Special Collections

The Special Collections are located within the Academy Library, UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and house the Library’s rare books, theses and manuscript collections. The Collection currently includes some 13,500 rare books, and 350+ manuscript collections.

The manuscript collecting program, initiated jointly by the English Department and the Library, began in 1986. This collection now contains manuscript material of national significance in the disciplines of Australian military history and Australian literature.

Special Collections materials are available to the students and staff of UNSW, visitors and researchers.

Materials are available for viewing in the Library by appointment.

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Our collections are discoverable in a number of different ways:


  • Search SearchGateway for manuscripts at collection name level;
  • browse our Manuscript Finding Aids, filtering by 'Military History’, ‘Australian Literature’ or ‘Miscellaneous’ or search by manuscript name

Tip: Each Finding Aid can be keyword searched using the Ctrl F function on your keyboard.

Rare books and hard copy theses can be found by title/author in the SearchGateway

Special Collections are available to view by students and staff of the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and visitors and researchers from outside the University, as outlined in the Special Collections Access and Use Policy. Some items are digitised or can be digitised on demand, so that physical visiting is not always required. 

Requesting items

Requests for items and appointment times must be made via the Special Collections Enquiry form.

There is no charge to consult materials. There is no limit on the number of items that can be requested at any one time. Researchers need to allow adequate time to view manuscripts, especially collections with many boxes. This may require several days or hours to look through them. 

Once the request is received, and if clients want to visit then Special Collections staff will confirm with the client the availability of the material and suggest an appointment date and time. The client must confirm this time before the visit. Visits are by appointment only. Special Collections are generally available Monday to Friday 9.30am - 4.30pm (except Public Holidays and Academy Library Closure days). Items must be consulted in the John Howard Reading Room and Special Collections staff will make the bookings for you.

Alternatively digitisation on demand will be done as quickly as possible after copyright permissions have been obtained. 

Please Note: Some items in the Special Collections have access restrictions (viewing and/or copying), for legal, privacy or conservation reasons. If a requested item has access restrictions, the Reader will be notified.


On their first visit, readers will need to register by showing photo ID and filling out a the registration form.  Researchers and research assistants undertaking work on behalf of a client must register in their own name.

To arrange an appointment time to view material, please complete the Special Collections Enquiry form.

Information on how to find us can be found on the Location of the Academy Library page, or in this downloadable PDF - Finding Us.

Special Collections items may only be viewed in the John Howard Reading Room (JHRR) under supervision. The JHRR is located on the ground floor of the Academy Library. It is equipped with electronic surveillance, can seat 10 clients, and has power points for devices. There is secure access to the room but clients can self-exit for breaks etc.

On the day of the visit all clients must sign the ‘John Howard Reading Room Attendance Register’ which records the visit and also confirms agreement to the 'John Howard Reading Room Terms of Use'.

Lockers are provided free of charge for storage of bags. The ADFA Café is adjacent to the Academy Library and open from 8:00am to 5:00pm for coffee and lunch.

Personal copying of items

Providing the following conditions are met:

  • Complies with any specific terms of deposit for manuscript collections at UNSW e.g. restrictions in copying and
  • Copying of the item has been approved by the Academy Library (condition/fragility of item);


Items may be photographed by the client using their own digital, film or mobile device camera providing that they:


It is a client’s responsibility to understand and comply with the Copyright Act 1968. If a client infringes copyright then the copyright owner has the right to litigate against the client. Ignorance of the current copyright law is no defence against infringement. A client has a responsibility to understand the Copyright Act 1968 before copying. Educators are fully responsible for understanding the terms of the Copyright Act for their own institutions and applying them correctly. Within the Act,‘Copying’ includes photography (digital or film).

The authorisation to use a personal camera is recorded on the clients library record. Registration is only required once, but the intention to use a personal camera must be signalled on each visit so that Special Collections staff can explain if there are any restrictions on specific items. Clients must ensure that items are not damaged or dismantled in order to take a photograph e.g. by attempting to press a large tightly bound book flat to photograph it, or to dismantle records held together by clips. A client may take a tripod into the reading room so long as it does not touch or damage the items being copied. Use of flash is not allowed.

Personal scanning by use of flatbed scanners or handheld devices that touch the surface of the item are not allowed. Personal photocopying and tracing of items by clients is not allowed.

Please refer to the Copying Terms and Charges.

To request a copy, please submit

The completed form/s may be emailed (speccoll@unsw-adfa.libanswers.com) back to the Academy Library in electronic version. If a client already has email permission from the copyright owner they may attach this to the form. If seeking permission to copy for publication then the person who will be publishing needs to seek permission (rather than the research assistant to that person).

Special Collections staff will make copies on behalf of a client provided that the following conditions are met:

  • It complies with any specific terms of deposit for manuscript collections at UNSW e.g. restrictions in copying and
  • Copying of the item has been approved by the Academy Library (condition/fragility of item) and
  • It complies with the terms of the Copyright Act 1968 and
  • The client has made online pre-payment. Special Collections Charges and Payment Methods.

General Information

  • Ownership and custody of records is different to copyright ownership.
  • The donor of an unpublished manuscript collection is not necessarily the copyright owner. 
  • Copyright is generally held by the creator of the item e.g. the writer of the letter (not the receiver of the letter).
  • Varying copyright conditions and ownership exists across and within donated manuscript collections.  Special Collections staff are able to advise clients of the copying conditions applied by donors for each collection and items within it.  However it is the client’s responsibility to seek the copyright permission from the owner if a copy is required. They can use the ‘Copyright Owner Permission Form to do this.
  • If the creator is deceased their estate usually owns copyright and it can often be difficult to trace the existing copyright owner.
  • A copyright creator can transfer their rights to another party e.g. UNSW Canberra and this may be the case in collections that UNSW Canberra has purchased.
  • Under Section 51(1) of the Copyright Act, library staff can make a copy of an unpublished manuscript on behalf of a client  if the:
    • item is open for viewing and copying under the deposit agreement and
    • creator of the material has been dead for more than 50 years and
    • client requires the copy for research purposes only and
    • item is not a thesis.
  • Theses are unpublished manuscripts unless published as a book by the copyright owner. The Academy Library is digitising theses from 1986-2006. Theses deposited after 2006 are already available online in digital format from UNSWorks.
  • When the Academy Library digitises an item it will have the copyright owner's permission, or attempt to trace the copyright owner to obtain their permission. If the owner is not found then the Library will generally publicly notify its intent before proceeding.
  • Content on this website contains a variety of copyright material. Digitised material from manuscript collections is provided in good faith for private study and research only and may not be published or re-purposed without the express and written permission of the individual legal holder of that copyright. For enquiries on manuscript collections please contact us. Refer also to the UNSW copyright, disclaimer and takedown policy.

  • The John Howard Collection is under Commonwealth Copyright. The National Archives of Australia has granted a licence to the UNSW Canberra enabling clients to copy Commonwealth material in the collection for the purposes of private research.
  • If clients want to seek a copy of an item under Commonwealth Copyright with a view to publishing, the National Archives of Australia must approve this. Contact address is copyright@naa.gov.au

The Copyright ACT 1968

The Copyright Act 1968 is very complex and because of the nature of the material in Special Collections some items may not be able to be copied at all, or require the permission of the copyright owner. Clients are advised to consult the copyright information on these sites:

The UNSW Canberra, Academy Library SearchGateway provides a citation for items in three formats: APA, MLA, Chicago.

When a client reproduces an item from the Special Collections the source must be acknowledged:

Citing Unpublished Manuscripts

Include the following text with the citation: 'From the collection of the Academy Library, UNSW Canberra ’.

Citation should include the following:

  • The full name of the library
  • The name of the collection
  • The manuscript number of the collection
  • Series number
  • Folder number
  • Box number (optional)
  • Description of item (optional)

For example:

Academy Library, UNSW Canberra, Papers of Philip Hodgins, MS 13/2d/15, Annotated manuscript and typescript drafts and notes, for Up on all fours.

Citing the John Howard Collection

Include the following text with the citation: 'From the collection of the National Archives of Australia’ held at the Academy Library, UNSW Canberra. 

When citing items from the John Howard Collection, clients should refer to the National Archives of Australia fact sheet on citation.

The expansion and management of the Special Collections is guided by our Special Collections Development GuidelinesSpecial Collections Management Plan, and Special Collections Management Procedures.   The donation procedure outlined below is provided as information for new or existing donors. 

Donation steps include:

 1.      Contact Us

Potential donors should initially contact us via the Special Collections Enquiry Form with information about the collection they are donating including its extent, physical condition, content and uniqueness or significance.

2.      Appraisal and Selection

A physical and intellectual appraisal is conducted by specialist staff usually the Curator and a subject expert, with particular reference to the physical condition of the collection; subject significance and uniqueness; relationship and context to existing collections and extent. Appraisal and selection is guided by the Special Collections Development Policy.  Other considerations include assessing the storage and conservation needs, physical state of collection and expected costs associated with acquiring, processing and digitising the records. The appraisal and selection may require a visit to the location of the archive e.g. at donor’s house. The process can be helped by supply of photographs of boxes and content beforehand. The selection process is undertaken to help identify if the entire collection is of interest or only certain parts.

If there are significant costs for transport, conservation, housing, description or digitisation the donor may be asked to contribute towards these costs, which are considered before donation, or there may a wait for donation whilst UNSW raises the funds required.

Original manuscripts may comprise of the following types of items:

  • Letters/correspondence

  • Memoirs/reminiscences

  • Diaries

  • Professional papers

  • Scrapbooks/photo albums which are dated and identified

  • Genealogical information

  • Speeches/lectures

  • Business records

  • Subject files

  • Legal documents

  • Minutes/reports

  • Brochures and flyers

  • Photographs which are dated and identified

  • Videos/audio tapes which are dated and identified

  • Files relating to the individual's civic, business, religious, political, and social activities

  • Objects which are small, significant and have a clear provenance

The following types of items are not accepted:

  • Badly damaged, mouldy or insect damaged items

  • Duplicates and photocopies

  • Financial records and sundries such as receipts and cheque stubs

  • Cards, mass produced with general greetings e.g. Christmas or birthday cards

  • Audio visual material in certain obsolete formats such as 16 mm film. These items can be donated to the National Film and Sound Archive who have suitable cool room storage facilities. 

  • Obsolete data formats such as floppy discs. These items can be donated to the National Library of Australia who have a digital migration and preservation capability.

  • Government records created during the course of business, or related to the position the person held in government. These are classed as Commonwealth or State or Territory Government records and are the responsibility of the National Archives of Australia or Territory Records or other State Records.  Donors having government records should approach these organisations first.  In some cases e.g. for MP’s the National Archives of Australia may agree to UNSW Canberra Academy Library having custody of the commonwealth or personal records. In these cases a legal agreement for custody will be signed by both organisations.

3.      Donation method

There are 3 types of donation method for collections:

  • Outright Gift

  • Donation under Tax Incentive Scheme

  • Purchase

4.      Terms of Deposit

The Terms of Deposit Form is a legal agreement which transfers ownership, custody and management of the donors collection to the Academy Library. The form is applicable to all donations including outright gifts, purchases and donations under the tax incentive scheme. The agreement specifies the conditions for access and copying of the collection. In most cases collections are deposited as open access. In a minority of cases, where the records contain sensitive or confidential information, access may be embargoed (closed) for a short period of time.

Where possible, the Academy Library will seek to acquire the copyright (license) outright in order to ensure that future researchers are not disadvantaged by an inability to locate the copyright owners.

 5.      Packing and transfer of collection

Once the deposit is agreed in principle the next steps for the donor are:

  • Carefully sort the collection into a logical or meaningful order. Any embargoed items must be separated.

  • Put collection items into archive boxes, numbered in sequence. The Academy Library requires standard archive boxes to be used and will supply these boxes to the donor. Donor can also use folders inside the boxes if they have time (supplied by the Library). Boxes should not weigh more than 10kg each in line with current Work Health and Safety requirements.

  • List the contents of boxes and folders in a word document. The word document will be transformed into a Finding Aid by the Academy Library. The more detail and context the donor is able to supply about their collection or items the better.  Finding Aids are searchable in Google and are the main way the collections are found by our clients. Provide biographical information about the organisation/person/event the collection is about, or if there is a Wikipedia entry then add the link. Refer to the sample Finding Aid as your guide: https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/library/finding-aids/guide-papers-major-general-william-throsby-bridges-kcb-cmg

  • Any embargoed items must be listed and boxed separately.

  • Contact us with the number of finalised boxes to be sent to us, so that transport or courier can be arranged.

  • Sign Terms of Deposit Form (a legal document transferring ownership and custody of the collection to UNSW).