The National Library's collections range in date from the eleventh century to the present, take in every country in the world and are exceptionally broad in format and subject. They consist of books, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, ephemera, maps, manuscripts, private archives, music scores, pictures, microform and digital materials.

A significant proportion of what the Library holds, including some of the rarest and most valuable material, was acquired as collections. Some were built up by individual collectors, families, booksellers and learned societies, often over a long period (formed collections). Other collections have been assembled from various sources by the Library itself in an effort to achieve great strength in particular subject areas (subject collections). Many of the collections have outstanding research value.

The following entries are for the most significant of these collections. The entries give details about the individuals, families or organisations that assembled the collections, describe the size, scope and strengths of each collection, and summarise how they have been acquired, organised, catalogued or listed by the Library. While the majority of the collections described consist largely of Australian materials, there are also entries for significant Asian, European and North American collections. These descriptions are intended to complement the Library's catalogue and other finding-aids.

Between 1974 and 1982 the Library published the Guide to the collections, edited by C.A. Burmester. A number of the collections recorded in that publication have been updated and are included in the following selection.

  • About 200 American books and a smaller number on the French Revolution and Napoleon, plus 15 letters by eighteenth and nineteenth-century scientists and physicians
  • Around 4,000 books published by Penguin and its related imprints from 1935-1964
  • About 1300 pamphlets and tracts published in Britain between 1829 and 1882. They provide a valuable record of the issues that were discussed and debated in Britain in the middle decades of the nineteenth century
  • Personal papers that form one of the finest literary archives in Australia. They include correspondence, manuscripts of books, newspaper articles, lectures and material concerning writers, artists and literary organisationsbout 2500 books published 1900–60, many inscribed by the authors. The collection is particularly strong in novels, poetry and history.
  • Recordings of the music of various language, nationality or region-based communities in Melbourne, 1975-1983, plus oral history interviews with people who lived in the Illawarra region from the 1920s to 1990s, and also people involved with the 1989 Newcastle earthquake
  • 14 000 books and pamphlets. The subjects include Australian poetry and literary criticism, English and Scottish poetry, Greek and Roman literature, Australian history, labour history, Australian Aborigines, politics, communism, secularism, Christianity, Catholicism and philosophy. Also includes personal papers of Pearce and other Australian writers. 
  • About 1225 books published in France from the 17th-20th centuries. While many great writers are represented, the writings of popular and minor writers make up the bulk of the collection and are of particular research interest 
  • Oral history interviews recorded between 1992 and 1997 with people involved in all aspects of forests, from loggers and sawmillers to scientists and poets. Also around 86 photographs dating from 1920-1960 depicting various aspects of forests and forestry work.
  • About 15,000 books and pamphlets. The great strength of the collection is in Pacific voyages and early Australiana with many very rare items. Also manuscripts including papers of Joseph Banks, maps and pictures
  • Around 830 books mainly relating to Buddhism but also to Hinduism, Indian history and Western philosophy. They include works in German, French and English and mostly published 1870–1945

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