The Library seeks to build comprehensive collections where relevant materials are acquired to the greatest extent possible; representative collections where the Library selects a manageable amount of material to represent a type, creator or subject; and selective collections where items of national priority or special significance are identified and collected, or where depth of collecting is prioritised above breadth. This section of the policy is arranged in sequence from comprehensive to selective, recognising that such a continuum is neither fully linear nor completely exclusive. Web archiving for example, falls midway along this imaginary line, and is by turns comprehensive, selective and representative.

  1. Introduction
  2. Books
  3. Periodicals, including Newspapers, Journals and Magazines
  4. Government Publications
  5. Music
  6. Maps
  7. Websites
  8. Ephemera, including Broadsides and Posters
  9. Pictures
  10. Retrospective Published Australiana
  11. Oral History and Folklore
  12. Manuscripts


Published and Unpublished Material

The Library, and librarianship more broadly, has long drawn a methodological distinction between what is defined as belonging to a published collection and what is considered unpublished. Unpublished collections are called variously ‘special collections’, ‘non-book collections’, ‘archival collections’, and ‘local collections’ among others; the variety of naming is evidence of definitional difficulty. Almost all of the so-named collections contain some published material.

On the other side of the divide, the modern publishing environment is not only highly diverse, facilitating individual and niche publishing, but in itself blurs the space between private correspondence and public circulation. Publishers include commercial publishers, private individuals, clubs, churches, associations, societies or organisations and any person, group or organisation that makes material publically available. Defining and 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 comprehensive aspiration against the potential flood of works that are highly limited in their circulation, while noting that automated solutions continue to resolve the dilemma. For the purposes of collecting, the main criteria for determining if an item is published is whether it is (or would be if it were published in a different place or time) subject to legal deposit.

The Copyright Act states ‘Persons publishing certain literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works in Australia must deliver copies of the works to the National Library.’ Section 29 notes that ‘a work, shall be deemed to have been published if, but only if, reproductions of the work or edition have been supplied (whether by sale or otherwise) to the public’.

The comprehensive collection of Australian published material is a key statutory responsibility of the National Library. The Library collects comprehensively those materials which are covered by legislation under the Copyright Act. Legal deposit, as defined in the Act, applies to all Australian print and electronic publications, including books, journals, magazines, newsletters, reports, sheet music and maps. Websites and public social media, which are also included in the definition, are collected selectively. Legal deposit applies to any Australian person, group or organisation that makes this material available to the public for sale or for free.

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 published Australian output. When possible, comprehensive collection of Australian publications is achieved by acquiring a copy of every published work. When it is not possible to collect every work, a combination of comprehensive and representative collecting approaches is 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.


Definition and Scope

In the context of Library collections, ‘books’ refers to 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 often 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 mirror 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 to ebook formats. Since the introduction of the Copyright Act, the Library has had the legal right to claim printed material published in Australia as legal deposit; since February 2016 this has included the online publishing landscape, and digital is the preferred format.

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 that 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 that 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 prioritisation decisions in allocating resources to acquiring material. The Library’s highest priority for Australian book collecting is to ensure the diversity and breadth of the Australian published record is adequately represented; focusing on collecting from First Nations Australians, and from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, will be a key factor in these decisions.

The Library also recognises the importance of Australian publishing imprints to Australian literary culture and society. Collecting this material is a 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 that are published at recurring intervals. The term is used here generically to include newspapers, scholarly journals, magazines, gazettes, newsletters, reviews, digests, yearbooks and 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 that 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, but may be in scope for other parts of the collection.


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 and 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 capture 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 number of these published in Australia each year, it is not feasible to collect every publication that 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 governance, 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 that 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 issues of serials that reflect aspects of Australian culture or life that is underrepresented in the collection.

Collaboration and the Australian Newspaper Collection

The Library was, for many years, a member of the Australian Newspapers Plan (ANPlan), alongside state and territory libraries. While the group is no longer operating as a distinct entity, broader National and State Libraries Australia work ensures that national collaboration continues to have a major impact on collecting decisions. Under ANPlan, the National Library agreed to take responsibility for collecting and preserving newspapers of public record, including national newspapers, subjectbased newspapers, First Nations Australian 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 government in Australia including Commonwealth, state, territory and local governments. This comprises a wide range of material, 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:

  • promoting discussion and debate around public policy, e.g. discussion papers
  • delivering 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
  • chronicling 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 published output of government is retained, and made accessible, in the public interest.

Much government publication takes place online, whether through downloadable documents or through websites more generally. 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 frequent changes to the machinery of government. Through collection of such material, the Library performs an essential role in preserving and ensuring enduring access to 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 future access to the complete record of Australia’s civic functioning. The Library’s ability to achieve comprehensive collection, particularly of material published online, is highly dependent upon both the technologies available to collect the material and cooperative arrangements with government publishers. The Library collects digital versions of government publications by preference; to achieve comprehensive coverage of state and territory material, collaborative arrangements and responsibilities are pursued with state and territory libraries.

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 Corporation.

Local government publications are collected selectively where they are substantial and reflect aspects of Australian life or culture, contain significant artistic, research or literary material, or shed light on the development of broader Australian public policy. Local government materials are primarily the responsibility of state and territory governments to collect. However, online local government material (websites) will be collected where it is efficient to do so as part of broader bulk website collecting.

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. To facilitate networked access to collected government material, electronic copies will be preferred to printed copies. 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 efficiency for all Australian libraries, and reducing burden on publishers by focusing on the deposit of digital material through the National edeposit (NED) service.

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


Definition and Scope

The Library collects Australian published and unpublished music scores, covering a range of musical styles, historical and contemporary music.

‘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 and educational resource kits, some which come with accompanying audio and mixed media.

Unpublished music manuscripts, either in the hand of the composer or copyist, digitally notated music and facsimile reproductions are acquired as papers of the composer. 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.


The Library aspires to comprehensively collect sheet music and scores published in Australia and to build a representative collection drawn from 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, and by its nature supports research leading to creative work, performance and scholarship.

The Library formerly acquired formed collections of historical European music, often in editions and bound volumes of the type imported into Australia in the nineteenth century, such as in the Helm Collection, as well as music created in the region. The Library no longer actively collects overseas music.

The Library does not normally acquire sets of contemporary performance materials, which are the responsibility of specialist music libraries in teaching institutions or organisations that support professional performing ensembles, such as Symphony Services International.

Collecting Intent

The Library aims to comprehensively 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 and 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 that was 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 subscriptionbased services.

The Library may acquire unpublished Australian music as part of a personal archive, and these personal archives may include music recordings. The Library collects as a priority music created by First Nations Australian musicians and diverse cultural communities in Australia.


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 First Nations Australian traditional music and dance recorded in the field. In cooperation , the Library actively collects music composed by, about or in collaboration with First Nations Australian musicians, as well as particular First Nations Australian music played by First Nations Australian musicians through its Oral History and Folklore program.


Definition and Scope

The Library’s map collections comprise a variety of cartographic and geospatial materials produced by private cartographic publishers and all levels of Australian government. The terms ‘maps’ or ‘mapping’ may be used to describe all types of cartographic and geospatial media, including topographic and other thematic maps in print and digital form, hydrographic charts, real estate plans, atlases and gazetteers, globes and cartographic games and source material such as aerial photographs.


The Library hosts the largest cartographic collection in Australia, from the earliest published depictions of the continent through to the present day. A large proportion of current mapping is produced and published in series (maps of the same type covering a defined area), often by government agencies responsible for property administration and planning, environment, land and water resources, tourism, transport, sciences, primary industries, political boundaries and so on.

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.

The Library collects digital map products generated by government and commercial suppliers, along with the metadata needed to archive and access mapping in this form. Increasingly, Australian government mapping is made available on the web and so is periodically collected via the Library’s web archiving activities, to document the content as it changes over time.

Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) 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 some spatial data and products.

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

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 Library seeks to comprehensively collect all forms of Australian cartography and the cartography of Australia and its territories. In doing so, it comprehensively collects all maps in a given series, ensuring full geographic coverage. The Library also aims to be comprehensive in its collection of the mapping of South Pacific and Timor-Leste, and representative in its collecting of the mapping of Indonesia and China. In all current cartographic acquisitions, including legal deposit, and in some historical acquisitions, the Library prefers digital formats.

Maps of South-East Asia and other regions in which Australia has clear historical, commercial, diplomatic, military or other significant interest are now selectively collected, where previously these were collected representatively.

Also collected selectively are maps and cartographic products that demonstrate changes in cartography—for example, science, techniques and styles—over time.


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

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


Definition and Scope

The Library’s websites collection comprises a variety of online publishing, including news sites, blogs and social media, as well as organisational, educational and commercial websites. Ebooks and electronic journal documents made available via the web are collected in accordance with the collecting policies for books, journals and government publications. Web applications that are not publications, such as banking and booking services 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 the popular, from in-depth research and commentary to accounts of daily life.

The National Library commenced archiving websites in 1996; its selective web archive, under the designation ‘PANDORA’, was one of the earliest public web archives in the world. Ensuring that this collection is publicly accessible has been core to the Library’s approach to web archiving from the inception of the program. To extend collecting towards a comprehensive scale, in 2005 the Library commenced capturing annual snapshots of the .au domain.

Unlike print-based publishing, online publication takes place in a highly dynamic, interactive and largely 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 twenty-first-century documentary history will be lost altogether.

The scale of online publishing requires automation to capture material, using various harvesting methods and tools. While reliance on this technology is essential to building a comprehensive collection, the complexity of online publishing means that there remain significant technical limitations on what can be collected. So, while a website may be collected, it may not be complete or fully functional within the archived collection.

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 its 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’, at least annually, of the entire Australian .au web domain, to capture the diversity of Australian life, people, places, events and ideas at a selected period in time
    • thematic collections with focused coverage of selected events, issues and sectors, to capture matters of national significance, e.g. coverage of federal election campaigns and disasters such as the 2019–2020 bushfires
    • scheduled and timely archiving of selected websites of high value or that change rapidly, such as news websites, to capture changing content in a meaningful way.


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, peak organisations and industry not controlled by commercial publishing and usually only available online.

The Australian Domain Collection (.au)

The Library undertakes regular (at least annual) collections of all websites published in the .au domain, which is sometimes called a whole-of-domain harvest. The priority in undertaking these collection events (‘snapshots’) is to capture comprehensively the breadth and diversity of Australian web publishing at any one time. The domain harvest is scoped and executed to maximise collection of what is actually published on the .au domain. The Library’s domain-harvest collections represent the most accurate and comprehensive record of Australian online publishing at a specific point in time. To ensure breadth, the Library captures websites at a relatively high level, collecting most but not necessarily all content from each site. 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.

Australian web material is increasingly published outside the .au domain, often on large international self-publishing platforms. The Library collects web material published via selected international platforms when it can automatically or semi-automatically be identified as Australian. Platform collecting augments the domain collection in building a broad representation of Australian web publishing.

Thematic Web Collecting

The Library creates focused, curated web collections relating to priority events and issues or content produced by selected sectors. Events covered include national political and cultural events, as well as events within or influential upon scholarly and research communities.

Thematic collections ensure a documentary record of changes in Australian policy and culture, as well as memorable moments in Australian history. Such collections also represent 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. While thematic collecting is curated, it also effectively uses technology for the automated bulk harvesting of curated seed lists of URLs.

In addition to the priorities articulated above in the principles statement, issues selected for thematic coverage will include matters of public policy debate, as well as issues affecting First Nations Australians; culturally and linguistically diverse communities; rural and regional populations; and economic, social, business and research communities. Selection of issues for coverage 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 and as allowed by the legal deposit provisions of the Copyright Act.

Selective Website Collecting

The Library selects high-priority websites for thorough collection. This includes sites that cover the activities and views of organisations, individuals and communities who contribute to public debate and shape Australian policy and society; sites that provide commentary, journalistic coverage, research or debate on political, social and cultural affairs; and sites that provide research and scholarly resources. Timely collection is particularly important for selective collecting, to ensure that records are kept of rapidly unfolding events. In addition, scheduled selective collecting is used to capture frequently changing content considered of significant value, such as that on news websites.

Social Media

The Library collects some social media, as it does other types of online material where it is located on a standard website platform. However, social media that is dependent upon specific and proprietary platforms require methods other than the harvesting employed for websites and web documents.

Social media also provides collecting challenges in respect to distinguishing publication from personal communication. For this reason, and the technical difficulties in collecting from social media service platforms, social media is not collected comprehensively.


The Australian Web Archive results from a collaborative effort with other cultural institutions, including state and territory libraries. Where possible, the Library actively seeks partnerships with trusted institutions to increase efficient collection of web materials.

Ephemera, including Broadsides and Posters

Definition and Scope

‘Ephemera’ is a term used generically to refer to transitory works. Ephemera is 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.

The Library collects physical-format contemporary and retrospective ephemera, to document Australian 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, celebration or protest). The evolution of ephemera means that producers now embrace websites, electronic flyers and social media; web archiving, including wholeof-domain harvests, now plays a significant role in building the Library’s ephemera collection.

The Library also collects broadsides—these, historically, communicated a message in writing, announcing, for example, events, proclamations or advertisements—and posters, on which the message is conveyed through concentrated visual impact, accompanied by text. Posters often have 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, organises and preserves ephemera as a significant part of its documentary record of historical and contemporary Australian life. 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.

The vast quantity of ephemera produced by the Australian community, and lack of specific legal deposit provisions for printed material that does not meet the definition of ‘published’, mean that the Library’s ephemera collecting is representative and selective. Documents such as leaflets, flyers, advertising materials and menus are intended for short-term use and enjoyment, and to be discarded after use; they are therefore at high risk of disappearing from the documentary record. Ephemera can display a wide range of production and aesthetic values, and 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 status and ownership difficult.

Collecting Intent

Where the Library identifies topics of high priority or national interest, the Library aims to collect as comprehensively as possible. For example, the Library collects federal election campaign material across all candidates, electorates and parties comprehensively. The Library also collects, as comprehensively as possible, printed programs, handbills and flyers pertaining to national performance arts organisations and international tours; artists identified as nationally or internationally significant; and events, festivals and celebrations of national interest.

In other instances, the Library aims to acquire a representative sample of material pertaining to geographic regions (for example, the Great Barrier Reef), travel (for example, eco-tourism), sport (for example, Olympic and Paralympic games), identified cultural groups (for example, refugees), social movements (for example, Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander land rights) and political opinion or issues of current and past public debate (for example, the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey).

The Library selectively collects samples 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, though they are not always created primarily as works of artistic expression.


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 audiovisual form; this is the responsibility of the National Film and Sound Archive.


Definition and Scope

The Pictures Collection comprises material in a range of visual media, documenting Australian life.

The largest component of the collection is photography, featuring in many formats ranging from the earliest daguerreotypes of the mid-nineteenth century to contemporary digital image files. The collection also includes 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 visual media selected and acquired individually and as collections, large and small, of materials accumulated and kept together because of their provenance (such as the Ducie Collection of First Fleet art), creator (for example, the archive of photographer Wolfgang Sievers), or the interests of a collector (such as 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 is also a vast amount of visual material within manuscripts collections, including photographs, sets and costume designs, sketchbooks, albums and other artworks. These resources are usually retained and managed within the manuscript collection that provides their context and meaning. The Library also commissions photographs that 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 experiences, and other pictures focusing on Australian social and cultural life. The Library collects these selectively, and prefers pictures that represent their subject matter with accuracy and detail, that 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 materials in the collection.

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 First Nations 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 First Nations 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, such as 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 wars 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 Australia to address collecting and collection management issues for our extensive pictures collections.

Retrospective Published Australiana

Definition and Scope

This section of the policy is concerned with the acquisition of Australian books, journals, serials and other standalone texts or literary works that have been made available to the public and which, for various reasons, have not been acquired as part of legal deposit.


The Copyright Act gives the Library the right to procure comprehensively the published output of Australia. Prior to the enactment of this legislation, the Library aimed to acquire the Australian published output both contemporaneously and retrospectively. Despite an ongoing aspiration of comprehensiveness, there are still items published either before the Copyright Act or prior to the establishment of the Library that are not held in the collection. There is also material published after 1968 that has not been acquired for various reasons, and which the Library may still claim. If a publisher no longer holds copies of material selected under legal deposit, or if that publisher no longer trades, then relevant material must be acquired through donations, purchase of used copies or other means.

Collecting Intent

The Library aspires to make available a comprehensive collection of Australia’s published output, including collectable materials, but this is often constrained by resources, the rarity of the material and the cost and complexity of the market. Despite a long-term aspiration to a comprehensive collection of published Australian material, the Library’s approach to retrospective printed Australiana is selective and must take into account the holdings of other publicly available collections. The Library prioritises material that meets general research needs. Collecting rare and original works, along with publications of a type, subject or author community that is underrepresented in the collection, will take priority over content that is replicated in existing publications. The Library may prefer digital and digitised copies of material in circumstances where there is an advantage in making content available.


The Library collects with an awareness of the collecting intentions and strengths of our National and State Libraries Australia partners, and the holdings of other publically available collections of Australian materials.

Oral History and Folklore

Definition and Scope

The Library’s oral history and folklore collections contain interviews with Australians, which ensure that 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 three 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, place of residence, experience of polio
  • folklore recordings, which capture community cultural practices and traditions that reflect social, linguistic and ethnic diversity in Australia through song, music and dance, tales and stories, customs, beliefs, speech and other forms of cultural expression.

The oral history and folklore collections capture experiences that may not otherwise be recounted in written form, or document people, events or issues that may be marginalised or ‘left out’ of Australian history. The sound recordings themselves are the primary source, as these convey meaning through the sound of the voice, expression, silence and emotion, beyond words spoken. Oral history and folklore recordings are undertaken by specialist interviewers who are expert in their fields. Interviewees control access to their interviews and may impose access restrictions for a period of time, such as until their death. This encourages interviewees to speak frankly; 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. 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 Collection 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 relating to prime ministers Menzies and Gorton.

Some sound and audiovisual 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 gain 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 to 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 First Nations 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. The Library has completed digitisation of its entire Oral History and Folklore Collection and is well down the path of converting audio materials in the Manuscripts Collection. 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. The primary audio recorded 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 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 audiovisual collections are taken into account, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Australian War Memorial, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives of Australia, 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 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.


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 written 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, 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 audiovisual 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 actively seeks lists, indexes and descriptions of the content from creators and donors. These are made available online as finding aids, to assist users to identify and access content within a collection.


One of the first manuscripts acquired by the Library was the handwritten journal of Captain James Cook about his time aboard the Endeavour, purchased at a London auction in 1923 at the direction of Prime Minister Stanley Bruce. 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; to the papers of Eddie Koiki Mabo and the legal team in the cases that 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 Memory of the World Register (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 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 paperbased 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 above in the principles, the Library focuses on collecting the archives of:

  • Australians of national significance, either resident 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, or otherwise undistinguished individuals whose diaries and journals highlight revealing and important stories. 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 that have influenced and shaped Australian society, including on subjects such as immigration, environmental change, health issues and constitutional reform. The Library acquires material that documents 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, such as with 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, his biographer David Marr and many others.

The Library aspires to include those who have so far been under-represented in the collection, for example, those of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, non-Christian faiths and First Nations Australians. 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 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 conflict, and the National Film and Sound Archive is an audiovisual archive that collects material documenting the broadcast, film, television and sound recording 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, and 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.

Selective Collecting: Overseas Publications