Collect today what will be important tomorrow

The Library aspires to enable Australians to understand their diverse social, cultural and intellectual histories by collecting and preserving Australian publications and unpublished collections—in print and digital forms—so that they can be enjoyed by current and future generations. It also aspires to build a rich collection of print and digital resources that enable learning, research and understanding of the Asia-Pacific region and Australia’s place in the world. This policy expands on the Library’s Collecting Strategy 2020–2021 to 2023–2024.

Purpose of the Collection Development Policy

The Library’s Collection Development Policy defines the scope and nature of its collecting of Australian and overseas materials. It sets out the key principles that underpin the ongoing development of the Library’s national collection, and from which the Library’s decisions to acquire materials flow: why, what, when and how to collect. The policy covers materials of different types of intellectual, literary and creative content, in either published or unpublished form, across different formats, and delineates when the Library takes responsibility for the long-term preservation of and access to materials.


The Library built its collections as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library from 1901 until 1960, when the National Library was formally established under its own Act. The majority of the collections were physically transferred with the opening of the Library building in 1968. The history of the Library’s foundation collections and subsequent collecting directions can be found at ‘History of the Collection’, with an overview of collection highlights.

Since 1960, the Library has regularly revised its collecting policy to reflect changes in the internal and external environment, taking into account trends and innovations in publishing and content creation, information technology and collection management, changing research paradigms, legal frameworks and social, political and cultural contexts.

As a living document, each iteration of the policy aims to provide guidance for staff, other libraries, users and the community on the Library’s collecting activities across different formats and subject areas. The policy was revised in 2016; that revision introduced a set of common principles that applied across all collections, and across digital and physical materials. This revision of the policy maintains a strong, flexible framework for decision-making, and encourages staff to weigh and judge factors such as format, content, relevance and significance of materials against stated principles, considerations and priorities.

What is different about the 2020 revision?

This revision completes the integration of the ‘continuum’ collecting approach placed at the centre of the 2016 policy. Rather than being organised to reflect the Library’s organisational structure, or by material format, the policy is now organised around three broad approaches to collecting: comprehensive collections, where relevant materials are acquired to the greatest extent possible; representative collections, where the Library selects a manageable amount of material to represent a type, creator or subject; and selective collections, where items of national priority or special significance are identified and collected, or where depth of collecting is prioritised above breadth.

This opens up the possibility of creating rich collections across priority areas, and reflects the positive and practical structures that enable this to be achieved.

The contemporary environment for building collections

The context for the creation, development, management, interpretation of and provision of access to collections continues to change for all major research libraries worldwide. In building its collection, the contemporary library must blend licensed, published, unique, online, physical and born-digital materials with an expectation about open access. In building collections, national libraries - including this one - must aim to build a collection that satisfies future researchers as well as current users.

Sustainability and stewardship

  • The policy defines principles by which to determine what the Library should acquire, what it should aim to preserve in perpetuity (i.e. what it should take stewardship of), and what it should provide access to through another trusted collecting institution or vendor. Access can take many forms, from the purchase of a licence that allows the Library’s readers to access material through to arrangements with partner institutions for collaborative digitisation of material.
  • The Library must balance its mandate to ensure treasured materials are preserved for the Australian people in the long term with the need for efficient allocation of resources, including minimising duplication of both storage and digitisation processes where material is already widely available. In affirming the Library’s ongoing stewardship role, the new policy approach also underlines the importance of collaboration between institutions to develop secure, efficient and accessible collections for Australians. NED, the National edeposit system, is based on a successful collaboration of National and State Libraries Australia institutions.
  • The Library must also determine whether it is able to guarantee long-term preservation of a work. For this reason, Australian resources acquired through licences are purchased with a perpetual licence when possible, which includes an agreement allowing the Library to obtain a copy of the files should the provider no longer be able to provide access. Although the Library aims to optimise discovery and access to materials not held in the collection and, when in scope, provide perpetual access to them, international licensing arrangements or copyright provisions may mean such decisions are outside the Library’s control.
  • The Library aims to preserve digital materials acquired for the collection when technologically possible, but the technology and system processes required to make these collections accessible to the public are not yet all well developed.

Volume and variety

  • The Library’s collecting program is marked by rich variety and mass volume. Each year, the Library adds many tens of thousands of physical items and millions of digital files to its collections, encompassing a great diversity of material type, content, focus and subject matter.
  • The ease of production and distribution of born-digital materials, whether published materials such as ebooks or unpublished materials such as photographic archives, has resulted in an exponential increase in material potentially available for the Library to collect. At the same time, individuals, organisations and government departments are divesting themselves of existing print collections, resulting in a sharp increase in offers and requests for the Library to house and preserve physical material, both published and unpublished, for long-term stewardship.
  • This increased volume and variety, combined with declining staff and financial resources, has placed considerable strain on the Library’s acquisition processes, ability to respond to offers within appropriate timeframes and capacity to collect proactively or fill collection gaps. The policy aims to support staff to connect strategic priorities with the operational environment and to ensure the Library retains the capacity and capability to acquire, manage and make collections available in the current context.

Collaboration and networking

  • The collecting process now places a higher priority on collaboration internally between acquisitions staff across the Library and externally between collecting institutions. The organisational model adopted by the Library from 2020–2021 reshapes collection teams around processes and workflows (rather than format), the implementation of the structure embeds collaborative practices. The policy sets out the primary relationships of the Library with other Australian libraries and collecting institutions, while affirming the role of the Library in providing Australians with access to the resources they need to support their research, education, understanding and enjoyment. It provides a guide to enable a greater degree of cooperation in the development of collections in the national interest.
  • The Library works collaboratively with other national, state and territory collecting institutions to ensure that together we:
    • build a comprehensive national collection that is accessible to all Australians
    • preserve the published output, intellectual and creative endeavour of Australian people and organisations
    • capture Australian voices published overseas
    • make the Library’s holdings widely known and accessible
    • repatriate material digitally when appropriate.

Changing nature of scholarship

Changing research practices and the evolving nature of collection resources affect the type of material the Library can collect permanently, as well as shifting the paradigm from collecting to access, especially with resources from the wider world . The Library takes particular responsibility for stewardship of electronic resources in the humanities, social sciences and arts fields, but not in science and technology.

Shifting attitudes toward data sharing, methodologies in electronic research and the nature of academic discourse have implications for the Library’s collecting. These also affect collaboration, with an increasing role for other trusted institutions and stakeholders in ensuring that data sets and the outcomes of research are preserved for the long term.

Integrating physical and digital collections

The revised policy applies consistent criteria to the collection of works, based on the intellectual, creative, literary and social content of the material. The Library’s preference is for materials to be in a digital format where available, but recognises that works may need to be represented in one format or another depending on completeness of content. The changing technology of library materials exists within a continuum of Australian life—discussion, debate, creativity, intellectual production and the recording of everyday life have been part of Australian society for centuries. Future users will be able to research these activities in the Library’s collections across a range of communication technologies, from early Australian broadsides to twenty-first-century social media sites.

Legislative framework for published materials (Legal Deposit provisions)

The Library was separately established under the National Library Act 1960 (Cwth), which outlines the responsibility to create a comprehensive collection of library material relating to Australia and the Australian people. For this purpose, its collecting role is further defined in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cwth), including provisions requiring Australian publishers to deposit a copy of their publications with the Library (legal deposit provisions).

From February 2016, legal deposit provisions have applied to both digital and physical publications, ensuring that the Library’s comprehensive collections include forms of publication such as the internet and ebooks, as well as more traditional formats. More information about the legal deposit program, including information on what and how to deposit, is available on the Library’s legal deposit webpage.

Developing online collections

The Library is committed to making its collections as accessible as possible. Digitisation, as well as aggregation of metadata, is critical to increasing discovery and use of the collections. To this end, the Library participated for many years in the Australian Newspapers Plan (ANPlan), leading a vibrant cooperative program with state and territory libraries and other organisations to collect, preserve and digitise Australian newspapers. While the group is no longer operating as a distinct entity, broader National and State Libraries Australia work ensures that national collaboration continues to have a major impact on collecting decisions. For other materials, the Library actively works to make more of its physical collections freely available online. The Library’s digitisation policy and corporate plan complement this Collection Development Policy.

Acquisition and selection procedures for born-digital materials, including pictures and manuscripts, have been updated to include a risk assessment for any large acquisitions of digital material to ensure that long-term preservation issues are considered.

First Nation Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) collections

Collecting of material created by and representing the views of Australia’s First Nations Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) has been a significant focus of the Library in recent years, and the Library has obtained rich archival, pictorial and oral history collections to support this aim. By their nature, the Library’s earliest collections were limited to perspectives on Australian culture reflected through European tradition. Australia has also been recorded and reflected by First Nations peoples through artistic, cultural, social and intellectual expression and traditions, and latterly in written form. In the revised policy, the Library places a strong priority on collecting retrospective and contemporary material created by First Nations Australians.