Guide to selected collections

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.

  • 553 books from the 19th to mid-20th century with a particular strength in botany and gardening. Other books include novels, plays, poetry, short stories, children’s books, biographies and books on religion, history, music, art, travel, animal husbandry and agriculture

  • 5482 titles published 1564-1965 and written in Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. They cover a wide range of subjects, mostly related to religion, philosophy and the Society of Jesus

  • Over 13,000 negatives, transparencies, and photographs of cattle stations in Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region taken between 1951 and 1961. Also 52 British Hydrographic Office charts and maps of Australia and the Pacific and personal papers of Johnston.

  • Over 4,000 negatives, transparancies and photographs of motorcycles, races and vintage cars. Also a small number of books and serials, plus personal papers related to the history of motorcycle racing in Australia and 17 oral history interviews

  • 4000 books, 6000 pamphlets and sets of 40 periodicals published between about 1620 and 1940. The outstanding feature is the works of the major English, Scottish and Irish political economists, as well as many lesser writers, of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 

  • Personal papers from 1938-1974 plus pamphlets, leaflets and other publications relating to socialist, communist, anti-communist and peace organisations in both Australia and overseas. In addition, a considerable amount of election material from the 1950s

  • 950 books on bibliography, history, law, religion, ethnography, archaeology and fine arts of Indonesia, and 629 books relating to the languages of Austronesia. Also some manuscripts, including transcripts of a collection of Sudanese manuscripts

  • Papers of the barrister and politician Sir John Latham. They are a major source on Australian public life over a period of 50 years and include correspondence, family and personal documents, notes, speeches, diaries, minute books, account books, cuttings, photographs, pamphlets, invitations, menus, programs, receipts, maps and tourist publications

  • Papers including letters, newspaper cuttings, published caricatures, letters and literary manuscripts, mostly related to Australian writers, journalists, composers and artists, including several New Zealanders who settled in Australia. Also 20 original cartoons by Australian artists

  • 421 photographs taken in the period 1858–1910 in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia. Most are of public buildings and street scenes in cities and towns, but there are also rural scenes and events