documentation representing the output of Australia’s diverse music and radio industries. The Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies also has a rich archival collection of Indigenous traditional music and dance recorded in the field, including the historic Alice Moyle collection. In cooperation, the Library actively collects music composed by, about or in collaboration with Indigenous musicians, as well as Indigenous music recorded through its folklore program.

A mutually supportive network of Australian music librarians, under the auspices of International Association of Music Libraries and Archives, collaborate on building collections across institutions on a cooperative but informal basis. 

Ephemera, including broadsides and posters

Definition and scope

‘Ephemera’ is a term used generically to refer to transitory printed works. Ephemera are typically produced during the course of everyday social life to convey topical and timely information about places, people, events or moments in time. This kind of material tends to be produced for a specific audience and immediate purpose rather than for long term use and retention. 

This section cover the Library’s collecting of physical contemporary and retrospective ephemera, to document social, political, cultural, performing and sporting life. This material is mostly printed on paper but includes some objects (memorabilia such as hats, badges, or t-shirts used, for example, in electioneering, community dialogue, celebrations or protest). Websites, electronic flyers and social media are taking over a significant role in disseminating information once produced in physical form. Web archiving, including whole of domain harvests, therefore complements the Library’s printed ephemera collection.

The Library also collects larger size printed sheets, typically in the form of:

  • broadsides: historically, these communicate a message textually, for example, announcing events, proclamations or advertisements; and
  • posters, where the intent is conveyed through concentrated visual impact, accompanied by text. Posters often contain significant or memorable artistic and graphic design features, but they are ephemeral in nature, purpose, print production and information. They are often mass-produced rather than unique pictorial works.

The Library also collects ‘street press’ publications, pamphlets and zines under the category of Periodicals, although these share some of the attributes of ephemera with their topicality and ephemeral nature.


The Library collects, organizes, and preserves ephemera as a significant part of its documentary record of Australian life, both historical and contemporary. Ephemera is often considered as primary documentary material because of its direct and unmediated nature. It is typically used to inform, promote, advertise, entertain, advocate or express opinion, for example in support of a social or political campaign or a performance event.

With the vast quantity of ephemera produced in the community, it is neither feasible nor legal to collect all forms under Legal Deposit provisions, so that the Library’s collecting must necessarily be representative and selective. Mostly, documents such as leaflets, flyers, advertising materials or menus are intended for short-term use and enjoyment, to be discarded after use, so are at high risk of disappearing. Nevertheless, ephemera can display a wide range of production and aesthetic values. They can reveal diverse printing technologies and production decisions over time. The variable quality of the artefacts (which range from single loose sheets to silk programs) may demonstrate high levels of artistic creativity by unacknowledged creators, making determination of copyright difficult.

There are few other libraries in Australia that actively collect ephemera on a large national scale, with state and territory libraries focusing on their own jurisdiction. Many personal archives acquired by Manuscripts contain quantities of printed ephemera. These are usually kept together within the archive, where there is a direct and known relationship to the subject or creator, but are otherwise integrated into the Library’s Australian or overseas ephemera collections. 

Collecting intent

Where the Library identifies topics of high priority or national interest, the Library aims to collect as comprehensively as possible, for example seeking to acquire campaign materials for federal elections across all candidates, electorates and parties. In other instances, the Library aims to acquire a representative sample of material pertaining to geographic regions (for example, the Great Barrier Reef) and travel (for example, environmental tourism), sport (for example, Olympic and Paralympic Games), identified cultural groups (for example, refugees), social movements (for example, Indigenous land rights) and political opinion or issues of current and past public debate (for example, coal seam gas).

In the performing arts (PROMPT collection), the priority is to collect as comprehensively as possible printed programs, handbills and fliers pertaining to national performance arts organisations and international tours, artists identified as nationally or internationally significant, and events, festivals and celebrations of national interest.

The Library actively seeks a sample of other types of ephemera such as trade catalogues, invitations, advertising material, menus, and other items representing social diversity. Ephemera can often fill subject gaps in the wider collection, in particular with regard to emerging issues of regional or community concern that might not otherwise appear in published form.

The same collecting intent applies to posters and broadsides, which can reveal Australian issues and concerns in a concentrated visual format, not always created primarily as works of artistic expression. 

The Library may selectively collect overseas ephemera, broadsides and posters. In particular, these seek to document events and issues affecting the Asia-Pacific region, for example coverage of the Papua New Guinea national elections or the People’s Alliance for Democracy in Thailand.  Formed collections of overseas ephemera may be acquired to fill collection gaps, especially in areas not well represented by other forms of print, or that complement other collections, especially where there is an association with an Australian collector or organisation.


The Library is highly dependent on active engagement and donations from the general public and collectors in acquiring ephemera, particularly relating to special events, the performing arts, public discourse and campaigns.

The Library collaborates with a range of cultural collecting institutions, including the state and territory libraries, other national institutions and performing arts organisations. The Library does not collect ephemera in audio-visual form, which is responsibility of the National Film and Sound Archive.

CDP - What we collect: Unpublished collections


Unpublished collections document Australian history, society and culture.  These special collections uniquely record people, places and events, as well as capturing ideas, attitudes and values, social change and creative processes. They provide particular insight into the historical, social, cultural and political contexts in which they were originally created.

Together, the unpublished collections focus on:

  • the lives, experiences and activities of individuals who have achieved national prominence in a variety of fields
  • the experiences, viewpoints or perspectives of people who share a common experience,  cultural identity,  place, or have been central to an event or topic of public importance
  • national organisations or significant groups that have influenced public life and debate or shaped social change
  • people who reflect cultural, social and linguistic diversity.

‘Unpublished’ materials

The ‘unpublished’ collections mainly consist of manuscripts and archives, pictures, and oral history and folklore recordings. The Library houses, describes and manages these separately from the ‘published’ collections, although special formed collections, web archives, maps, music and rare books also contain some ‘unpublished’ materials. Similarly, unpublished collections often contain a variety of media, including some published materials. An archive that is created or assembled by an individual or organisation is likely to contain many different types of records without regard to media, format or type. Unpublished collections also increasingly contain both physical and digital materials. 

Approaches to collecting

The Library maintains its broad distinction between ‘published’ and ‘unpublished’ collections primarily to differentiate approaches to collecting.  

Some distinguishing characteristics are:

  • Unpublished collections are not subject to legal deposit.
  • Unpublished collections are acquired from individuals or groups through diverse processes, and require ongoing relationships with creators and donors for access and use.
  • Unpublished collecting is highly selective. Using the priorities outlined in the Principles, Library staff exercise judgement to determine the significance of materials and the research, documentary or historical value of a collection. 
  • Once a subject, person, event or group is ‘selected’ for collecting, when possible the Library then collects materials comprehensively or representatively, to ensure depth, coverage and cohesion that will support advanced research and interpretation. 
  • The Library builds on unpublished collections in several ways. For example, it may:
    • enhance a single accumulated collection over the long term, by adding components or instalments (for example, ongoing records of a political party; a second interview with a person later in life)
    • acquire related collections to build depth and breadth or fill a gap in the documentary record
    • complement a collection across material types, for example, a personal archive and an archived website, an oral history recording and documentary photographs
    • commission sound recordings, and occasionally photography, to create materials where this is the most efficient or most appropriate means to capture a subject
    • represent a subject, event or place from a wide range of perspectives.

An example that illustrates these approaches is the Library’s unpublished collections around the Australian response to HIV-AIDS.  An Oral History project recorded 82 interviews with people living with HIV-AIDS, medical personnel, politicians, bureaucrats and advocates; Manuscripts collected personal papers of individuals such as gay rights campaigner Denis Altman and policy advisor Bill Bowtell, president of the Australian Federation of AIDS organisations and director of the AIDS Trust. The Library commissioned portraits of interviewees and experts and collected photographs, signs, posters, drawings and cartoons capturing the Australian response.

Collecting priorities

Collecting unpublished materials is a priority for the Library. Their permanent preservation for future generations has become especially pressing in response to the impact of technological disruption and transition from physical to digital documentation. 

The Library aims to collect unpublished materials proactively, according to the priorities outlined in the principles. However, the Library must remain responsive to offers of personal, organisational, photographic and oral archives, as well as related collections. Given the extent of such materials still held by creators, such offers are increasing in range, volume as well as format complexity. These collections also involve a high degree of curatorial activity to select, acquire, describe and manage.  For these reasons, the Library often collects unpublished materials reactively, responding to opportunity, rather than according to systematic planning. 

The principles set out the range of criteria used to balance priorities, including the cost and ease of preservation and access. Format issues and obsolescence make it essential to prioritise the transfer of analogue and printed formats to digital in some collections. The lifespan of audio-visual recordings is limited by their physical and chemical stability, and various recording technologies and playback equipment are obsolete. Similarly, photographs are prone to various types of deterioration through chemical instability, pollutants and physical fragility.

Unpublished materials are subject to a wide range of external factors that impact on what the Library collects: for example, how materials were originally created, what has survived, how and from whom collections are offered, relationships between creators and collectors, copyright and other rights affecting management and use of collections. The Library acts in accordance with the wishes of donors and creators and respects privacy, copyright, intellectual and moral rights, while making collections as open and accessible as possible for research, within agreed timeframes. 


Definition and scope

In a contemporary library context, ‘manuscripts’ is a broad term used to refer to:

  • single original items, such as a letter or a diary, or an early draft  work by an author or composer
  • personal papers or organisational archives; collections that have been created or accumulated by an individual, family or organisation in the course of their   lives, work and  activities
  • groups of primarily unpublished records that have been assembled by an individual or organisation.

Manuscripts may be handwritten, typescript or electronic, and may include all kinds of textual and other formats of records not usually made available to the public.

Manuscripts collections contain varied formats of material, both physical and digital. A lifetime personal archive may include correspondence written by hand or email, diaries and blogs, photographs, research notes, literary, artistic or musical sketches and drafts, designs, leaflets and ephemera, maps, objects, and annotated copies of published writings. Manuscript collections often contain sound and audio-visual material, such as speeches, performance recordings and copies of broadcasts.  

While not all items in a manuscripts collection may be unique, archival collections have historical or evidential value in the content of individual items, as well as in the context and relationships existing between them. The integrity of the collection as a whole and the order in which it was created, used and organised is as important as the items within it. Manuscript collections are thus collected and described in terms of their provenance, creation, context and the relationships between constituent parts, rather than as individual items.  As part of the acquisition process the Library seeks lists, indexes and descriptions of the content from creators and donors when possible. These are made available online as finding aids, to assist users to identify and access the content within a collection.


One of the earliest manuscripts acquired by the Library was the handwritten journal of Captain James Cook aboard the Endeavour, purchased at a London auction at the direction of Prime Minister Stanley Bruce in 1923. Chronologically, the earliest manuscripts in the Library’s collections are fragments of medieval liturgy acquired in formed collections. However, the greatest strength of the collection dates from the 1890s onwards, reflecting Australia’s development as a nation. They range from the earliest writings of Europeans voyaging to Australia, through to the papers of Eddie Koiki Mabo and the legal team in the cases which resulted in customary native title to land being recognised in Australian law; up to recent, substantially digital, archives such as those of the former Greens leader Bob Brown. James Cook’s Endeavour journal and the Mabo papers were the first Australian collections to be inscribed on UNESCO’s international register for the Memory of the World in 2001.

The manuscripts collections, taken as a whole, reflect changing attitudes to the creation, acquisition and significance of archives as significant sources of documentary heritage. Increasing online availability of the catalogue records, finding aids and other descriptive lists for manuscripts collections has exposed the value and significance of these collections for research.

As writing has been transformed in the digital world the nature of personal and organisational records is rapidly changing, leading to new challenges for individuals and organisations in maintaining and preserving archival collections. This has led to the Library receiving increased offers of both paper-based and electronic records and needing to address the challenges of complex digital archiving.

While the Library endeavours to collect strategically across a wide range of social, intellectual, political, scientific and cultural activity to build representation, depth and strengths for research, collecting archives and manuscripts is necessarily opportunistic and reactive in this environment.

Collecting intent

The Library’s predominant focus is on collecting manuscripts and archives that document Australian life, people, culture, creativity, events and social change. Based on the priorities set out in the principles, the Library focuses on collecting the archives of:

  • Australians of national significance, living in Australia or expatriate
  • non-governmental organisations of influence, especially those with national coordination or peak body responsibilities
  • people or organisations with a focus on issues of national interest, community activity or social change.

Most acquisitions are of the personal archives of individuals. These may be distinguished Australians or leaders in their field, whose papers capture their lifetime of activity, creative or intellectual endeavour. Papers of an individual, family or interest group are also collected when the archive contributes to long-term understanding of a subject, aspect of social life, or topic of national interest. 

The Library has always collected manuscripts documenting historical movements, contested history or events of a national character, such as maritime discovery, European settlement, the gold rushes, immigration and cultural diversity, and continues to do so when retrospective collections or items are discovered. 

The Library collects organisational records and the personal records of people active in social movements which have influenced and shaped Australian society, including on subjects such as immigration, environmental change, health issues and constitutional reform. The Library acquires materials that document Australia’s relations with other countries and its geographical region to support knowledge of Australia’s contribution or perspective in a global context. Existing collections are especially strong where Australia had colonial interests, such as in Papua New Guinea, or close cultural ties, like New Zealand, and across the history of exploration and continuing scientific and environmental endeavours in the Antarctic.

The Library endeavours to develop rich and diverse collections in specific subject areas to provide depth for research. The acquisition of related collections also enables sustained research. For example, the papers of Patrick White are complemented by those of composers Richard Meale and Peter Sculthorpe, directors Jim Sharman and Moffatt Oxenbould, artist Sir Sidney Nolan, actor Kate Fitzpatrick and his biographer David Marr.

The Library aspires to fill gaps in the collection, for example of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, non-Christian faiths and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Library assesses the likely research value of collections on offer as historical evidence and for their ability to support extended research in different subject areas.


The Library takes into account the collecting interests of other Australian libraries and archives, giving consideration to collection strengths. The Library prefers to maintain the integrity of an archive, and not to split or disperse collections across institutions.

The strongest collaboration is with the state and territory libraries of Australia, recognising their interests and collection strengths, as well as the convenience for many users of records in having unique archival collections located closer to the communities in which they were created.  Local studies collections in public libraries, such as the ACT Heritage Library, and the archives in some regional universities are also important repositories for material relating to particular places.

The National Archives of Australia and the various state and territory archival authorities have statutory responsibilities for government records of their jurisdictions. Among Commonwealth collecting institutions, the Australian War Memorial is the principal repository for archives associated with Australian involvement in war and conflicts and the National Film and Sound Archive is an audiovisual archive which collects materials documenting the broadcast, film, television and music industries.  The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies has strong collections, including audiovisual archives, about the cultures, traditions, languages and stories, past and present, of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

Several universities have large research archives. The Australian National University for example, has strengths in business archives, the records of employer associations and trade unions, Pacific research, as well as the records of individuals and organisations associated with the University. Other universities have prime ministerial libraries and research centres, such as the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library at Curtin University, the first to be established, which as well as holding personal records of the Curtin family and copies of official records has also collected  the papers of his biographers, political associates and journalists of his era. 

The Library takes account of these responsibilities and refers offers to other institutions when manuscripts are more appropriately collected elsewhere. By agreement with the Australian National University, the National Library does not collect business records and encourages large organisations, which generate records on a huge scale, to preserve their own records.


Definition and scope

The Pictures Collection includes materials in a range of visual media which document Australian life.

The largest component of the collection is photography, in many formats ranging from the earliest daguerreotypes of the mid-19th century to contemporary digital image files, and from the later 20th century including colour photography. There are also prints in many media, including engravings, etchings, lithographs and woodcuts. Paintings, watercolours, drawings, sketchbooks, cartoons, posters, postcards and objects are among the many other formats represented. The range and variety of media in the collection is a reflection of visual culture and technology across Australian history. 


The Pictures Collection is a representative visual record of Australia’s people, places, events, history, society and culture. For the period up to the mid-nineteenth century the geographical focus of the collection encompassed European exploration of the South Pacific and Australia and the departure of convicts and settlers from Great Britain. The collection continues to record the activities of Australians overseas, especially in Papua New Guinea, the South Pacific, South-East Asia and Antarctica.

The Pictures Collection includes many significant works of art; however works are selected for their documentary, representational or historical content and research value, not primarily for their artistic merit or aesthetic significance.

The Pictures Collection is an aggregation of pictures selected and acquired individually and as collections, large and small; of materials accumulated and kept together because of their provenance (like the Ducie collection of First Fleet art); creator (the archive of photographer Wolfgang Sievers); or the interests of a collector (the Buckland collection relating to railways in Australia).

The collection’s major strengths in photography, prints, drawings and paintings were established through the acquisition of foundation collections assembled by E.A. Petherick (1847-1917), Sir John Ferguson (1881-1969) and Sir Rex Nan Kivell (1898-1977). The Nan Kivell collection also includes significant pictures relating to New Zealand, reflecting the collector’s birthplace and broader antipodean interest.

There are also vast numbers of visual materials within manuscripts collections, including photographs, sets and costume designs, sketch books and albums, and other art works. These resources are usually retained and managed within the manuscript collection which provides their context and meaning. The Library also commissions photographs which support the Oral History and Folklore Collection, such as portrait photographs of interviewees and performance photographs.

Collecting intent

The Library collects pictures of significant Australians as well as individuals and groups representative of different occupational, social or cultural experience, and other pictures focusing on Australian social and cultural life. The Library collects selectively, and prefers pictures that represent their subject matter with accuracy and detail, which can be dated and the people and places in them identified; or that typify phenomena best documented visually. The Library selectively collects works by professional artists and photographers of national significance whose work is documentary in nature. Some priority is given to acquiring pictures which complement other collecting areas, such as ephemera, manuscripts, oral history and folklore. 

Most works acquired are representational, documenting major themes, events and social or environmental changes in Australia. Non-representational works may be acquired when they:

  • reveal the social, cultural and ideological preconceptions and assumptions of Australian artists and photographers—especially those who have had some influence on the way that Australians look at their country or people
  • represent the viewpoints or perspectives of significant groups within Australian society
  • have been central to an event or public debate or cultural identity.

The Library holds historic collections showing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Indigenous people and communities, as seen through European eyes, and continues to acquire these. The Library now gives priority to acquiring contemporary visual documentation created by Australian Indigenous photographers or artists of their communities, people, places, culture and society. 

Strategic collecting of historic and contemporary pictures builds on strengths and fills in gaps in particular subject areas, to represent different perspectives on topics such as migration and diverse social life, industry and technology, the natural and built environment, environmental change, religion, travel, leisure, the arts, political and public life.

The Library also acquires, highly selectively, large archives or collections from individual creators, such as photographer Jeff Carter, or organisations, like the Fairfax archive of glass plate negatives, 1890-1948.


The Library recognises the collecting interests of other commonwealth and state institutions, such as the Australian War Memorial’s  collections relating to Australian participation in war and conflicts; and the interest of the National Film and Sound Archive in posters, stills and other visual material documenting Australian film, sound and broadcasting activities. The Library has considerable strengths in pictures of ships and shipping up to the early twentieth century, but the Australian National Maritime Museum is now the major collector of contemporary shipping images. The Library maintains a close relationship with the National Portrait Gallery and lending agreements with other cultural institutions. The Library works very closely with National and State Libraries Australasia to address collecting and collection management issues for our extensive pictures collections.

Oral History and Folklore

Definition and scope

The Library’s oral history and folklore collections contain interviews with Australians which ensure their life stories, memories, perspectives and personal insights are captured. The collections are necessarily highly selective and primarily comprise audio recordings, although some video interviews are now included. There are 3 main components:

  • extended ‘whole of life’ biographical interviews with Australians who have achieved national prominence in a variety of fields
  • ‘social history’ interviews, recording the memories and experiences of people who share a background or experience – for example, ethnicity, occupation, living in a particular place, experiencing polio
  • folklore recordings which capture community cultural practices and traditions that reflect social, linguistic and ethnic diversity in Australia: through songs, music and dance, tales and stories, customs, beliefs, speech and other forms of cultural expression.

The oral history and folklore collections capture experiences that otherwise may not be recounted in written form; or document people, events or issues that may be marginalised or 'left out' of Australian history. The collections retain the sound recordings as the primary source, as these convey meaning through the sound of the voice, expression, silence and emotion, beyond the words themselves. Oral history and folklore recordings are undertaken by specialist interviewers, expert in their fields. Interviewees control access to their interviews and may impose access restrictions for a period of time until their deaths. This encourages interviewees to speak frankly and they may reveal information and opinions not otherwise on the public record.


Oral history activity in Australia proliferated with the availability of portable tape recorders in the 1950s. At first, from the mid-1950s, the Library acquired oral history recordings from pioneering collectors, such as Hazel de Berg. The Folklore collection began with the acquisition of significant formed collections, dating from the 1950s, most notably that of John Meredith.

In 1970 the Library began its own active interviewing program with distinguished Australians, with the objective of developing strengths in fields aligned with the Manuscripts collections and supplementing holdings of personal papers.  In the 1980s the Library’s program broadened to include social history and folklore, and expert interviewers and collectors were commissioned to record in the field.

The collections also include a small number of historical broadcasts, public addresses, occasional lectures, talks, conferences and seminar proceedings, including recordings of significant events at the Library. National Press Club lunch addresses were regularly recorded from the mid-1970s to 1996. The collection contains some 900 Press Club addresses, including some earlier recordings from the 1960s acquired with other collections of prime ministers Menzies and Gorton.

Some sound and audio-visual recordings are acquired as components of personal or organisational archives. They include copies of radio and television programs, taped speeches, poetry readings and performance recordings.

Collecting intent

The Library selectively records biographical interviews with distinguished Australians, often complementing other collections, such as Manuscripts and Pictures. The collection is strong in fields such as politics, public administration, the creative and performing arts, business, science, journalism, intellectual life, the environment and conservation.  In some cases, follow-up interviews are recorded at later stages of an individual’s life and career.

Social history projects interview a wide-ranging set of participants to give insights from multiple perspectives. Some projects have concentrated on specific periods and events, such as life in 1938 or the 2003 Canberra bushfires, or on the experiences of particular groups, for example, the unemployed, drovers, members of religious orders, migrants, and people who lived in Broken Hill. Commonwealth government departments sometimes fund the Library to undertake major social history projects around nationally significant issues, such as the Cultural Context of Unemployment (1985), the Australian Response to AIDS (1992), Bringing Them Home (1998) and The Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants (2009).

The Library collects folklore selectively, contracting folklorists to record people around Australia at their homes, in community places and at festivals. The Library aims to represent a breadth of traditions to provide depth of understanding and knowledge and support ongoing creativity. Holdings of traditional Australian music and song (sometimes called bush traditions) are strong and a significant amount of material has also been recorded with Indigenous Australians and culturally diverse communities. The Library focuses on vernacular and community traditions that are not well documented by the music and broadcasting industries.

Analogue to digital, with accompanying data

Obsolescence in formats and playback equipment has required the Library to convert its analogue recordings to digital, a program which has been almost completed. The digital copies have allowed the Library to develop an online audio delivery system. Digital audio, with accompanying metadata, is now the primary means of access.  As well as the primary audio recording, interviews are accompanied by time-pointed summaries and sometimes full transcriptions. This textual metadata is increasingly enabling refined searching of the content of interviews to support research and other uses of the interview content. A large proportion of openly accessible oral history and folklore audio is increasingly freely available online.


The Library’s Oral History and Folklore Collection involves a high degree of collaboration. The collecting objectives and priorities of other organisations with large audio-visual collections are taken into account, including the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Australian War Memorial, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and state and territory libraries.

Other cultural institutions, government departments and community organisations have also partnered with the Library to support the commissioning of oral history interviews. The Library also participates as an industry partner in selected research funded by Australian Research Council grants which includes oral history interviews. The Library also supports and encourages societies, professional organisations and community groups to initiate their own oral history projects by providing guidance on approaches and advice on technical standards.

CDP - What we collect: Overseas Collections


The National Library of Australia’s overseas collections have been built over many years. This collection delivers on the Library’s commitment to inform Australians about their region and their place in the world.

The Library’s overseas collections make up approximately half of the Library’s total print collection, as well as a substantial proportion of the Library’s electronic subscriptions and licensed ebook material. Since 2012, the Library’s collecting of this material has focused on the Asia-Pacific region, with more selective collecting from the wider world. This change reflects the growth of readily available digital resources, including digitised materials, as well as changes in the cost of maintaining an overseas collection and the opportunities for collaboration to enable access.

The Library’s rich overseas collections shed light and context on developments in Australia and on Australian engagement in the wider world. Australian-related overseas collecting focuses on materials that contextualise Australia's history, society, arts and culture, politics and the economy, from exploration and discovery to the present day. Collecting includes topics such as:

  • European discovery and exploration of the region
  • works on indigenous and first nation peoples
  • the historical British and European institutions, ideas and influences that created Australia during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Topics covered include but are not limited to politics and political ideas, economic history, religion, social issues, music and the arts, popular culture, everyday life
  • war and conflicts involving Australia
  • Australia’s humanitarian, defence and cultural engagements
  • migration and diaspora
  • aspects of the global economy relevant to Australia
  • aspects of art and culture relevant to Australia

Representative and selective collecting

The greatest strengths of the Library’s overseas collections are, broadly, the social sciences, history, politics, culture, music and the arts, and society. Building upon these strengths remains the Library’s collecting priority, ensuring the creation of a world-class collection with depth and relevance to specialist researchers. This is achieved through selective collecting practices, but with an emphasis on achieving representative or comprehensive coverage of selected areas and topics, especially in the priority area of Asia-Pacific Region collection.

Topics and areas of specialty for in-depth collection take into consideration:

  • existing strengths of the collection
  • feedback from Australian research communities
  • relevance of material to understanding Australian culture, life or society
  • relevance of material to understanding social, economic, political, cultural and artistic developments that provide context for Australia.

Overseas materials are often acquired through contractual arrangements, where library suppliers are requested to supply all relevant materials. These arrangements are based upon the principles outlined in this policy. In some cases, formed and special collections may be acquired where they significantly enhance advanced research.

While the majority of overseas collecting is contemporary, retrospective materials are acquired to fill key gaps in collections and build research depth.

Collecting priorities

The principles outline the specific priorities for collecting in the Asia-Pacific region and from the rest of the world. The Library no longer purchases for ownership and preservation of overseas materials where it can provide sustained digital access and eResources through arrangements with vendors and other organisations.

The Library continues to prioritise collecting from and about the Asia-Pacific region. Individual country collecting is subject to change, according to social or political factors, changes in research focus, and Library priorities and resources. The principles set out the range of criteria used to balance priorities and acquisition decisions, including ease, cost and sustainability of access to specialist resources and vendors.


Definition and scope

The scope of Asian collecting covers monographs, maps, serials and newspapers as core content, whether in digital, print or microform format. Collecting for some Asian countries may also include multimedia, pictorial works, ephemera and websites, acquired on a selective basis.


The Library’s Asian collecting program builds collections for Australians to learn about, study in depth and understand the Asian region. There is a continued focus on resources that underpin research. 

Subject areas fall within the broad areas of history, culture and society and focus on works that provide interpretation and analysis of Asia-Pacific-related issues, current events and social trends. Research level works and trade publications are acquired that treat subjects at an advanced or academic level. Such works specifically relate to political science, government, foreign relations, economics, law, education, social issues, geography, development issues and travel.

Collecting intent

The principle for acquisition is whether a work or collection provides context for a broader understanding of a country, its development in the modern era and its place in the modern world, whether historically, culturally or politically. Collecting is open to interdisciplinary topics that may not be easily categorised but that relate to one or more aspects of interest.

Collecting from Asian countries


The highest priority historical period is the modern era after 1911. Significant works on earlier periods of China’s history which provide context to the modern period are also acquired. There are extensive holdings of Chinese series (cong shu) and provincial yearbooks which are added to as new volumes are issued. A representative sample of works on Chinese culture and the arts is acquired. Collecting areas of interest are China’s minority and indigenous groups, popular culture, topical issues and everyday life history. 


The highest priority historical period is the post-Meiji era (1868 onwards), including works on Japan’s development as a modern power in the early twentieth century, imperial expansion, military conflicts and Japan’s development as a nation in the postwar period. Works documenting Japan’s early relations with the West and foreign settlement in Japan are also acquired.

Collecting areas of interest are popular culture, topical issues and works documenting social movements and relations between citizens and government. A representative sample of works on Japanese literature and the visual arts is also acquired.


The Library collects works from and about both the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The highest priority collecting area is contemporary history, covering the period of Japanese occupation (1910 to 1945) onwards. Attention is given to the history of relations between North and South Korea and regional strategic issues. Current works from North Korea are acquired where possible, noting restrictions on supply.

Southeast Asia

Collecting from South-East Asia is strongest for Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and East Timor, outlined separately below. Collecting from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam is undertaken at a lower level.

As with other countries of the East Asian region, collecting focuses on the modern history and contemporary societies and cultures of South-East Asia. This includes early history, periods of colonial occupation, the post-World War Two period and inter-regional developments to the present day. Works on culture and the arts in South-East Asia are selectively acquired, with a lesser emphasis on works on religion and philosophy where these provide context to broader social trends.


The Library’s Indonesian Collection is one of the strongest contemporary research collections in the world, built by over thirty years collecting via an acquisitions office in Jakarta. Publications documenting relations between the central government and the regions, including ethnic minorities, are acquired.

A particular focus is on sources that document elections and the democratic process since 1999. These include election ephemera, posters, pamphlets and realia. A representative selection of works on the literatures of Indonesia is acquired, emphasising the modern period and including popular as well as literary fiction. Works on and in minority languages are acquired where available. Collecting on culture and the arts focuses on traditional forms that document indigenous groups and cultural heritage. Materials documenting popular culture and topical issues are selectively acquired. This includes selective web archiving in areas of interest.

East Timor

The Library has taken an active interest in developing a research level collection on East Timor. The Library acquires commercially and non-commercially published books and journals, newspapers, government publications, maps and a broad range of materials representative of East Timorese society and current affairs.

Publications from East Timor are acquired almost exclusively through institutional and personal contacts as this country lacks an established book trade, and publishing output is small. For this reason, publications available in any languages will be acquired. Publications in the English and Tetum languages are generally preferred.

Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar

Areas of collecting interest from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar include government and politics, the social sciences, economics, statistics, law, education, social issues and development issues. A broad range of publications is sought documenting modern society in each of these countries.

Thai collecting has a particular focus on cremation biographies written to memorialise the dead. Publications documenting regional development, ethnic minorities and relations with neighbours are also acquired. Similar materials are sought for Cambodia and Laos.

Materials documenting popular culture and topical issues in each of these countries are selectively acquired. A particular area of collecting interest is published sources documenting elections and the democratic process in Thailand. These sources include election ephemera, posters, pamphlets, realia and websites.

A representative selection of works on the literatures of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar is acquired. Works on minority languages are acquired. Collecting on culture and the arts focuses on traditional and indigenous cultures and arts rather than contemporary artists and movements in Thailand.

South Asia

Collecting from South Asia is at a lower level than for Southeast Asia and emphasises significant and current social, political, economic and cultural issues in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries of the South Asian region. Works which focus on subjects and topical issues of interest to Australia, and all aspects of Australia’s relations with countries of the South Asian region are acquired.

Works on relations between the South Asian countries are acquired. The Library exercises discretion and judgment in acquiring works on new trends and developments as they emerge over time.

The Library does not collect in the vernacular languages of India. English language publishing is collected and is supplemented by publications on the region published elsewhere in the world.


As a member of the National and State Libraries of Australasia (NSLA), the Library is committed to collaborative collection development according to the collaborative collections principles endorsed by NSLA.

The Library has in-principle collecting agreements for Chinese, Japanese and Korean language materials and Pacific newspapers. The Library is open to working with other collecting institutions within Australia and abroad to ensure the continuing availability of overseas, Asian and Pacific resources in library collections.

The Library has formal collecting agreements with the Australian academic sector regarding contemporary overseas, Asian and Pacific collecting.

The Pacific

Definition and scope

The scope of Pacific collecting covers monographs, maps, serials and newspapers as core content, whether in digital, print or microform format. Collecting for some Pacific countries may also include multimedia, pictorial works, music, ephemera and websites, acquired on a selective basis.


The Library’s interest in the Pacific is longstanding and reflects historical, economic and cultural links to countries in Australia’s geographic region.

Collecting intent

Collecting from Pacific Islands

Collecting from the Pacific focuses on reference works, statistics, legal materials, geography and travel, sociology and social issues, government and public administration, history, arts and culture. Works on politics, foreign relations, economics and education are acquired and a representative selection of works on the languages and literatures of the region is also sought. Works documenting popular culture and topical issues in the region are acquired. The Library continues to collect publications from relevant intergovernmental organisations such as the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

Works acquired are predominantly in English or French with selected acquisition in the vernacular languages of the region.

In Pacific collecting, the Library gives priority to the countries of Melanesia, comprising the islands immediately to the north and northeast of Australia (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia). A slightly lesser priority is given to the countries of Polynesia and Micronesia. Works about Hawaii are generally not collected, although the Library acquires Hawaii-origin publishing on the Asia Pacific region.

A strong emphasis is given to the collecting of material from Papua New Guinea, partly reflecting Australia’s historical links with that country, geographical proximity and an important economic and development relationship.

New Zealand collecting

The Library’s collecting interests in New Zealand are linked to the two countries’ shared history of exploration and discovery, political institutions, economic development and relationships with indigenous peoples. Collecting takes these ties into account and selectively adds to substantial historical collections.

Collecting focuses on significant current social, political, economic and cultural issues. Works which focus on subjects and topical issues of interest to Australia, and all aspects of the Australia-New Zealand relationship are acquired.

The National Library of New Zealand has an active collecting program for the New Zealand imprint as well as an extensive digitisation program. New Zealand publications can be efficiently searched and requested from New Zealand libraries through the Library’s resource sharing service, Libraries Australia. In addition, most New Zealand government publications are freely available online. The Library takes these factors into account when acquiring New Zealand publications.


The Library takes into account the collecting activity of the Australian National University Library when making acquisition decisions for Pacific materials. There are in-principle collecting agreements for Pacific newspapers. The Library has no other formal agreements with the Australian academic sector regarding Pacific collecting. 

The Library works with other collecting institutions within Australia and abroad to ensure the continuing availability of Pacific resources in library collections. The Library holds over 40,000 reels of microfilm of manuscripts and archival records, mostly acquired overseas and primarily of Australian and Pacific interest. In addition to materials copied in the United Kingdom and Ireland by the Australian Joint Copying Project (1948–93), records of Pacific interest continue to be filmed by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau and acquired cooperatively. The Bureau copies archives, manuscripts and rare printed material relating to the Pacific Islands, to ensure preservation, and forms the most extensive collection of non-government primary documentation on the Pacific Islands available to researchers. 

The wider world

Definition and scope

Collecting from the wider world builds on the Library's existing strengths, focuses on English language materials, and prioritises digital formats and access where appropriate.


The Library’s overseas collecting takes into account the diverse needs of researchers. Reference resources, including databases, aim to support advanced and scholarly research, both discipline based and interdisciplinary, but also in-depth family history research, which constitutes a sizeable proportion of use of the Library’s historical collections and databases, and general users.

Collecting intent

The Library selectively acquires publications intended to provide a contextual understanding of general issues and topics affecting Australia in the wider world. Collecting focus broadly falls within history, society, arts and culture and takes in current publishing in selected subjects that provide interpretation and analysis of global issues, current events and social trends affecting Australia. These include but are not limited to works on politics, history, government, international relations, the environment, energy and resources, the world economy, trade, the movement of peoples, demographic change, health trends, social issues, music and the arts. The Library exercise discretion to acquire works on new trends and developments as they emerge over time.

Research level works and trade publications are acquired that treat subjects at an academic or advanced level. There will be a preference for works that analyse the social aspects of a subject and present subjects in a broad context.

Principles for access to ebooks and monographic eResources

Ebooks and monographic eResources (such as collections of digitised books) are generally acquired as Library assets and made available indefinitely. The Library will accept vendor permanent access arrangements to achieve this or, with the appropriate permissions, archive content in its own system.

Remote access to ebooks will be provided wherever possible for registered Library users within Australia. Ebook content is downloadable to user devices where the Library has permission to allow this.

Gratis ebooks made freely available on the web are collected and archived with the permission of the publisher or copyright holder when they can be located. Where the work is deemed to be an orphan work, the Library will take a risk management approach and may opt to acquire the item without permission. The Library will generally not link to a website in lieu of acquiring a gratis ebook.

Principles for access to ejournals

The Library seeks to provide access to journals in digital form rather than print. Where a journal is available in both print and digital format, digital access will be preferred to a print subscription. Ejournals will be purchased either by direct subscription for single titles, through a vendor or as part of an aggregated journal article database. The Library will seek to avoid excessive title duplication between different aggregated journal article databases.

Print journal titles will only be acquired where there is no digital access alternative and where the content is deemed high priority, such as titles relating to Australia or published in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Library does not commit to providing perpetual access to current ejournal content.

Principles for access to newspapers

The Library seeks to provide access to overseas newspapers in digital form. Print or microform newspapers will only be acquired where there is no digital access alternative and where the content is deemed high priority, such as Asia-Pacific newspapers.

Newspapers made available in digital form fall into two broad categories. A number of current world newspaper titles are made available for immediate consumption as sources of news but will not be collected as archival sources for research. No commitment is made to maintaining perpetual access to these titles.

Some overseas newspapers are collected and retained as primary sources for research. These titles relate to high priority countries in the Asia and the Pacific or that cover historical periods or collecting areas of interest.

Where a newspaper title is in a high priority collecting area it will be provided in a full page format, whether in digital, microform or print. The availability of selected newspaper content in an article database is not considered to be a full page replica.

Where multiple versions of a high priority newspaper in page replica format are available, the Library will commit to permanent retention of at least one of them. Priority will be given to first digital, then microform and lastly print versions of newspapers, depending on availability and cost. The Library will not maintain duplicate holdings of page replica newspaper formats.

CDP - How we collect

The Library develops its collections through building strong community connections, engaging with issues of contemporary significance, and undertaking leadership activities, including innovating to address the impact of changing technologies on collecting and acquisition processes.

This section of the policy addresses the strategies, methodologies and range of approaches that the Library uses to acquire material, but does not include procedures, systems and workflows that the Library uses internally to acquire materials. Current information on these processes for publishers, creators and donors is available through the Library’s website, as well as related policy documents. Website links to this related documentation are included here.


The Library builds its collection through a variety of means:

  • legal deposit of Australian published materials under the Copyright Act 1968. From 2016, this act applies to both digital and hard-copy publications
  • voluntary deposit arrangements, including but not limited to government publications.
  • purchase via library suppliers and agents in Australia and overseas
  • direct purchase from authors or publishers, and through requests to purchase identified material
  • donations from the public, through one-off offers of material and through public appeals, bequests, gifts and philanthropy
  • donations under the Commonwealth Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, a tax incentive scheme for major donations of significant cultural materials
  • Library commissioning of oral history and folklore interviews and photographs, via contracted interviewers, collectors and photographers, and through occasional externally funded partnerships
  • special collecting arrangements: such as the Library’s office in Indonesia for collecting Asian materials; consultation with Indigenous communities or individuals with the authority to speak for traditional owners.
  • licensing (including perpetual licences) and subscription arrangements with international and Australian suppliers of electronic materials and databases, where not available for purchase or not selected for permanent acquisition and stewardship

The Library maintains a collection wish list of highly desired materials sought for the collection. 

Ethical collecting

The Library undertakes appropriate due diligence and is accountable and transparent in acquiring material by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange, in accordance with the principles outlined in the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Best Practice Guide to Collecting Cultural Material.

Relevant principles ensure that the Library:

  • undertakes all acquisitions, whether by purchase, donation or bequest, according to the highest standards of due diligence, including ethical and professional practice, and in accordance with applicable law
  • respects  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural restrictions, and  acknowledges its legal and ethical responsibility to traditional owners
  • ensures all cultural material acquired has been legally exported from the country of origin (and intermediate countries)
  • does not acquire cultural material where there are suspicions it was obtained through unauthorised means or theft from individuals or other repositories
  • reviews new information about an item in the institution’s collection and undertakes further investigations, if required
  • is committed to transparency and accountability in relevant policies and procedures and in making information on new acquisitions available to the public. The Library makes available its Policy documents on the website as well as highlights its recent acquisitions twice yearly. 

The Library undertakes its acquisition processes in accordance with the Commonwealth Government’s governance, performance and accountability rules.

Legal deposit

Under legal deposit provisions in the Commonwealth Copyright Act, the National Library is entitled to receive one copy of all library material published in Australia directly from the publisher, free of charge. Where material is published offline, for example physical books, newspapers, magazines and journals; printed maps and music, or published CD-ROMs and multimedia DVDs, this material must be delivered to the Library within 30 days of publication. Online material, such as ebooks; websites; electronic sheet music or maps, must be delivered to the Library upon request. The Library works in close cooperation with Australian publishers, large and small, to assist them to meet these deposit obligations, as well as maintaining the ISSN and ISMN national agencies. For more information about this, including information on what material is eligible, and how to deposit, is available—legal deposit.

Purchase and licensing of collection materials

The Library follows Commonwealth Government financial and procedural guidelines in all contractual, purchasing and licensing arrangements.

The Library purchases individual items for the collection through a variety of mechanisms, including auction, direct purchase from an organisation or an individual and through specialist vendors. The Library also purchases published materials through contractual arrangements with Library suppliers. Often, these arrangements will involve developing ‘profiles’ that specify groups of eligible materials for suppliers to deliver to the Library; for example, ‘any book written by an Australian published in Japan.’  Profiles are based on the principles and priorities determined in the Collection Development Policy.

Profiles are especially used in collecting overseas materials, in order to define collecting priorities for and from different countries and to acquire materials from overseas suppliers. The Library maintains a regional office in Jakarta, Indonesia, to facilitate the Asian regional collecting program.

Additionally, the Library is keen to fill collection gaps for out of print and retrospective Australian publications, and it nurtures relationships with collectors, antiquarian and second hand dealers, small presses, auction houses, agents and other outlets, as well as the general public and organisations, to identify and acquire such materials.

Where materials are available on subscription but not available for acquisition into the collection, for example, electronic resources and databases, the Library aims to acquire a perpetual licence to guarantee ongoing access and long-term sustainability. In instances where the Library only provide access to a resource but does not take responsibility for its sustainability, the Library acquires a licence limited for use. The Library sometimes enters into consortial licensing arrangements in collaboration with other trusted repositories.

Where a formed collection, archival collection or item of significant commercial value requires external valuation for purchase, the Library uses independent qualified valuers, as appropriate to determine market value. The Australian Government also provides a list of registered valuers as part of its Cultural Gifts Program.

Donation of collection materials

Many generous donations of collection materials by individuals and organisations over decades have helped build the richness, diversity and depth of the collections. The Library encourages offers of a wide range of collection materials, in accordance with the scope, collecting intent and priorities outlined in ‘What we collect’.  The Library accepts materials across the spectrum, from single items to lifetime or formed collections. The Library takes a long-term view of collection donations, and can accommodate shorter or longer timeframes as well as large collections in periodic instalments. Guidelines for donors and collection donation forms for registering offers are available—donate collection material.

In accordance with its custodial role to provide long-term preservation of and access to materials, the Library can only accept materials to the Library as permanent gifts. That is, the Library does not accept donations of material on permanent loan or loan for copy basis.

The Library is not always able to accept offers, for a variety of reasons, including where the Library collects highly selectively. Should materials duplicate existing items, or be outside of the Policy, the Library may advise donors of alternative institutions or pathways that may provide an appropriate home for them.

The Library particularly engages with the community to assist in locating volumes or issues in newspapers, magazines and journals that are missing from complete runs of periodicals, or where high use has rendered volumes at risk for long-term preservation. Occasional special projects and public appeals, such as for items required for digitisation, (such as The Women’s Weekly), or for ephemera collecting during federal election campaigns, particularly depend on this approach.

The Library is especially dependent on building relationships with individuals, communities of interest and the research community to acquire collections of special and original materials of national significance. Donors typically include creators, collectors, executors, family members, copyright holders, agents, or individuals acting with authority on behalf of an organisation or community. 

These relationships help the Library to identify rich and unique collections. Where possible, the Library works closely with and assists donors to organise, describe and document archival or large formed collections prior to transfer to the Library, at a level that enables a donated collection to be immediately accessible for research. The Library expects organisations and societies donating their organisational records to organise and document these in advance of deposit.

The Library asks donors to identify their relationship to the material in order to ascertain provenance, maintain rights agreements and access conditions and acknowledge donations appropriately. The Library respects privacy rights and obligations in requesting and storing personal information.

Donations under the Cultural Gifts Program

The Library appreciates, benefits from and works closely with donors wishing to gift culturally significant materials as a tax deduction under the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Information on how the Library acquires collections under this program is available on the website and outlines such requirements as minimum value and frequency of gifts, ownership of materials and copyright, valuation and acceptance of gifts.


The Library commissions oral histories, folklore recordings and photographs, where oral or visual forms of communication capture people, places, events and experiences more appropriately than other forms of textual communication or publication. Typical examples may be the experience of immigration, of natural disasters or generational change. The Library contracts specialist interviewers, and sometimes photographers, for such purposes. The Library provides recording equipment and trains interviewers in methodologies appropriate to the medium and in accordance with Library systems and technology, often for use in the field.

The Library also enters into occasional partnerships with other agencies to commission materials around particular subjects, such as the experiences of Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants. These partnerships are normally facilitated by external funding and subject to formal agreements and contractual arrangements.

Copyright, rights and conditions for access to collections

The Library aims to make all collections and collection items as accessible as possible once deposited, while respecting the intellectual property, moral rights, cultural sensitivities and privacy of donors, creators and subjects. This includes cataloguing the materials and making them accessible on the Library’s website and in the Library’s services.

While the Library permanently owns its collection materials, copyright normally remains the intellectual property of creators and publishers. The exceptions are where copyright is transferred to the Library by agreement, or remains the intellectual property of the Library, for example in a commissioned oral history, or is acquired by the Library as part of the purchase, for example in photographs.  The Library endorses the position statements on copyright prepared by the National and State Libraries Australasia.

The Library prefers that donors do not place unnecessary restrictions on access to and research use of unpublished collections. However, donors are able to specify terms and conditions of access and use of their collection materials in the Library’s rights agreement at the point of acquisition, including restricting access to sensitive material for an agreed duration. The Library makes materials available for use and for public use in accordance with these Rights agreements.

However, for the Library other access conditions agreed to by creators and donors, under ethical considerations, are especially important. In particular, rights to use Indigenous cultural material may be held by an individual, but in most cases it belongs to the traditional owners of that knowledge as a community. In some cases use of cultural information should be in the form of written permission from relevant individuals or organisations with cultural authority.

CDP - Related policies

The Library’s collecting intersects with a number of other collection related policies and processes. These are developed taking into account the Principles of the Collection Development Policy and, like this Policy, are subject to regular review. Current policy documents are available for public scrutiny and use. 

Of particular relevance are the policies relating to:

Related services

The Library provides a number of services to the public and to publishers to facilitate collecting and offsite access to and information about collections, in addition to the services it provides within the Library’s reading rooms. These include: