- What we collect
- Preserving our collections
- Building our collections
- Selected Library collections
- Collection statistics
- History of the collection
- Processing and describing our collections
The National Library of Australia’s overseas collections have been built over many years. This collection delivers on the Library’s commitment to inform Australians about their region and their place in the world.
The Library’s overseas collections make up approximately half of the Library’s total print collection, as well as a substantial proportion of the Library’s electronic subscriptions and licensed ebook material. Since 2012, the Library’s collecting of this material has focused on the Asia-Pacific region, with more selective collecting from the wider world. This change reflects the growth of readily available digital resources, including digitised materials, as well as changes in the cost of maintaining an overseas collection and the opportunities for collaboration to enable access.
The Library’s rich overseas collections shed light and context on developments in Australia and on Australian engagement in the wider world. Australian-related overseas collecting focuses on materials that contextualise Australia's history, society, arts and culture, politics and the economy, from exploration and discovery to the present day. Collecting includes topics such as:
- European discovery and exploration of the region
- works on indigenous and first nation peoples
- the historical British and European institutions, ideas and influences that created Australia during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Topics covered include but are not limited to politics and political ideas, economic history, religion, social issues, music and the arts, popular culture, everyday life
- war and conflicts involving Australia
- Australia’s humanitarian, defence and cultural engagements
- migration and diaspora
- aspects of the global economy relevant to Australia
- aspects of art and culture relevant to Australia
Representative and selective collecting
The greatest strengths of the Library’s overseas collections are, broadly, the social sciences, history, politics, culture, music and the arts, and society. Building upon these strengths remains the Library’s collecting priority, ensuring the creation of a world-class collection with depth and relevance to specialist researchers. This is achieved through selective collecting practices, but with an emphasis on achieving representative or comprehensive coverage of selected areas and topics, especially in the priority area of Asia-Pacific Region collection.
Topics and areas of specialty for in-depth collection take into consideration:
- existing strengths of the collection
- feedback from Australian research communities
- relevance of material to understanding Australian culture, life or society
- relevance of material to understanding social, economic, political, cultural and artistic developments that provide context for Australia.
Overseas materials are often acquired through contractual arrangements, where library suppliers are requested to supply all relevant materials. These arrangements are based upon the principles outlined in this policy. In some cases, formed and special collections may be acquired where they significantly enhance advanced research.
While the majority of overseas collecting is contemporary, retrospective materials are acquired to fill key gaps in collections and build research depth.
The principles outline the specific priorities for collecting in the Asia-Pacific region and from the rest of the world. The Library no longer purchases for ownership and preservation of overseas materials where it can provide sustained digital access and eResources through arrangements with vendors and other organisations.
The Library continues to prioritise collecting from and about the Asia-Pacific region. Individual country collecting is subject to change, according to social or political factors, changes in research focus, and Library priorities and resources. The principles set out the range of criteria used to balance priorities and acquisition decisions, including ease, cost and sustainability of access to specialist resources and vendors.
Definition and scope
The scope of Asian collecting covers monographs, maps, serials and newspapers as core content, whether in digital, print or microform format. Collecting for some Asian countries may also include multimedia, pictorial works, ephemera and websites, acquired on a selective basis.
The Library’s Asian collecting program builds collections for Australians to learn about, study in depth and understand the Asian region. There is a continued focus on resources that underpin research.
Subject areas fall within the broad areas of history, culture and society and focus on works that provide interpretation and analysis of Asia-Pacific-related issues, current events and social trends. Research level works and trade publications are acquired that treat subjects at an advanced or academic level. Such works specifically relate to political science, government, foreign relations, economics, law, education, social issues, geography, development issues and travel.
The principle for acquisition is whether a work or collection provides context for a broader understanding of a country, its development in the modern era and its place in the modern world, whether historically, culturally or politically. Collecting is open to interdisciplinary topics that may not be easily categorised but that relate to one or more aspects of interest.
Collecting from Asian countries
The highest priority historical period is the modern era after 1911. Significant works on earlier periods of China’s history which provide context to the modern period are also acquired. There are extensive holdings of Chinese series (cong shu) and provincial yearbooks which are added to as new volumes are issued. A representative sample of works on Chinese culture and the arts is acquired. Collecting areas of interest are China’s minority and indigenous groups, popular culture, topical issues and everyday life history.
The highest priority historical period is the post-Meiji era (1868 onwards), including works on Japan’s development as a modern power in the early twentieth century, imperial expansion, military conflicts and Japan’s development as a nation in the postwar period. Works documenting Japan’s early relations with the West and foreign settlement in Japan are also acquired.
Collecting areas of interest are popular culture, topical issues and works documenting social movements and relations between citizens and government. A representative sample of works on Japanese literature and the visual arts is also acquired.
The Library collects works from and about both the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The highest priority collecting area is contemporary history, covering the period of Japanese occupation (1910 to 1945) onwards. Attention is given to the history of relations between North and South Korea and regional strategic issues. Current works from North Korea are acquired where possible, noting restrictions on supply.
Collecting from South-East Asia is strongest for Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and East Timor, outlined separately below. Collecting from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam is undertaken at a lower level.
As with other countries of the East Asian region, collecting focuses on the modern history and contemporary societies and cultures of South-East Asia. This includes early history, periods of colonial occupation, the post-World War Two period and inter-regional developments to the present day. Works on culture and the arts in South-East Asia are selectively acquired, with a lesser emphasis on works on religion and philosophy where these provide context to broader social trends.
The Library’s Indonesian Collection is one of the strongest contemporary research collections in the world, built by over thirty years collecting via an acquisitions office in Jakarta. Publications documenting relations between the central government and the regions, including ethnic minorities, are acquired.
A particular focus is on sources that document elections and the democratic process since 1999. These include election ephemera, posters, pamphlets and realia. A representative selection of works on the literatures of Indonesia is acquired, emphasising the modern period and including popular as well as literary fiction. Works on and in minority languages are acquired where available. Collecting on culture and the arts focuses on traditional forms that document indigenous groups and cultural heritage. Materials documenting popular culture and topical issues are selectively acquired. This includes selective web archiving in areas of interest.
The Library has taken an active interest in developing a research level collection on East Timor. The Library acquires commercially and non-commercially published books and journals, newspapers, government publications, maps and a broad range of materials representative of East Timorese society and current affairs.
Publications from East Timor are acquired almost exclusively through institutional and personal contacts as this country lacks an established book trade, and publishing output is small. For this reason, publications available in any languages will be acquired. Publications in the English and Tetum languages are generally preferred.
Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar
Areas of collecting interest from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar include government and politics, the social sciences, economics, statistics, law, education, social issues and development issues. A broad range of publications is sought documenting modern society in each of these countries.
Thai collecting has a particular focus on cremation biographies written to memorialise the dead. Publications documenting regional development, ethnic minorities and relations with neighbours are also acquired. Similar materials are sought for Cambodia and Laos.
Materials documenting popular culture and topical issues in each of these countries are selectively acquired. A particular area of collecting interest is published sources documenting elections and the democratic process in Thailand. These sources include election ephemera, posters, pamphlets, realia and websites.
A representative selection of works on the literatures of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar is acquired. Works on minority languages are acquired. Collecting on culture and the arts focuses on traditional and indigenous cultures and arts rather than contemporary artists and movements in Thailand.
Collecting from South Asia is at a lower level than for Southeast Asia and emphasises significant and current social, political, economic and cultural issues in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries of the South Asian region. Works which focus on subjects and topical issues of interest to Australia, and all aspects of Australia’s relations with countries of the South Asian region are acquired.
Works on relations between the South Asian countries are acquired. The Library exercises discretion and judgment in acquiring works on new trends and developments as they emerge over time.
The Library does not collect in the vernacular languages of India. English language publishing is collected and is supplemented by publications on the region published elsewhere in the world.
As a member of the National and State Libraries of Australia (NSLA), the Library is committed to collaborative collection development according to the collaborative collections principles endorsed by NSLA.
The Library has in-principle collecting agreements for Chinese, Japanese and Korean language materials and Pacific newspapers. The Library is open to working with other collecting institutions within Australia and abroad to ensure the continuing availability of overseas, Asian and Pacific resources in library collections.
The Library has formal collecting agreements with the Australian academic sector regarding contemporary overseas, Asian and Pacific collecting.
Definition and scope
The scope of Pacific collecting covers monographs, maps, serials and newspapers as core content, whether in digital, print or microform format. Collecting for some Pacific countries may also include multimedia, pictorial works, music, ephemera and websites, acquired on a selective basis.
The Library’s interest in the Pacific is longstanding and reflects historical, economic and cultural links to countries in Australia’s geographic region.
Collecting from Pacific Islands
Collecting from the Pacific focuses on reference works, statistics, legal materials, geography and travel, sociology and social issues, government and public administration, history, arts and culture. Works on politics, foreign relations, economics and education are acquired and a representative selection of works on the languages and literatures of the region is also sought. Works documenting popular culture and topical issues in the region are acquired. The Library continues to collect publications from relevant intergovernmental organisations such as the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
Works acquired are predominantly in English or French with selected acquisition in the vernacular languages of the region.
In Pacific collecting, the Library gives priority to the countries of Melanesia, comprising the islands immediately to the north and northeast of Australia (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia). A slightly lesser priority is given to the countries of Polynesia and Micronesia. Works about Hawaii are generally not collected, although the Library acquires Hawaii-origin publishing on the Asia Pacific region.
A strong emphasis is given to the collecting of material from Papua New Guinea, partly reflecting Australia’s historical links with that country, geographical proximity and an important economic and development relationship.
New Zealand collecting
The Library’s collecting interests in New Zealand are linked to the two countries’ shared history of exploration and discovery, political institutions, economic development and relationships with indigenous peoples. Collecting takes these ties into account and selectively adds to substantial historical collections.
Collecting focuses on significant current social, political, economic and cultural issues. Works which focus on subjects and topical issues of interest to Australia, and all aspects of the Australia-New Zealand relationship are acquired.
The National Library of New Zealand has an active collecting program for the New Zealand imprint as well as an extensive digitisation program. New Zealand publications can be efficiently searched and requested from New Zealand libraries through the Library’s resource sharing service, Libraries Australia. In addition, most New Zealand government publications are freely available online. The Library takes these factors into account when acquiring New Zealand publications.
The Library takes into account the collecting activity of the Australian National University Library when making acquisition decisions for Pacific materials. There are in-principle collecting agreements for Pacific newspapers. The Library has no other formal agreements with the Australian academic sector regarding Pacific collecting.
The Library works with other collecting institutions within Australia and abroad to ensure the continuing availability of Pacific resources in library collections. The Library holds over 40,000 reels of microfilm of manuscripts and archival records, mostly acquired overseas and primarily of Australian and Pacific interest. In addition to materials copied in the United Kingdom and Ireland by the Australian Joint Copying Project (1948–93), records of Pacific interest continue to be filmed by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau and acquired cooperatively. The Bureau copies archives, manuscripts and rare printed material relating to the Pacific Islands, to ensure preservation, and forms the most extensive collection of non-government primary documentation on the Pacific Islands available to researchers.
The wider world
Definition and scope
Collecting from the wider world builds on the Library's existing strengths, focuses on English language materials, and prioritises digital formats and access where appropriate.
The Library’s overseas collecting takes into account the diverse needs of researchers. Reference resources, including databases, aim to support advanced and scholarly research, both discipline based and interdisciplinary, but also in-depth family history research, which constitutes a sizeable proportion of use of the Library’s historical collections and databases, and general users.
The Library selectively acquires publications intended to provide a contextual understanding of general issues and topics affecting Australia in the wider world. Collecting focus broadly falls within history, society, arts and culture and takes in current publishing in selected subjects that provide interpretation and analysis of global issues, current events and social trends affecting Australia. These include but are not limited to works on politics, history, government, international relations, the environment, energy and resources, the world economy, trade, the movement of peoples, demographic change, health trends, social issues, music and the arts. The Library exercise discretion to acquire works on new trends and developments as they emerge over time.
Research level works and trade publications are acquired that treat subjects at an academic or advanced level. There will be a preference for works that analyse the social aspects of a subject and present subjects in a broad context.
Principles for access to ebooks and monographic eResources
Ebooks and monographic eResources (such as collections of digitised books) are generally acquired as Library assets and made available indefinitely. The Library will accept vendor permanent access arrangements to achieve this or, with the appropriate permissions, archive content in its own system.
Remote access to ebooks will be provided wherever possible for registered Library users within Australia. Ebook content is downloadable to user devices where the Library has permission to allow this.
Gratis ebooks made freely available on the web are collected and archived with the permission of the publisher or copyright holder when they can be located. Where the work is deemed to be an orphan work, the Library will take a risk management approach and may opt to acquire the item without permission. The Library will generally not link to a website in lieu of acquiring a gratis ebook.
Principles for access to ejournals
The Library seeks to provide access to journals in digital form rather than print. Where a journal is available in both print and digital format, digital access will be preferred to a print subscription. Ejournals will be purchased either by direct subscription for single titles, through a vendor or as part of an aggregated journal article database. The Library will seek to avoid excessive title duplication between different aggregated journal article databases.
Print journal titles will only be acquired where there is no digital access alternative and where the content is deemed high priority, such as titles relating to Australia or published in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Library does not commit to providing perpetual access to current ejournal content.
Principles for access to newspapers
The Library seeks to provide access to overseas newspapers in digital form. Print or microform newspapers will only be acquired where there is no digital access alternative and where the content is deemed high priority, such as Asia-Pacific newspapers.
Newspapers made available in digital form fall into two broad categories. A number of current world newspaper titles are made available for immediate consumption as sources of news but will not be collected as archival sources for research. No commitment is made to maintaining perpetual access to these titles.
Some overseas newspapers are collected and retained as primary sources for research. These titles relate to high priority countries in the Asia and the Pacific or that cover historical periods or collecting areas of interest.
Where a newspaper title is in a high priority collecting area it will be provided in a full page format, whether in digital, microform or print. The availability of selected newspaper content in an article database is not considered to be a full page replica.
Where multiple versions of a high priority newspaper in page replica format are available, the Library will commit to permanent retention of at least one of them. Priority will be given to first digital, then microform and lastly print versions of newspapers, depending on availability and cost. The Library will not maintain duplicate holdings of page replica newspaper formats.