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.

  • 168 original paintings and drawings by Augustus Earle. 
  • About 500 books, pamphlets, reports, leaflets, circulars, reprints and transcripts, mostly published 1920-1950, relating to communism, the labour movement and international politics. About half are Australian. 
  • 80 oral history interviews with musicians, dancers and others, and recordings of songs and performances. 232 pieces of sheet music and 202 albums of dance music mostly from 1900-1940, about half are Australian imprints. Also some personal papers.
  • Personal papers of Norman Ellison, largely related to aviation as well as material collected by Ellison from some some early aviators. 354 lantern slides of Sydney and other areas of Australia from 1920-1940 and a small collection of books on aviation.
  • Personal papers of Warren Fahey’s activities as an entrepreneur, musician and writer from 1967-1998 and a collection of folkloric recordings
  • Around 400 Slavic monographs, 700 pamphlets on the economics and politics of Europe from the 1930s-1970s, and miscellaneous Harvard University departmental reports and academic papers 
  • Around 6000 titles, about half in Chinese and the rest in English or other Western languages. The scope is broad but the strength is Chinese history and biography, especially the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and the 20th century, Chinese art, archaeology, literature and philosophy
  • Comprehensive collection of original records of the Federation movement plus books, pictures, music and other material related to Federation 
  • Over 32,000 items including books, pamphlets, booklets, leaflets, broadsides and other kinds of printed ephemera. Great strength in accounts of Pacific voyages and in the books listed in the Bibliography of Australia
  • About 300 books including incunabula and early editions of classical texts, plus limited edition reprints of celebrated English writers, mostly published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century

Pages