Libraries and archives


decorative shot of paperback books on a shelf

Libraries not only provide free access to books, they also collect many other resources. These can include DVDs, CDs, newspapers, maps, manuscripts, unpublished material such as letters and diaries, objects, photographs and artwork.

Libraries also have expert staff who can help you find the information you're looking for.

Research libraries

The National Library in Canberra, state libraries and university libraries are all research libraries that collect a broad range of material to support research needs, on many different topics.

The National Library and state libraries are also legal deposit libraries. The National Library is required by law to collect a copy of every book published in Australia, while state libraries are required to collect a copy of every book published in their state.

Public libraries

Along with collecting a variety of items for their customers – whether it be the latest novels, travel DVDs or books on science, cookery or history – public libraries usually have a strong collection of material about their local area and notable local people.

Public libraries are a great source of information about a variety of topics – and if they don't have the material you need, they have librarians who can point you in the right direction.

Case study

Francesca has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She would like to learn how diet can help her to manage the disease. She visits the Lalor Library and finds:

  • cookbooks and books on diabetes management she can borrow and take home
  • access to online journal articles on diabetes and healthy living
  • librarians to help her find information
Compactus shelves lined with boxes and files of archival material

An archive is a collection of historical records belonging to a government, university, company or organisation. The types of information contained in an archive can include publications, policy documents, minutes of meetings, correspondence, employment records, legal agreements as well as information about individuals from the past.

Government archives

Government archives contain the records of a range of government agencies, which are stored in the archives for safekeeping after a certain period of time has passed. The National Archives of Australia collects the Australian Commonwealth Government records, 'a living collection of government records illuminating our history and identity'. State archives, such as the Public Record Office Victoria, collect state government records.

The National Archives safeguards records that the Australian Government is responsible for, such as war, citizenship and immigration. State government archives collect information on state-regulated areas like education, prisons and probate.

New records are released for public access annually. For example, in January 2017 the National Archives released cabinet documents from the period 1992–93. As archival records can be confidential or contain secret information, you may need to wait many years before they are released to the public.

Non-government archives

Records of non-government agencies or organisations are usually held internally or with a parent organisation. For example, St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne holds records of the baptisms and marriages that have taken place in the cathedral. The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne may also hold further records about St Patrick’s, including information about the staff who worked there. In some cases, organisations will donate their records to libraries or other archives for preservation. One example of this is the Coles Myer archive, which has been donated to State Library Victoria.

Case study

Paul's grandfather served with the Australian Imperial Force during WWI. Paul would like to find out more about his grandfather's military service. He visits the National Archives of Australia's website and finds:

  • his grandfather's service record (including details of his military service)
  • a research guide on war service
  • links to other organisations and their collections (such as the Australian War Memorial)
  • access to research help from the National Archives' staff
Things to remember
  • Librarians can help you find information
  • Archives can hold the historical records of a government, institution or organisation

Now, let's take a look at the different types of material you can find in museums, galleries and societies.


Last modified: Wednesday, 29 March 2017, 2:06 PM