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Researching literature from home

Researching literature from home
Research from home during COVID-19
9 August 2020

COVID-19 has restricted our lives in ways we could never have imagined.  Slowly, however, we are seeing restrictions lift, including our access to libraries and archives—although limits on visitor numbers necessarily restrict the research which can be conducted onsite and access to physical collections. 

In this new environment, how can researchers make the most of the resources available to them online to further their work?

One group of researchers—those engaged in our vibrant and engaging literary culture—were hit hard as talks were postponed, long-planned festivals were cancelled and travel was limited.   

For those engaged in researching for the creation of works of creative writing, literary scholarship and promotion, the National Library remains open online as a diverse and invaluable research repository to explore.

The National Library of Australia building in Canberra

Loui Seselja (1948-), National Library of Australia Building, External View, Canberra, 1999, nla.cat-vn3426294

The key to our collections 

If you are an Australian resident, you will find that the key to our collections is via a National Library card. If you are unable to visit the Library in person, the Library card allows you to access a select group of our licenced online resources from home via our eResources service to support your research.

If you haven’t used eResources before, read our guide eResources at the National Library which provides you with the basic information you need to make the most of this service. Alternatively, take a look at our webinar:


Although the Library card provides you with access to our eResources service, it is worth remembering that not everything in the Library collections is available to read online. Much of our collections, including manuscripts, pictures, books, journals and newspapers (including many titles which continue on after Trove ends in 1954), are still only available in physical form and can only be read in our reading rooms. When you are next able to visit us, your Library card can be used to request this material via our online catalogue.

Selected eResources for literary research 

Once you have received your Library card and read our guide on eResources at the National Library, you are ready to access from home the over 200 licenced online services available to offsite users.   

With such choice, how do you know how to find the ones that can best help with your literary research? Obviously, your choice of resource depends on what your research is about; is it background for a novel, is it research for a review or author biography, or is it scholarly literary research?

Browsing the category list is a great place to start to find the best resource for your literary purposes, which can be found under the Browse eResources tab (see below).  There is a general category for Arts and Humanities as well as the more specific Literature sub-category.


Some key resources include:

  • Austlit; the Australian literature resource: The authoritative source for information on Australian authors and their works, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers, children and young adult authors and authors from multicultural backgrounds.

  • Australian Book Review Online: Since 1961 the ABR has been publishing  reviews, essays, commentaries, interviews and new creative writing from around Australia. Online content includes a mix of full-text and index back to 1977. The complete print edition is available at the National Library to view in our reading rooms.

Looking for context and background for your original work?

If you are considering writing a work of fiction, you will need to look broadly for background colour and authenticity, so consider the resources listed in the eResources category for Newspapers and Media.

Here you can provide key historical and cultural context.  Some selected titles include:

  • The Illustrated London News historical archive 1842-2003: Over the course of its history the newspaper reported on all the great events of the day, including wars, royalty, social events, science and exploration. Its distinguished contributors included Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie.
  • The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive 1902-2014: One of the most comprehensive literary publications of the 20th and 21st centuries. Includes reviews of literature, theatre, cinema, music and exhibitions and writing by some of the most significant and influential writers and critics.
  • Australia New Zealand Reference Centre Plus: Includes the full-text of leading Australian and New Zealand newspapers and periodicals, newswires and reference books, as well as biographies and an Image Collection of more than one million photos, maps and flags.

Philippa Poole Researching for her First Book 'The diaries of Ethel Turner', nla.cat-vn2317814


Accurate research for an original work requires identifying culturally specific information. As an example, if researching the history of women or the LGBTIQ movement both in Australia and overseas, try the following databases available via eResources:

  • Gerritsen collection: women’s history online 1543-1945
  • Archives of Sexuality and Gender: LGBTQ history and culture since 1940.
  • Archives of Sexuality and Gender: International Perspectives on LGBTQ Activism and Culture

Finally, don’t forget the key free resources available. Amongst other subject areas covered, two which include content useful for researching significant Australian historical figures are:

Freely available digitised material

Although many of our online resources require a National Library card to unlock them, our catalogue contains links to much freely available digitised material.

By clicking on the link to the Online Versions in the catalogue record as shown in the following example you can explore the writers of Australia’s past.

Some examples of the resources available to researchers include the following titles.

A.T. Bolton, Portrait of Thea Astley, 1987, nla.cat-vn2307834

Learning more

This has provided just a taste of the wealth of material you can unlock on our website. 

If you are looking for more detailed information to help you understand and access our collections and services, you can also explore our:

You can also send us an enquiry via our AskaLibrarian service (we won't do the research for you, but we can provide research tips and strategies to point you in the right direction).

The final step

If all your research results in a publication, don’t forget to send us a copy. This will ensure that your treasured piece is preserved for future generations to enjoy and maybe use for their own research!