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.

  • 139 pencil drawings and watercolour paintings produced by Westall, all but two from the voyage of HMS Investigator 1801-03. They cover many of the places visited by the expedition and include views, panoramas and coastal profiles as well as painting of indigenous peoples and some flora and fauna
  • About 1050 books by Australian authors, nearly all of them autographed and many containing lengthy annotations. The books were published between 1892 and 1967. Also a number of literary manuscripts by various authors and personal papers of Whelan
  • Personal papers of Patrick White, plus letters from White to other Australian writers acquired as part of their papers. Also papers of White's biographer David Marr and those of the artist and theatre designer Desmond Digby who had a long friendship with White
  • About 3200 books, pamphlets, serials, newspapers and ephemera. Mainly related to Japan plus some works on China and Korea. Includes experiences of European travellers and residents in Japan, and Japanese history, foreign relations, politics and government, military campaigns, businesses, foreign missions, society and customs, local history, art, architecture, literature, legends, philosophy and religions.
  • Extensive archives of J.C. Williamson Ltd comprising business records, playscripts, libretti, music, programs, magazines, books, costume designs and photographs. Also personal papers of Williamson's business partners the Tait family and George Tallis
  • One of the largest oral history collections in Australia with recordings of over 900 individuals in all States, as well as folk groups, singing groups, bands and choirs. The primary focus is on traditional music and the performers also talk about their lives and background to the music
  • Drawings, sketches, plans and photographs of Australian colonial architecture from NSW and Tasmania, pencil drawings of ancient buildings from Wilson's visits to China and Greece, drawings and sketches for a proposed "ideal city" of Kurrajong, drawings and sketches of furniture designs. Also personal papers of Wilson
  • 27 recordings of traditional music, recitations, folklore and oral histories made in New South Wales between 1968 and 1995
  • 715 Chinese and Japanese books. Most date from the period 1911-1940, but there are some much earlier works. The main subject areas are Chinese art, epigraphy, archaeology and early history of the Chinese script. Other subjects include classical writings, Buddhism and Taoism, myths and legends
  • About 140 oral history interviews, the majority for his Maltese-Australian and Polish-Australian folklore and social history projects. Personal papers of York plus papers of the historian Michael Cigler. Also a large quantity of Maltese newspapers, student nespapers, radical pamphlets and ephemera.

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