Purpose of collecting

The Library develops, interprets and preserves a rich and diverse collection which inspires, delights and educates Australians. The Library’s collections extend understanding of issues of contemporary significance, build strong community connections, and underpin its leadership activities.

National Library of Australia Corporate Plan, 2016-2020


The National Library of Australia’s statutory role is to collect, preserve and make accessible Australia’s documentary heritage, as well as to collect materials that enable learning, research and understanding of Australia’s cultural, strategic and political role in the Asia-Pacific region and the wider world. This role is recognised through the National Library Act 1960 as well as the legal deposit provisions in the Copyright Act 1968.

The collections aim to capture:

  • contemporary Australian publishing
  • a documentary record of Australia’s diverse social, cultural, creative and intellectual histories through acquiring published, special and unique materials that will support research and interpretation
  • Australia’s place in its geographical region, through collecting materials specifically to support study of Asia and the Pacific, and
  • to provide access to materials from the wider world, with a focus on resources that underpin the humanities, arts and social sciences and contribute to the research process.

The Library’s staff use the principles outlined in this policy to exercise appropriate judgement in building a national collection of physical and digital resources for the Australian community, now and into the future.

Comprehensive, representative and selective collecting

The Library collects contemporary and retrospective material through three approaches:

  • Comprehensively: for Australian published materials, based on the Library’s legislative responsibilities to collect all Australian publishing in print or digital form
  • Representatively: where not all forms of published or unpublished materials can be captured and preserved, or when there is a need to represent a particular subject, person, group or issue
  • Selectively: acquiring materials and collections by applying knowledge of subjects, formats, people, places, events and issues of national significance, and exercising judgement based on the key principles for selection and stewardship.


The Australian collections include material created by Australians, whether locally resident or expatriate, created or published in Australia, or containing substantial content relating to Australia and the Australian experience. 

The Library aims to comprehensively collect Australian publications in order to reflect the full diversity and range of Australian life depicted in the nation’s published record, both contemporary and retrospective. 

The Australian published collections comprise works that have been made available in some form to the public and contribute to the record of information, discussion and debate within the public sphere. These include contemporary and retrospective books, journals and magazines, government publications, newspapers, maps, music and websites.

When it is not possible to acquire a copy of every publication, the Library collects a representation of the breadth and diversity of materials made available to the public, in a variety of formats including ephemera, posters, websites, blogs and social media.

The Library intentionally acquires a wide range of unique materials documenting the lives and activities of Australian people, places and events that have shaped society. These include personal papers and archives, organisational records, pictures, oral histories and folklore recordings that support research, creative and interpretative use.

The Library also selectively acquires special or formed collections assembled by others, and keeps them together to support research. They may be published or unpublished and have a particular research subject, such as the Crome collection of aviation materials; or an historical association, such as the Australian Inland Mission collection; or a creative interest, such as J.C. Williamson’s musical and theatrical materials.

Unique and special collections aim to support research, creative and public use by the Australian community. The Library promotes special collections as important sites of knowledge and as unique documentation of human endeavour: people, traditions, events, ideas and values, culture and the creative arts. These collections also provide insight into the historical, social and political contexts of both their use and impact.


The Library selectively collects overseas resources to enhance understanding of the Asia-Pacific region and to provide context to Australia’s place in the wider world. The Library acquires overseas resources that support research, learning and understanding by Australians.

Collecting from and about the countries of Asia and the Pacific is the Library’s highest priority after its Australian collecting responsibilities. Asian collecting predominantly focuses on the countries of East Asia and South-East Asia. Works published in Asia and the Pacific are acquired in relevant languages. In addition to books, maps, journals, magazines and newspapers, selective collecting for this region may encompass pictorial material, ephemera, websites and audio-visual.

The Library also collects Western language works on Asia and the Pacific published outside the region. These provide context for broader understanding of a country’s development as well as its place in the world. In particular these support research into Australia’s relationships within the region.

The Library selectively acquires or provides access to publications from the rest of the world that provide an understanding of issues and topics affecting Australia. Collecting supports research in history, society and culture, especially interpretation and analysis of global issues, current events and social trends. The preference is for works that analyse the social aspects of a subject and present subjects in a broad context. All overseas materials relating to Australia’s history, society and development are included in the scope of Australian collecting. 

Overseas rare and antiquarian materials may be collected in high priority areas. Rare materials may be collected for their intellectual or historical value, or for their value as an artefact, for exhibition, for the study of bibliography, print or cartographic culture, or because they have significant provenance. When available digitally, the Library will consider providing access to these rather than acquiring them for the collection.

The Library acquires or provides selective access to international reference resources preferably in digital form to support research across multiple disciplines, especially in the humanities, creative arts and social sciences, preferably in digital form.

When overseas resources are freely available online, the Library will support online access rather than take responsibility for long-term stewardship of the materials.


In selecting materials, priority is placed on building on the existing strengths of the Library's collections, to ensure rich and developed collections that have range, depth and cohesion.  The Library may also aim to fill specific gaps in the collection. Collecting primary sources and documentary heritage material is a priority.

Priority in Australian collecting is given to:

  • National significance: materials that record the lives and activities of people and organisations of national prominence or influence
  • National interest: people, places and events that reflect Australian society
  • Representation of the rich diversity of Australian society, in rural and regional as well as urban areas, and the experience and encounters of everyday life, including aspects of Australia that are inadequately documented
  • Representation of cultural and linguistic diversity, including materials in languages other than English
  • Material produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Priority in Asia-Pacific collecting is given to:

  • Collecting from China, Japan, Korea and, within South-East Asia: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and East Timor;
  • Collecting from Melanesia: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia
  • Resources relating to the ‘modern era’, as defined by each country
  • Works supporting research on history, politics, government, economy, culture, environment, social issues and intra-regional concerns.

Priority in collecting from the wider world is given to: 

  • Contextual understanding of Australia's history, society and development, from Indigneous people and places, European exploration and discovery to the present day.
  • Issues and topics affecting Australia, especially politics, history, government, international relations, the environment, energy and resources, economy, trade, first nations and the movement of peoples, demographic change, health trends, music and the arts, social and cultural issues.
  • All aspects of the Australia-New Zealand relationship and Antarctica
  • For reference materials, resources that support research in the humanities, social sciences and the arts and enhance Australian research endeavours.


The Library collects work in an extensive range of formats, ranging from printed books to handwritten manuscripts, digital archives to ebooks and oral history audio recordings in analogue or digital form. The Library responds to the changing formats of publication, intellectual and creative endeavour by aiming to acquire and preserve works or collections in the format that best represents their creation and content. However, the Library also considers the cost and ease of preservation, as well as accessibility for users.

The Library may collect works in multiple formats in order to provide better access to a publication or work. The Library may also acquire variant formats where imprints or copies are of a higher quality or carry significant provenance or add other value. Multiple editions and versions of a work may be collected, where there are variants, arrangements, additions, alterations or new or revised intellectual content.

Selecting formats

Where a collection or work is available in more than one format, the following factors are taken into account in deciding which format to collect:

  • The format that represents the collection or work at its best, providing the richest experience for the user
  • How accessible the work or collection is and how to best support research 
  • How well and efficiently the format can be collected and preserved, for perpetuity, and the cost of doing so.

Additionally, for published materials:

  • The format that best represents how the work was distributed to the public
  • Formats that reflect developments and trends in publishing
  • For overseas publications, digital formats will be preferred whenever available 

Additionally, for unpublished materials:

  • The formats that most represent the working life, research, creative or intellectual processes of the collector or creator or most effectively embody the subject.


  • The Library aims to store and preserve Australian materials in ways that ensure access for current and future generations in perpetuity.
  • Where collections or items are stored and preserved in other trusted national or international institutions, the Library may provide access to the resource without taking responsibility for its long-term preservation and access or acquiring a copy for the collection. Collaborative relationships are the usual mechanism to achieve this.
  • For overseas ebooks and other resources only accessible through the purchase of a license, the Library will endeavour to obtain a perpetual access agreement.
  • For overseas journals, databases and newspapers, the Library may provide access through aggregated networks and does not commit to providing perpetual access.

Relationship with other collecting institutions

The Library works with other collecting institutions to ensure that Australians have access to resources and that the national collection is acquired, stored, managed and preserved. As a member of National and State Libraries of Australia (NSLA), the Library is committed to collaborative collection development.

The Library works in collaboration with:

  • the National Library of New Zealand and the Australian State and Territory Libraries, to ensure the collection and long-term preservation of Australasian library material
  • the National Archives of Australia, recognising its responsibility for preserving Commonwealth government records
  • the National Film and Sound Archive, recognising its responsibility for preserving the national audio-visual collection
  • the ACT Heritage Library, for documenting Canberra and the ACT region
  • the Australian Music Centre, recognising its role in promoting and developing Australian music
  • other libraries, archives, galleries, museums and heritage organisations in the higher education sector and state, regional and local institutions where collecting interests connect.

Indigenous collections

The Library recognises the importance of acquiring materials created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and actively engages in this endeavour, whether acquiring materials for its own collection or working cooperatively with other institutions to create a national collection. In particular, the Library:

  • acquires published and unpublished material dealing with all issues concerning Indigenous Australians
  • cultivates respectful relationships with Indigenous people and communities, collaborating in collecting and managing Indigenous cultural property
  • works in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to support the acquisition and preservation of Indigenous language and related collections
  • has a Memorandum of Understanding with AIATSIS to provide access to materials supporting family reunion
  • aims to support Indigenous communities to gain access to relevant collections, including through repatriation of digital copies of collection material.