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.