General Library Special Collections

Image: Letter from President Thomas Woodrow Wilson to George Fowlds, 1914.  Fowlds, George, Sir, 1860-1934. Papers. MSS & Archives A-17, item FP 10/7. [Detail].Special Collections is home to the University’s largest concentration of rare books, manuscripts and archives and other material which warrants preservation because of uniqueness, rarity, value or fragility. The repository has particularly strong holdings of material relating to Aotearoa and the Pacific, and to the University.

Through its collections and services, Special Collections supports the University’s learning, teaching and research. We do this by selecting, preserving and digitising material, providing access in the Special Collections Reading Room, assisting with reference and research enquiries, encouraging use of these rich resources in teaching, including classes in the Reading Room, and more.

External researchers and members of the public are also welcome to access the collections, with the understanding that our research and consultation service is limited for these patrons.

An active collecting repository, Special Collections opened in 2002 although the material has been acquired through purchase, transfer and generous donations and bequests since the University was established in 1883. For full details of our collecting scope, see the LLS Collection Management Plan.

All Special Collections material is catalogued. To find published material (books, serials and pamphlets), and microtexts, search the Catalogue. To find archival material, search Manuscripts and Archives.

Find out how to access items of interest or view hours.

Manuscripts and Archives

Image: WPHC 4/IV 1693/1934. Western Pacific Archives. MSS & Archives 2003/1. [Detail].The repository holds more than 1000 collections of archives and manuscripts, covering more than 1.8 km. The foremost collection is the internationally-recognised Western Pacific Archives, which contains the official British colonial records for the region from 1877-1978.

We hold many University-related archives, including personal and research papers of academic staff, personal papers of alumni and records of clubs and societies and the wider social history of the University.

We also hold significant literary material such as the Robin Hyde papers, contemporary poets’ manuscripts, and the archives of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.

Trade unions, politics and activism are also well represented. We have the largest holding of trade union records in Auckland: these date back to 1873 and cover the Auckland branches with the records of national bodies going to the Alexander Turnbull Library. Among the political papers are those of local Labour Party branches while activist group material includes the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament records.

Source: Clark, Johnson. Alternative fronts for six roomed workmen’s cottages. 1920. Johnson Clark Collection (JC187) Architecture Archive. [Detail].

Our extensive Architecture Archive includes the drawings and associated records of many prominent New Zealand architects, particularly for the Auckland region, as well as material relating to the national development of town planning. The Archive is complemented by two formed collections: the Sheppard Collection of articles, clippings and photographs relating to architects who have practised in this country, and the collection of measured drawings by University of Auckland Architecture students of mostly New Zealand buildings.

Read more about the Architecture Archive and how to search and request access.

Image source: Example of Beverley Simmons handwriting (Elam MSS&A 2009/1). [Detail]. Reproduced by kind permission of Beverley Simmons.

Fine Arts holdings include archival collections relating mainly to Elam School of Fine Arts students and staff, and the wider Auckland art scene, and an ephemera collection, including more than 1,500 individual artist files and more than 350 gallery files.


Note: To enquire about access to the University’s administrative archives, contact the Records Officer and University Archivist.

Published Collections

Tens of thousands of rare books and other published items are housed in the following general and named collections:

Image: Williams, W. (1844).  A dictionary of the New-Zealand language and a concise grammar... Paihia : Printed at the Press of the C.M. Society. [Detail.]New Zealand Glass Case

Spanning most disciplines and published between the 18th century and the present day, the New Zealand Glass Case has particular strengths in Māori and Pacific history, language and ethnology, New Zealand poetry, fine arts and University-related publications. It is complemented by a New Zealand pamphlets collection.

Image: Great Britain. Court of King’s Bench & Hobart, Sir H. (1658). The reports of that reverend and learned judge, the Right Honourable Sr Henry Hobart knight and baronet... London : Leybourn. [Detail].Glass Case

The Glass Case contains rare and valuable books published between the 15th and 21st centuries, encompassing literature, fine arts, languages, science, religions, travel and exploration, and much more. Highlights include extensive holdings of works by Thomas Hardy and William Butler Yeats.

Source: Photograph of items in the Historical Collection.Architecture Historical Collection

Monographs dating from the 17th century to the early 20th century covering a broad range of architectural subjects. Many of the volumes were donated by members of the University and the wider architectural community.

Source: Soane, Sir John. ‘View in the colonnade, (looking toward the Apollo).’ Description of the house and museum on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the residence of Sir John Soane: with graphic illustrations and incidental details (London: printed by Levey, Robson and Franklyn, 1835), 41. [Detail].  Call number: 72.034(42) S67d. Folio Collection. Architecture Folio Collection

These large-format volumes date mostly from the 19th century and are richly illustrated. The collection includes monographs on specific architectural styles, individual buildings of note and documentation of technical details.

Image: Bell, J. (1815). The principles of surgery, as they relate to wounds, ulcers and fistulas ... vol. 1. London : Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown. [Detail].Pre-1900 Philson Historical Collection

This collection of pre-1900 medical rare books covers numerous aspects of medical practice and science, including anatomy, gynaecology, physiology, psychology, pharmacology and surgery. The post-1900 Philson Historical Collection is managed by the Philson Library.

Image: Lucian. (1743-1746). Loukianou Samosateo¯s hapanta, vol. 1.  Amstelodami : Sumptibus Jacobi Wetstenii. [Detail].Paterson Collection

Formally called the "Paterson Library in Classics and Old Testament", the collection includes books and serials on biblical studies, classics and ancient history. It was bequeathed in 1933 by Professor Alfred Croom Paterson, who held the Chair in Classics from 1924 to 1932.

Image: Haydn. J. (181?). Haydn’s grand symphonies… London: Printed for the proprietor, Vol.1. [Detail].Music Glass Case

The Music Glass Case consists mainly of pre-1850 scores and books, more modern rare and first edition scores, and facsimile editions. It also contains a small collection of New Zealand published song sheets, ca. 1920s-1960s.

Image source: Photograph of Untitled (2009, Simon Esling). Fine Arts Library Artists’ book collection (09-026). [Detail]. Artists' Books Collection

Unique, hand-made or limited edition books, mostly created by past and present students and staff of the Elam School of Fine Arts, and some by other New Zealand and international book artists.

Image: Asian Languages Collection books. [Detail].Asian Languages Collection

The collection contains around 230 titles of mostly Chinese old and rare books. Most are printed using woodblocks and are thread-bound. Dating from the 17th-20th centuries, the collection includes works on philosophy, history, religions, literature and drama.

Image: Peacocke, I.M. (1916). Dicky Knight-Errant. London : Ward, Lock & Co. [Detail].Gilderdale Collection

This collection of 1,100 New Zealand children's books – published primarily in the 1970s-1990s – was donated by Betty Gilderdale in 2000. Gilderdale (1923-2021) was an expert on New Zealand children's literature, an educator and scholar, the author of several popular children's books, and a reviewer.

Image: New Zealand. School Publications Branch. (1971). The donkey’s egg. London : Methuen Educational. [Detail].Hugh Price Collection

These historic New Zealand school textbooks and school readers were donated by Hugh Price in 2001. Hugh Price (1929-2009) and Jim Milburn were co-founders of Price Milburn, a publishing company specialising in books for New Zealand schools.

Image: Forder Collection books. [Detail]. Forder Collection

Professor Henry G. Forder, who held the Chair in Mathematics from 1933 to 1955, donated this collection of mostly 19th and 20th century mathematical texts to the Science Library in 1974. It was transferred to Special Collections in 2001.

Image: Millar, J.H. (1956). The merchants paved the way : the first hundred years of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. Wellington : A. H. & A. W. Reed. [Detail].New Zealand Illustrators Collection

Nearly 200 books and magazines from the 1890s-1990s with text and dust jacket illustrations by New Zealand artists and illustrators. The collection, formed by bookseller and collector Rowan Gibbs, was transferred from the Fine Arts Library in 2015.


Image: Microtexts machine. [Detail] Special Collections also assists with microtexts, which include newspapers, archival collections and other material on microfilm, microfiche and microcard. Key collections include Māori Land Court Minute Books and the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau series.