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.

  • Small collection of German and Austrian books, mostly early twentieth century. They include poetry, plays, novels, essays, fairytales, folklore, art books, memoirs, and books on the theatre and opera

  • A large number of photographs and negatives taken by Loke Wan Tho on his ornithological expeditions to the Pacific, Asia and Europe in the 1950s and early 1960s. Plus extensive personal papers and around 232 books on subjects including ornithology, photography, art, architecture, journalism, and Malayan history and politics.

  • 722 books, pamphlets, leaflets, manuscripts, newspapers and maps, mostly written in Chinese. Mainly Christian works, plus works on the Chinese language, reprints of classical writings and works relating to the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-64

  • Oral history recordings, manuscripts and papers relating mainly to Australian folklore and Lowenstein's books Weevils in the flour and Under the hook.

  •  About 2000 books, pamphlets and serials. Most in English, but also some in French, German, Dutch and Burmese languages. The great strength is its Burmese materials, but the scope is broad and includes the history and culture of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, India and Indonesia

  • An album of 20 watercolours and 22 separate watercolours by Joseph Lycett. Most of the works consist of studies of Aborigines or drawings of plants

  • 50 oral history recordings with 149 interviewees containing reminiscences, stories and music relating to Scottish oral traditions in Australia

  • Personal papers and legal material that record of one of the most important and controversial legal cases in Australian history and the life of the man who is chiefly associated with the case

  • Literary manuscripts submitted to the Bulletin in 1918–20, personal papers 185 books related to Australia, some very rare, plus 30 books published in Tahiti by the London Missionary Society in 1817–37

  • 614 books and pamphlets, mostly published overseas in the period 1850–1950. A significant proportion are children’s books. Apart from novels, they include scripture readings, prayer books, hymn books, works on theology, school textbooks and some historical works. The collection also contains 37 maps and 6 atlases.