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.

  • 145 original works of Conrad Martens, consisting of four oil paintings, 91 watercolours, and 51 sepia wash, pencil and wash, or pencil drawings, plus a number of his lithographs

  • About 5000 books, pamphlets, reprints and journals published 1760-1940 in English, French, German, Italian and Russian. They relate to all aspects of ornithology in all parts of the world, with a special focus on Australian birds. 

  • About 2100 books, pamphlets, government publications, tourist booklets, magazines and other works about Mauritius and the Indian Ocean. Mostly in French or English, but also a few items in Mauritian Creole

  • Folklore performances and oral history interviews recorded between 1981 and 1989, containing music, recitations and recollections of performances and local history. The interviews were recorded throughout the New England region.

  • About 350 titles and a total of about 3000 issues of comics published between 1940 and 1960. Most are Australian publications, although many are reprints of US or British publications

  • Recordings of interviews made by McHugh while producing various series for the ABC and also when working on her book Minefields and Miniskirts, together with papers and manuscripts.

  • About 3,460 books and pamphlets, mostly local histories, church histories, business histories and organisational histories from around Australia.

  • 81 Korean books, 44 Japanese books and 11 Chinese books. Subject matter of the Korean books ranges from history, literature and religion to cooking and gardening.

  • Sheet music owned by, sung by or dedicated to Dame Nellie Melba, plus letters from Melba to various friends and colleagues and ephemera related to her opera performances.

  • Large collection of papers of Sir Robert Menzies, including correspondence, cards, commissions, diaries, speeches, invitations and other printed ephemera, subject files, newspaper cuttings, photographs and cartoons recordings of speeches by Menzies and oral history interviews that include references to him by others.