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What is ephemera?

Ever kept a ticket from the first concert you went to? Or found an invitation to an event you thought you’d thrown out? Or stumbled across a handout from a protest?  

This is what we call ephemera.

Ephemera are everyday items that aren’t considered special at the time, but may be cherished by future generations. Ephemera is something you use briefly, then get rid of (for example, a wedding invitation, a ticket or a wristband that gives you a day’s entry into an event). 

The National Library has been selectively collecting Australian printed ephemera since the early 1960s so we can tell the story of Australian life, culture, and major events and issues.

Today’s ephemera can be hugely important to future generations. It gives an insight into how people live. They tell us the events, issues and lifestyle of that era.  

Ephemera in the Library’s collection includes:

What are manuscripts?

When we hear the word ‘manuscript’ we often think of ancient parchment from another time or the early draft of a novel. 

But manuscripts can come from any era. A manuscript can be as old as Captain Cook’s Endeavour journal, or more recent, like the papers of children’s author Mem Fox. A manuscript collection can include drawings, letters, diaries, blog posts or emails. Items that have been mass produced, like a published book, aren’t considered manuscripts because they aren’t original.

A manuscript collection might also contain objects, like Patrick White’s glasses, works of art or photographs. Because it can be made up of different formats, a manuscript collection tells the stories of people and organisations in a different way to a publication.

Manuscripts in the Library’s collection include:

What are maps?

Maps are records that help people navigate and find their way or show where landmarks or specific sites are. They can also show plans of where things might be developed or built. Maps are an important part of telling the history of Australia. 

Maps show us people’s perspectives and how things were valued. For instance, William Dampier’s map of his global voyages in 1679 to 1691 are fascinating. This is because they show us what the Europeans explored of the Southern Hemisphere at that time and their imaginings of what the rest of it looked like. Equally, a town planning map of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory from 1972 gives us a snapshot of the areas in which a community was growing and developing. 

We hold around one million maps, from early European charts to current maps of Australia, in print and digital form.

Maps in the Library’s collection include:

What are pictures?

Pictures tell the story of Australian lives, history, culture and events in a unique way and through a certain point of view. They’re a vital part of our storytelling tapestry.

Pictures cover a wide range of materials. Pictures can be anything from a hastily scribbled sketch on a napkin to a painting by Johnny Warankula Tjupurrula. They can be a photograph of Cathy Freeman or a painting on a gum leaf by A. W. Eustace. 

The Library collects pictures that document the Australian experience. The Library has a rich and wonderful picture collection with over 1.6 million items. It covers early images of colonial life, through to today’s pop culture in digital images.

Pictures in the Library’s collection include:

What is an oral history?

People’s memories are untapped living histories.

Have you ever wished you could hear first-hand from a Nobel Prize winning scientist about what it was like to make their first discovery? Or wondered what it was like to live through the influenza epidemic that swept the globe after the First World War?

Oral histories are carefully structured audio recordings in which the interviewee works with an expert oral historian to tell their own story in their own words. Oral histories are a wonderful way of capturing individual perspectives and experiences that may not be found in other historical books and documents. 

People who give oral history interviews for the Library’s collection can be from all walks of life. They don’t have to be famous, just share their perspectives and life story in their own words. While oral histories usually cover a person’s ‘whole of life’ experience, they can also be focused on a particular theme or an event. 

The Library has the largest oral history collection you’ll find in Australia and it covers many eras and subjects. There’s over 55,000 hours of recordings, with more than 6000 available to listen for free online.

Oral histories in the Library’s collection include: