Manuscripts collecting plan

Find out about collecting and priorities for the Manuscript Collection.


The Manuscripts Collection is a national collection developed to sustain in-depth research in New Zealand and Pacific studies. The purpose of this collecting plan is to provide a foundation for the collection development activities specific to the Manuscripts Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, part of the National Library of New Zealand. This collecting plan was developed in accordance with the collecting principles outlined in the National Library of New Zealand’s Collections Policy

National Library of New Zealand’s Collections Policy.


The terms’ manuscript and archive may be used in different ways and have many different meanings.

In this collecting plan, the term:

  • manuscript refers to a collection of personal or family papers,
  • archives refer to the records created or collected by an organisation, society, business or group.

The Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts Collection contains both manuscripts and selected archives

Scope of the collection

The Manuscripts Collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library (the Library) is one of New Zealand’s foremost collections of non-government manuscripts and archives. The Collection is built to sustain advanced research in New Zealand studies and preserve documentary heritage and taonga in perpetuity for all New Zealanders.

The Collection occupies over 13 kilometres of shelving, 10,500 microfilms and 1.7 TB of electronic records. Approximately 150 linear meters of manuscript material are added to the collection each year. Growth in born digital materials is expected to escalate exponentially in the future.

In keeping with the objective of building a collection relevant to all New Zealanders, emphasis is placed on appraising and acquiring original and authentic primary materials of national significance.

The Manuscripts collecting mandate prioritises the acquisition of materials representing a significant or unique contribution to the national scene. Emphasis is placed on acquiring content which reflects events, policies, cultural practices and social developments that have affected or influenced the lives of all New Zealanders.

In addition, materials are collected from individuals who may not be well known, but whose papers record evidence of significant national experiences, such as the effect of war, economic changes, new leisure activities, demographics or the changing role of women.

Pacific scope

The Library selectively collects material relating to the Pacific Islands and Pacific Islanders. This includes records of New Zealanders active in the Pacific and Pasifika people living in New Zealand. Priority is given to those countries that have strong historical involvement with New Zealand.

Antarctic scope The Library selectively collects material relating to New Zealand’s engagement with the Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic Islands


Excluded from the scope of this collection:

  • Records of government departments and other records covered by the Public Records Act 2005. This includes politician’s papers and records generated through machinery of government. These are held by Archives New Zealand
  • Collections from a community, or on a regional theme which have relevance to their local area, and where there is a suitable local collecting repository.
  • Duplicate items already held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, or in another repository or institution within New Zealand.
  • Copies of items (microfilm, digital scans, and photocopies), the Library is concentrating on collecting the most original version of unique materials.
  • Archival material collected through other streams in the Library.
  • Material in scope for Legal Deposit.
  • The records of organisations, groups or business unless offered directly from the governing body or delegated representative of that organisation. See notes on organisational record under heading "Collecting priorities".
  • Items in poor condition or which pose a risk to the collections, unless these are very rare, are integral to a larger collection, or include important provenance evidence or content, and where any risk can be managed

Current collection strengths

Collection strengths are identified as subject areas in which the Library has good coverage to support in-depth research. Highlights in the Manuscripts Collection include:
- records relating to nineteenth-century Māori history, including letters by Māori leaders, whakapapa books, waiata, land transaction records, and the records of Māori and Pakeha ethnographic research
- journals, logbooks, letters and other papers relating to early European exploration, missionary activity, immigration and settlement
- New Zealand writers’ papers, including the world’s largest collection of Katherine Mansfield papers
- selected records of political figures and political activists, political parties and pressure groups
- diaries and other papers of New Zealanders serving in war and conflict zones, including the New Zealand wars
- records of women’s organisations such as the National Council of Women and the Māori Women’s Welfare League
- records of organisations and individuals active in industrial relations, including the records of New Zealand Federation of Labour and employer groups
- records relating to individuals and organisations active in the provision of childcare and education
- Records of individuals and organisations prominent in the religious practices of New Zealanders. Includes records of missionary activities, organised churches and non-institutionalised spiritual movements.

Collecting principles

The National Library of New Zealand Collection Policy provides a suite of principles that guide all collecting across the published and unpublished collections by the National Library and Alexander Turnbull Library.

National Library of New Zealand’s Collections Policy.

The relevant principles from the Collection Development Policy are provided below, with an explanation of how they will be realised for the Manuscripts Collection.

Principle 1

Developing breadth and depth in the Library’s research collections requires decisions to be informed by and responsive to, current and emerging research trends as well as the anticipated needs of future generations of New Zealanders.


Manuscripts staff take an active role in the New Zealand and pacific studies research community. This active role enables the Library to be more informed about identifying the records of today that can be useful for researchers of tomorrow.

Priority areas will be targeted to address gaps in the Library’s collections and New Zealand’s documentary heritage, so that future researcher needs are more likely to be addressed by the Library’s collections.

The Library actively collects an increasing amount of born digital manuscripts and archives to support future research needs of New Zealanders.

The Library welcomes and encourages dialogue with any part of the research community regarding the collection of manuscripts and archives that support an existing or identified future research need.

Principle 2

Active engagement with iwi, hapū and whānau helps build good collections of documentary heritage and taonga created by Māori and relating to Māori, for the benefit of all New Zealanders.


The Library has a strong collection of records and taonga relating to Māori, history and traditions, from 1825 to the present, including such things as whakapapa records, records of Māori organisations, collections of waiata, and ethnographic research papers.

The Library is committed to ensuring records of Māori are collected, preserved and made available to the highest possible standard, in ways that is acceptable to Māori, and are carried out in consultation with appropriate iwi and pan-iwi representatives.

Principle 3

The Library has an important leadership role in collaborating and coordinating collection related activities across institutional and national boundaries to enable New Zealanders to connect to information important to their lives, and to support strong documentary heritage and taonga collections for all New Zealanders.


The Library always considers the most appropriate repository for a collection prior to acquisition, this may be another institution within New Zealand, or further abroad.

Records with provenance in the Pacific Islands are not collected in competition with any recognized collecting institution of the Pacific Islands. Potential areas for collaborative or coordinated proactive collecting will be explored with other institutions, especially when the Library’s born digital collecting capacity can be utilized, and gaps in the national documentation are identified.

Principle 6

The Library considers the cost of acquiring, storing, managing, and making accessible collection items when building its collections.


The Library’s process for approval to purchase collection items includes consideration of cost and benefit and is followed at all times when the Crown’s acquisition budget is used to build collections.

For items that are donated to the Manuscripts Collection, the Library considers the total cost of collecting, processing, conserving, and providing access as part of the appraisal process to determine the value of the items managed in perpetuity as New Zealand documentary heritage.

Collecting priorities

The Manuscripts Collection is built to sustain advanced research in New Zealand studies and preserve heritage taonga in perpetuity for all New Zealanders. It is not possible to collect comprehensively all records of national significance across all aspects of New Zealand’s social, economic and cultural life. The Library prioritizes certain collecting areas to focus resources to support existing collection strengths, to fill gaps in the collection, and to respond to the changing needs of researchers now and in the future.

Ensuring that the Library collects as widely as possible within the remit of areas documented in this plan in a collaborative/coordinated way with other New Zealand collecting institutions, are strategies employed to mitigate collecting bias.

Collecting priorities are grouped into two categories:

Current priorities: Current priorities are recognised emerging research trends; areas where there is a known gap in the Library’s collection or national documentation. The Library will proactively collect in these areas, filling gaps to meet researcher need and maintain balance in the Manuscripts Collection.

Ongoing priorities: Ongoing priorities are areas in which the Library welcomes offers of manuscripts and archives to complement existing Manuscript collection strengths.

Current priorities

During the 2021-2023 collecting period, the Library will actively focus resources on acquiring manuscripts and archives in the following areas:

  • The changing role of women in society
  • Gender diversity
  • Craft and artisan industry: manuscripts and archives documenting New Zealand’s craft and artisan industry including, but not limited to small holder production such as wine, olive oil, cheese, craft beer, coffee. Craft industry such as bespoke furniture, woodworking, tool making, weaving, and pottery; alternative building design and construction
  • Domestic life in New Zealand: manuscripts depicting the sociocultural history of cooking, gardening for leisure and food production, childcare, domestic architecture/design, domestic crafts
  • Pasifika communities in New Zealand
  • Science related manuscripts and archives, particularly environment and sustainability: manuscripts and archives relating to the history of scientific study by New Zealanders and about New Zealand from the early voyages of discovery to the present with emphasis on the history of science
  • New Zealander’s experiences of war and conflict
  • New Zealand’s people: manuscripts and archives which contribute understanding to the full range of New Zealand’s changing cultural and ethnic demographic.

Ongoing priorities

  • Māori history and traditions
  • Colonial and postcolonial relationships within New Zealand
  • Military campaigns
  • New Zealand literature, art, performing arts and architecture
  • Social and political activism
  • Sport and leisure activities of New Zealanders

Organisation, business, group archives

  • The Alexander Turnbull Library will consider offers of archives from nationally significant organisations.
  • Please be aware that when we appraise an organisation’s records, we will be selective in the materials we acquire. Only original archival records with intrinsic research or heritage value will be accepted for the Manuscripts Collection.
  • For reasons of content security and to ensure legal transfer of ownership, the Library is unable to accept organisational record directly from individuals without the delegated organisational authority.
  • Please note that prior acceptance of an organisation’s record for the Manuscripts Collection, does not automatically guarantee acceptance of further deposits. Each offer is considered in accordance with current collecting policy and priorities.


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Download the Manuscripts collecting plan

Manuscripts collecting plan (pdf, 270KB)

Last updated 2022