CDP - How we collect

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

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


The Library builds its collection through a variety of means:

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

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

Ethical collecting

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

Relevant principles ensure that the Library:

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

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

Legal deposit

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

Purchase and licensing of collection materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donation of collection materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donations under the Cultural Gifts Program

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


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

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

Copyright, rights and conditions for access to collections

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

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

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

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