Special Collections Collection Management Plan

“Special collections” include materials which need special care and handling and are intended for permanent retention. Typically they consist of rare books and archival materials, but can include material in any format including audio-visual materials, art works, architectural drawings, graphic materials, moving pictures, and photographic and digital resources. Special Collections in the General Library houses the primary collection of rare and unique resources, while substantial special collections are also found in the specialist subject libraries. In this document the general selection criteria for special collections are outlined, followed by statements on the individual collections.

Printed Collections

The printed collections consist of rare and valuable works such as early printed works and high quality facsimiles, first and limited editions, private press imprints, and works generally requiring security. The general criteria for printed materials are: age (all works published before 1851), market value, physical characteristics and intrinsic worth (e.g., special bindings, valuable illustrations, and significant provenance or evidence of association with important individuals), research value, rarity, and works to which access must be restricted (for example, because of fragile condition or legal requirements). Works which meet the criteria are either routed to the special collections facilities at the time of purchase or donation, or retrospectively following review by the Special Collections Manager. The process of reviewing material for transfer from existing collections was commenced in 2005 and is ongoing. Pre-1851 material which cannot be currently accommodated in Special Collections is noted and held in the open-access collections or at On-Demand Collection.

The availability of electronic versions of works has little impact on decisions to retain these collections, as they are selected as much for their artefactual value and uniqueness, as for their informational content. As a result, the duplication of some works is inevitable.

Archives and manuscripts

Archives and manuscripts are the non-current records and papers of organisations and individuals which have permanent retention value because of the evidence of activity they contain or their research value. They are by definition unique and irreplaceable and include materials in any format. Material acquired includes letters and diaries, photographs, notebooks, maps, literary works, financial and administrative records, video and sound recordings, and other types of records in both paper and digital form.

The Library’s approach to the acquisition of archives differs markedly from the acquisition of other resources. Archives are original materials generated by individuals and groups, and not usually originally intended for open access by researchers. The Library can only acquire new material with the consent of donors, and must ensure that protocols are established to protect privacy, copyright and other rights inherent in the materials. This process often involves negotiation with donors, sometimes over a long period, and careful assessment of the materials.

The Library welcomes donations of archival material which meet the collecting criteria of the individual special collections. Selection decisions are made by the Special Collections Manager in association with the relevant collection manager, and the University Librarian, as appropriate. In making these decisions, the Special Collections Manager will take into account such factors as research value, comprehensiveness, quantity, storage requirements, condition and state of preservation, resources required to make the collection accessible, and the effect of restrictions on potential research. Most material is donated but in some cases may be purchased. Archives represent a long term commitment in terms of storage space, cataloguing and processing, and access, and the final transfer of materials is usually formalised in a legal agreement assigning ownership to the Library, and addressing any special conditions of access and usage.

Materials generally not collected include collections identified as particular strengths of other Auckland institutions by the Auckland Heritage and Archivists' Group (AHLAG), collections already strongly represented in other institutions, national-level archives of organisations which are referred to the Alexander Turnbull Library, and archives of the University of Auckland which fall under the Public Records Act 2005. However this does not preclude consideration of collections that may be deemed of particular interest to the Library.

Because it is intended for permanent preservation, material will be withdrawn only in exceptional circumstances.

The Collections

General Library Special Collections

Special Collections was formed in 2002 through a merger of the New Zealand and Pacific Collection’s archives and rare books collections, the General Library’s Glass Case collection, and some smaller, named book collections.

Published collections

Containing material which spans the 15th century to the present day, the rare books collections now comprise: Architecture Folio Collection, Architecture Historical Collection, Asian Languages Collection, Forder Collection, General Glass Case, Gilderdale Collection, Music Glass Case, New Zealand Glass Case, New Zealand Illustrators Collection, Paterson Collection, pre-1900 Philson Historical Collection and Price Collection. Most acquisitions activity is focused on New Zealand and Pacific material, while material from other libraries is being transferred systematically, as required and as space permits.


The archives collection is being actively developed. The archives of the Western Pacific High Commission (Western Pacific Archives) are the largest single collection and comprise over 760 linear metres of material. Other strengths include Māori and Pacific research; people and organisations related to the University of Auckland, including research papers and field notes of academic staff, papers of individuals and groups which have informed University research, records of student bodies and staff organisations, and oral history interviews with retired staff; literary manuscripts with an emphasis on Auckland authors; Auckland branches of trade unions (the largest collection in the region); Auckland branches of the New Zealand Labour Party, and Auckland political and protest organisations.

The Architecture Archive includes architectural drawings and records of New Zealand architects, with particular reference to the Auckland region, and material relevant to the development of town planning in New Zealand.

Fine Arts material includes the artists’ books collection, predominantly by present and past students and staff of the Elam School of Fine Arts; archival collections of research and personal papers of staff and students from 1880 to the present, a small number of collections relating to Auckland art and artists, and the ephemera collection, including artist and gallery files.

The Archive of Māori and Pacific Sound

The Archive comprises an ethnographic sound collection, mostly in original format, relating to the Pacific which is of national and international significance. Established by the Department of Anthropology in 1970 to promote research into Māori and Pacific Islands music, its holdings today include material from most tribal groups of New Zealand and most Pacific Islands areas, commercial and field recordings of vocal and instrumental music, oral histories, stories and language resources. The administration of the Archive was transferred to the Library in 2009 and its collecting policy is currently under review.

The Chapman Archive

The Chapman Archive is New Zealand’s largest and most comprehensive collection of broadcast news and current affairs. Developed by Professor Robert and Mrs Noeline Chapman in the early 1960s, it later became a resource of the University of Auckland’s Department of Political Studies of which Robert Chapman was the inaugural professor, and was transferred to the Library in 2011. The Archive actively collects New Zealand television and radio broadcast output, and now holds over 146,000 hours of radio and television broadcasting.

Davis Law Library

The Marylyn Mayo Rare Book Room consists of two collections of rare and historical books and classic legal texts. The collection also houses publications by members of the Faculty of Law, along with the archive collections of Peter Mahon and Martyn Finlay. The collection is being actively developed.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner Library

The Sylvia Ashton-Warner Collection consists of published material on the life and work of Sylvia Ashton-Warner, together with many of her published works including annotated proof copies. The archival collection contains the records of the former Auckland College of Education and its predecessor organisations, with materials dating from the 1880s. It includes archives, photographs, multimedia items, artefacts and personal papers of former College staff and students. These collections are being actively developed.

Updated November 2019