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.

  •  Family papers and about 1600 books, mostly published in Britain in the period 1850–1920. Subjects include Greek and Latin classics, religion, history, biography, politics, literature, language, travel, agriculture, gardening, popular science, art and children’s books

  • Country house library collection of 1648 books and 54 serials with strength in English and French publications of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

  • Large collection of personal papers covering Alfred Deakin's extensive political career, plus photographs, memorabilia and other published works by and about Deakin.

  • 70 original pencil, pen, ink, charcoal and wash caricatures and cartoons assembled by Percy Deane. Most are of federal politicians from the period 1915-1925. 

  • Collection of music scores and music related material created or collected by the composer, conductor and musicologist Richard Divall from 1961 to 2001.

  •  122 interviews recorded by Bruce Simpson and Bill Gammage between 2000 and 2006. Most of the interviewees were retired drovers, but there were also graziers, station managers, stockmen, ringers, station hands, shearers, teamsters, and horse breakers.

  • 2286 titles, mainly monographs but also including manuscripts and music material about the history of Ireland and Australia. The books include an important group written in Gaelic, mostly published in the 1920s and 1930s, and early Irish texts published in facsimile.

  • About 6200 books, mostly published in the period 1880-1960. The strength is English literature, especially poetry, plays, letters, and literary criticism. Other areas are Greek and Roman classics, French, German and Russian literature, British history, political biography, European history, military history, European art, classical music, and travel.

  • About 4000 books, mostly published in France in the 19th and early 20th century. Also contains a number of German and Italian works and a few English titles. The strength is in editions of Latin and Greek classical texts and books on ancient history, archaeology, literary criticism, philology and art.

  • Two collections, the first of around 953 pamphlets published in the Netherlands from 1567-1852 dealing with political, diplomatic, military and legal matters. The second of around 145 papmhlets published in the Netherlands from 1796-1806 documenting aspects of the administration of the Batavian Republic.