1. Introduction
  2. Ethical Collecting
  3. Legal Deposit
  4. Purchase and Licensing of Collection Materials
  5. Donation of Collection Materials
  6. Donations under the Cultural Gifts Program
  7. Commissioning
  8. Copyright, Rights and Conditions for Access to Collections

The Library develops its collections by building strong community connections, engaging with issues of contemporary significance and undertaking leadership activities, including innovating to address the impact of changing technologies on collecting and acquisition processes.

This section of the policy addresses the strategies, methodologies and range of approaches that the Library uses to acquire material, but does not include procedures, systems and workflows that the Library uses internally to acquire materials. Current information on these processes for publishers, creators and donors is available through the Library’s website, as well as related policy documents, including information about legal deposit and donating to the collection.


The Library builds its collection through a variety of means:

  • legal deposit of Australian published materials under the Copyright Act. Since 2016, this Act has applied to both digital and print publications
  • voluntary deposit arrangements, including, but not limited to, government publications
  • purchase via library suppliers and agents in Australia and overseas
  • direct purchase from authors or publishers, and through requests to purchase identified material
  • donations from the public, through one-off offers of material and through public appeals, bequests, gifts and philanthropy
  • donations under the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, a tax incentive scheme for major donations of significant cultural materials
  • commissioning of oral history and folklore interviews and photographs, via contracted interviewers, collectors and photographers, and through occasional, externally funded partnerships
  • special collecting arrangements, such as the Library’s office in Indonesia for collecting Asian materials, and consultation with First Nations Australian communities or individuals with the authority to speak for traditional owners
  • licensing (including perpetual licences) and subscription arrangements with international and Australian suppliers of electronic materials and databases, where not available for purchase, or not selected for permanent acquisition and stewardship.

The Library maintains a collection ‘wish list’ of highly desired materials sought for the collection.

Ethical Collecting

The Library undertakes appropriate due diligence and is accountable and transparent in acquiring material by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange, in accordance with the principles outlined in the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Best Practice Guide to Collecting Cultural Material.

Relevant principles ensure that the Library:

  • undertakes all acquisitions, whether by purchase, donation or bequest, according to the highest standards of due diligence, including ethical and professional best practice, and in accordance with applicable law
  • respects First Nations cultural restrictions and acknowledges its legal and ethical responsibility to traditional owners
  • ensures all cultural material acquired has been legally exported from the country of origin (and intermediate countries)
  • does not acquire cultural material where there is suspicion that it was obtained through unauthorised means or theft from individuals or other repositories
  • reviews new information about an item in the institution’s collection and undertakes further investigations, if required
  • is committed to transparency and accountability in relevant policies and procedures and in making information on new acquisitions available to the public. The Library makes its policy documents, together with periodic acquisition highlights, available on its website.

The Library undertakes its acquisition processes in accordance with the Commonwealth Government’s governance, performance and accountability rules.

Under legal deposit provisions in the Commonwealth Copyright Act, the National Library is entitled to receive one copy of all library material published in Australia directly from the publisher, free of charge. Where material is published offline, for example print books, newspapers, magazines, journals, printed maps and music, or published USBs, CD-ROMs and multimedia DVDs, this material must be delivered to the Library within 30 days of publication. Online material, such as ebooks, websites, electronic sheet music or maps, must be delivered to the Library upon request. The Library works in close cooperation with Australian publishers, large and small, to assist them to meet these deposit obligations, and maintains the Australian International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) and International Standard Music Number (ISMN) agencies. More information, including information on what material is eligible, and how to deposit, is available on the Library’s legal deposit webpage.

Purchase and Licensing of Collection Materials

The Library follows Commonwealth Government financial and procedural guidelines in all contractual, purchasing and licensing arrangements.

The Library purchases individual items for the collection through a variety of mechanisms, including auction, direct purchase from an organisation or an individual and through specialist vendors. The Library also purchases published materials through contractual arrangements with Library suppliers. These arrangements often involve developing profiles that specify groups of eligible materials for suppliers to deliver to the Library—for example, ‘any book written by an Australian published in China’. Profiles are based on the principles and priorities determined in the Collection Development Policy.

Profiles are especially used in collecting overseas materials in order to define collecting priorities for and from different countries, and to acquire materials from overseas suppliers. The Library maintains a regional office in Jakarta, Indonesia, to facilitate the Asian regional collecting program.

Additionally, the Library seeks to selectively fill collection gaps for out of print and retrospective Australian publications, and nurtures relationships with collectors, antiquarian and second-hand dealers, small presses, auction houses, agents and other outlets, as well as the general public and organisations, to identify, select and acquire such materials.

Where materials are available on subscription but not available for acquisition into the collection— for example, electronic resources and databases—the Library aims to acquire a perpetual licence to guarantee ongoing access and long-term sustainability. In instances where the Library only provides access to a resource but does not take responsibility for its sustainability, the Library acquires a licence limited for use. The Library sometimes enters into consortium licensing arrangements in collaboration with other trusted repositories.

Where a formed collection, archival collection or item of significant commercial value requires external valuation for purchase, the Library uses independent qualified valuers, as appropriate, to determine market value. The Australian Government also provides a list of registered valuers as part of its Cultural Gifts Program.

Donation of Collection Materials

Generous donations of collection material by individuals and organisations over decades have helped build the richness, diversity and depth of the collections. The Library encourages offers of a wide range of collection materials, in accordance with the scope, collecting intent and priorities outlined below in ‘What We Collect’. The Library accepts materials across the spectrum, from single items to lifetime or formed collections. The Library takes a long-term view of collection donations, and can accommodate shorter or longer timeframes as well as large collections in periodic instalments. Guidelines for donors and collection donation forms for registering offers are available on the Library website.

In accordance with its custodial role to provide long-term preservation of and access to materials, the Library can only accept materials to the Library as permanent gifts. The Library does not accept donations of material on permanent loan or a loan-for-copy basis.

The Library is not always able to accept offers, especially in areas where the Library’s collecting is selective. Should materials duplicate existing items, or be outside of the policy, the Library may advise donors of alternative institutions or pathways that may provide an appropriate home for the material.

The Library particularly engages with the community to assist in locating volumes or issues in newspapers, magazines and journals that are missing from complete runs of periodicals, or where high use has rendered volumes at risk for long-term preservation. Occasional special projects and public appeals, such as for items required for digitisation—for example, The Australian Women’s Weekly—or for ephemera collecting during federal election campaigns, depend on this approach.

The Library builds relationships with individuals, communities of interest and the research community to acquire collections of special and original materials of national significance. Donors typically include creators, collectors, executors, family members, copyright holders, agents or individuals acting with authority on behalf of an organisation or community. These relationships help the Library to identify rich and unique collections. Where possible, the Library works closely with and assists donors to organise, describe and document archival or large formed collections prior to transfer to the Library, at a level that enables a donated collection to be immediately accessible for research. The Library expects organisations and societies donating their organisational records to organise and document these in advance of deposit.

The Library asks donors to identify their relationship to the material in order to ascertain provenance, maintain rights agreements and access conditions and acknowledge donations appropriately. The Library respects privacy rights and obligations in requesting and storing personal information.

Donations under the Cultural Gifts Program

The Library appreciates, benefits from and works closely with donors wishing to gift culturally significant materials under the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Information on how the Library acquires collections under this program is available on the website and outlines such requirements as minimum value and frequency of gifts, ownership of materials and copyright, valuation and acceptance of gifts.


The Library commissions oral histories, folklore recordings and some photographs, where oral or visual forms of communication capture people, places, events and experiences more appropriately than other forms of textual communication or publication. Typical examples may be the experience of immigration, natural disasters or generational change. The Library contracts specialist interviewers, and sometimes photographers, for such purposes. The Library provides recording equipment for oral histories it commissions and trains interviewers in methodologies appropriate to the medium and in accordance with Library systems and technology, often for use in the field.

The Library also enters into occasional partnerships with other government agencies to commission materials around particular subjects, such as the experiences recorded by the Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants project, and with universities under the auspices of the Australian Research Council and similar grants. These partnerships are normally facilitated by external funding and subject to formal agreements and contractual arrangements.

Copyright, Rights and Conditions for Access to Collections

The Library aims to make all collections and collection items as accessible as possible once deposited, while respecting the intellectual property, moral rights, cultural sensitivities and privacy of donors, creators and subjects. This includes cataloguing the materials and making them accessible on the Library’s website and through the Library’s services.

While the Library permanently owns its collection materials, copyright normally remains the intellectual property of creators and publishers. The exceptions are where copyright is transferred to the Library by agreement; remains the intellectual property of the Library, for example in a commissioned oral history; or is acquired by the Library as part of the purchase, for example in the case of some photographs. The Library endorses the position statements on copyright prepared by National and State Libraries Australia.

The Library prefers that donors do not place unnecessary restrictions on access to and research use of unpublished collections. However, donors are able to specify terms and conditions of access and use of their collection materials in the Library’s rights agreement at the point of acquisition, including restricting access to sensitive material for an agreed duration. The Library makes materials available for use and for public use in accordance with these rights agreements.

Access conditions agreed to by creators and donors and other ethical considerations are especially important. The Library takes into account that rights to use First Nations Australian cultural material may be held by an individual, but traditional ownership of that cultural knowledge is often held at the community level. In some cases, permission to use cultural information should be in the form of written permission from relevant individuals or organisations with cultural authority.

What We Collect