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 books and 260 pamphlets, plus personal papers and photographs mainly related to Australian history, politics, law, literature and religion from Sir Ernest Littleton Groom
  • Papers of the historian and public servant H. Duncan Hall and about 600 books and pamphlets from 1900-1960 on the Commonwealth, English political history, Ireland, political biography, international relations, the League of Nations, United Nations, race relations, migration, the United States, World War II, the Suez crisis of 1956, and political thought.
  • Photocopies of typescripts of 18 unpublished plays
  • 91 charts of Australia and the Pacific produced by the British Admiralty and Hydrographic Service.
  • About 7600 music scores and albums. Mainly piano and vocal works published in France, Britain, Germany, Austria and Italy in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
  • 1744 books and pamphlets, plus photographs and posters and a small number of maps relating to war and aviation. The strength is World War I and World War II but also includes books on the American Civil War, South African War, Korean War and Vietnam War
  • Personal papers of Hevingham-Root, about 100 biographies and autobiographies of opera singers and composers, 460 theatre and concert programs from about 1900 to 1975, vocal scores of about 200 operas, also a number of song books, anthems, sacred songs, oratorio, lieder and folk songs
  • About 5,000 albums and pieces of sheet music published in Australia and overseas, around 2700 books and pamphlets, mostly related to Western music but also some on Indonesian music and on ballet and the performing arts. Also manuscript scores, papers from some composers and orchestras and personal papers of Kenneth Hince.
  • Over 5000 books, pamphlets, broadsides, posters, periodicals, newspapers and some manuscripts. The strength is material relating to Federation and political and constitutional history, plus early Australiana, aviation, local histories, crime and criminals, novels and plays, poetry, World War I.
  • 148 books illustrating the history of printing in Europe and Australia, plus a medieval manuscript, and personal papers of Brian Hone including extensive files on Melbourne Grammar School, the Schools Commission, and the Commonwealth Secondary Schools Libraries Committee

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