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 260 books and pamphlets on American history, mostly published in the twentieth century but includes some earlier imprints. Also papers of the Woodriff family (early settlers in the Shoalhaven district of NSW) and Tilghman, including about 380 of Tilghman's photographs of the Northern Territory 1925-1927 and Queensland 1931-1933
  • About 600 books with particular strength in anthropology, sociology and linguistics and largely related to Indonesia. Most are in Dutch, Indonesian, german or English
  • 1277 charts and maps dating from the 16th to the late 19th centuries. They include maps of the Pacific and New Zealand as well as Australia
  • About 10,000 stereoscopic view cards produced by both commercial and amateur photographers in all parts of the world, including a substantial portion from Australia. They date from the end of the 19th century to the early 20th century. Also a significant collection of photographic equipment and some books and journals on photography
  • Around 6,000 books, mostly in Portuguese. The main strengths are literature, history and religion, and there are also works on politics, topography, archaeology, art, Portuguese exploration, Portuguese colonies, heraldry, genealogy, language and bibliography.
  • Around 150 Chinese books. There are some very rare works, including one of the oldest printed books in the Library, but most date from the 20th century. Subjects include Chinese history, literature, society, classics, philosophy and religion. Also the typescript of van der Sprenkel's unpublished  bibliography of Western writings on China and some personal papers
  • Around 500 titles by minor and obscure British poets of the nineteenth century. Most of the works were published during the reign of Queen Victoria, but there are some earlier imprints extending back to 1801.
  • Around 270 books, pamphlets and serials, mostly published in the Philippines 1900-1965 but also some items from the USA, Spain and Spanish-speaking countries. Most are in English, but also a small number in Spanish and Tagalog. The focus is on the law, government and resources of the Philippines
  • About 1600 books and periodicals relating mainly to Byzantine history, art, literature, Greek Orthodox Church and the relations with Islamic and Slavic cultures. Most published in the 20th century, but includes some earlier imprints. In English, French, German, Greek, Turkish and Slavic languages
  • About 4000 books, mostly in Chinese and published in China and Taiwan in the period 1950-2000. The strength is in Chinese history, other subjects include ethnology, legends, politics, religion and society and culture. Also many English language serials. In addition there are personal papers relating to Wang's work at the Library and involvement in various organisations

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