1. Purpose of Collecting
  2. Scope of Collecting
  3. Ethical Collecting
  4. Comprehensive, Representative and Selective Collecting
  5. Priorities
  6. Formats
  7. Stewardship
  8. Relationship with Other Collecting Institutions
  9. First Nations Australians Collecting Principles

Purpose of Collecting

The Library collects documentary resources relating to Australia and the Australian people so that the Australian community—now and in the future—can discover, learn and create new knowledge. The Library’s collections extend understanding of issues of contemporary significance, build strong community connections and underpin its leadership activities.

Scope of Collecting

The National Library of Australia’s statutory role is to maintain and develop a national collection of library material, including a comprehensive collection of library material relating to Australia and the Australian people. This role is recognised through the National Library Act as well as the legal deposit provisions in the Copyright Act.

The collections aim to capture:

  • contemporary Australian published output in all its form and formats
  • a documentary record of Australia’s diverse social, cultural, creative and intellectual histories
  • through the acquisition of published, special and unique materials that will support research and interpretation
  • Australia’s place in its geographical region, through the collection of materials specifically to support study of Asia and the Pacific (with a focus on Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste and the Pacific)
  • materials from the wider world, with a focus on resources that underpin the humanities, arts and social sciences, and contribute to the interests of the Library’s users and the research process.

The Library’s staff uses 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. The extent to which the Library can achieve these aims is constrained by available resourcing.

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 its country of origin and intermediate countries. The Library does not acquire material where there is suspicion that 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.

Comprehensive, Representative and Selective Collecting

The Library collects contemporary and retrospective material:

  • 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. While the Library prioritises the comprehensive acquisition of current materials, the full range of Australian published collections includes contemporary and retrospective books, journals, 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. These may be published or unpublished and have a particular research subject, such as the Crome Collection of aviation materials; a 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. The Library seeks to build representative collections over time, and to balance that activity against the need to collect selectively to ensure appropriate depth in the collection to satisfy the needs of future users. 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 for Australia’s place in the wider world. Collecting from and about the countries of Asia and the Pacific is the Library’s highest priority after its Australian collecting responsibilities, and the Library aims to maintain a level of curatorial focus on collecting from Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste and the Pacific. 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 and audiovisual material, ephemera and websites.

The Library also selectively collects Western-language works on Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste and the Pacific that have been published outside the region. These provide context for broader understanding of a country’s development as well as its place in the world, and 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 in 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. Overseas materials relating to Australia’s history, society and development are selectively acquired but with a priority more closely aligned with Australian collecting.

The Library selectively acquires or provides access to international reference resources, preferably in digital form, to support research across multiple disciplines, especially in the humanities, creative arts and social sciences. When overseas resources are freely available online, the Library will connect to 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 exhibit 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 First Nations Australians.

Priority in Asia-Pacific collecting is given to:

  • materials from China, Indonesia and Timor-Leste
  • materials 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:

  • material that provides a contextual understanding of Australia’s history, society and development, from Indigenous people and places to European exploration and discovery to the present day
  • works that address issues and topics affecting Australia, especially politics, history, government, international relations, the environment, energy and resources, economy, trade, First Nations Australians and the movement of peoples, demographic change, health trends, music and the arts, society and culture
  • examinations of all aspects of the Australia-New Zealand relationship, and Antarctica
  • reference materials 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, photographs, maps, digital archives, ebooks and oral history and folklore 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, when deciding on the best format to acquire.

While digital is preferred, in some circumstances the Library may acquire variant formats where imprints or copies have a higher content value or carry significant provenance or add other value. Multiple editions and versions of a work may be collected when 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, digital is preferred. In some circumstances, other factors may be taken into account in deciding which format other than digital might be collected:

  • the format that represents the collection or work at its best, providing a significantly richer experience for the user
  • how accessible the work or collection is and how best to 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 Library considers:

  • the format that best represents how the work was distributed to the public
  • formats that reflect developments and trends in publishing
  • that digital formats will be preferred whenever available.

Additionally, for archives and similar unpublished materials, the Library takes into account:

  • the formats that most represent the working life, research, creative or intellectual processes of the collector or creator, or those that 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 longterm 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 licence, 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 Australia, the Library is committed to collaborative collection development.

The Library works in collaboration with:

  • the Australian state and territory libraries, to ensure the collection and long-term preservation of Australian library material
  • the National Archives of Australia, recognising its responsibility for preserving Commonwealth Government records
  • the National Portrait Gallery, recognising its responsibility for preserving the national collection of portraits
  • the National Film and Sound Archive, recognising its responsibility for preserving the national audiovisual collection
  • the ACT Heritage Library, to document Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory region
  • other libraries, archives, galleries, museums and heritage organisations in the higher education sector and state, regional and local institutions where collecting interests connect.

First Nations Australians Collecting Principles

The Library recognises the importance of acquiring materials created by First Nations Australians and actively engages in this endeavour, whether acquiring materials for its own collection or working cooperatively with other institutions to create a national collection. As stewards of First Nations Australian cultural material, the National Library of Australia strives to:

  • acquire published and unpublished material relating to all issues concerning First Nation Australians
  • work 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
  • ensure that First Nations Australian knowledge, stories and voices in its collections are honoured, respected and made accessible in culturally appropriate ways
  • establish and maintain the cultural safety of First Nations Australian material in its collection and of First Nations Australians accessing it
  • ensure that culturally appropriate description and access conditions are applied to First Nations Australian material at the time of collection and establish principles to guide this process
  • develop the breadth and depth of the Library’s First Nations Australian collections
  • ensure that First Nations Australian perspectives and cultural requirements drive the collection of First Nations Australian material
  • anticipate the needs of future generations of First Nations Australians
  • actively engage with First Nations Australian individuals, communities and organisations to help build relevant and well-understood First Nations Australian collections
  • prioritise the collection of documentary heritage created by and relating to First Nations Australians, for the benefit of all Australians
  • enable First Nations Australians to connect to information important to their lives, identities and cultural connections
  • build a collection that is beneficial and relevant to First Nations Australians.

How We Collect