Handwritten letters arranged on a flat surface dating from 1872.

Manuscripts Collection

The Manuscripts Collection includes the unpublished records of individuals and organisations, preserved for their research value. Find out about the Collection's strengths and how you can use its unique, primary source materials.

What is the Manuscripts Collection?

The Manuscripts Collection at the Alexander Turnbull 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 tāonga in perpetuity for all New Zealanders.

Examples of manuscripts include personal or family papers such as letters, emails, journals, diaries, notebooks, reminiscences, speeches and scrapbooks. Archives refer to the records created or collected by an organisation, society or business. The Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts Collection contains both manuscripts and selected archives.

13km of shelving

Occupying more than 13 kilometres of shelving, the Collection comprises 10,500 microfilms and almost 2 terabytes of electronic records. Growth in born-digital materials is increasing rapidly and is expected to escalate exponentially in the future.

The Manuscripts Collection includes material from individuals who may not be well known, but whose papers record evidence of significant national experiences such as the effect of war, economic depression, new leisure activities, and changing demographics.

Personal papers

The Collection also includes the personal papers of individuals and archives of select organisations that have made significant or unique contributions to the national scene.

The material in the Manuscripts Collection reflects events, policies, cultural practices and social developments which have affected or influenced the lives of all New Zealanders.

An image of a handwritten recipe for orange souffle.
Katherine Mansfield's handwritten recipe for orange souffle. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Using the Manuscripts Collection

Items in the Manuscripts Collection are unique, primary source materials and must be viewed on-site in our secure reading room on Level 1 of the National Library building in Wellington. To view manuscript materials you will first need to register as a reader. Once registered, requests must be made in advance via the unpublished catalogue, Tiaki. Follow the steps below to register to view the Manuscripts Collection.

  • You’ll need a RealME account — you can use your existing RealMe account, or create a new one from Tiaki.
  • On the Tiaki homepage click Login or register and follow the instructions to use your RealMe account or make a new one.
  • Click ‘Continue’ to go to the Tiaki registration page.
  • Fill in the registration form and you’re done.

RealME account
Tiaki homepage

For more details on requesting to view manuscript items see our page on registering and requesting.
Registering and requesting

Permissions process

Some parts of the Manuscripts collection have access and/or restrictions on their use. If you wish to view restricted material, you will need to work through the permissions process before you can access the content.

The timeframe for clearing permissions may differ, depending on the items requested and the type of restriction. An explanation of the Manuscripts Collection's access and use statements can be found on our page for access and use restrictions.
Access and use restrictions

Copying and reusing items from this collection

New Zealand copyright law applies to manuscripts. Copies can be made from items if copying does not breach copyright, or any other access and use restrictions applied to the collection.

Please note that the Library is unable to clear copyright of manuscript items on your behalf. Unless the Library metadata states the item is out of copyright, you will need to determine the copyright status of the material you wish to use, and whether this requires copyright clearance from the copyright holder.

More about copyright from the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand

Copying services are provided in the Library Reading Room, or you can order photocopies or photographs of items by letter or email. Please use the Ask a Librarian service to make enquires or request copies.

More about making copies

We do not lend original material from the Manuscripts Collection therefore borrowing items isn't supported. However, MS-Copy-Micro and Micro-MS-Coll microfilm reels can be requested via interloan. Please contact your local, public or tertiary Librarian to arrange this.

For research enquiries relating to the Manuscripts Collection please use the Ask a Librarian service to contact our Manuscripts Research Specialist.

A display of clippings and recipes many featuring the name Kirkcaldie & Stains
Early catalogue pages with recipes attached, Kirkcaldie & Stains Ltd: Papers and records. ATL Ref: fMS-Papers-12209-42. Alexander Turnbull Library. Photo: Mark Beatty

Manuscripts Collection strengths

The Manuscripts Collection is supported by a collecting plan. This plan establishes collecting priorities and guides the selection of material for the Library. Some strengths of the Collection are outlined below.

Māori history

  • letters by Māori leaders
  • whakapapa books
  • nineteenth-century Māori history
  • waiata
  • land transaction records, and
  • records of Māori and Pakeha ethnographic research.

European exploration

  • journals
  • logbooks
  • letters and other papers relating to early European exploration
  • missionary activity, and
  • immigration and settlement.

Religious practices of New Zealanders

  • missionary activities
  • organised churches, and
  • non-institutionalised spiritual movements.

Other strengths of the Manuscript Collection

We've also got:

  • the world’s largest collection of Katherine Mansfield papers plus other New Zealand writers’ papers
  • diaries and other papers of New Zealanders serving in wars and conflict zones, including the New Zealand wars
  • records of the National Council of Women and the Māori Women’s Welfare League and other women’s organisations
  • New Zealand Federation of Labour and employer groups and select organisations and individuals active in industrial relations, and
  • individuals and select organisations active in the provision of childcare and education.

UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand Register

Two collections from the Turnbull's Manuscripts Collection have been inscribed into the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand Register. These collections are recognised as having special documentary status in a New Zealand context.

UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand Register

Archival boxes with labels indicating the contents within.
Boxes of material from the Wahine 50 Charitable Trust collection, documenting survivor stories and recollections of passengers, crew, rescuers, witnesses, and locals concerning the 'Wahine' ferry sinking and storm on 10 April 1968. Ref: ATL-Group-00368. Alexander Turnbull Library. Photo: Mark Beatty

Collecting priorities for 2020-2022

Current manuscript collecting priorities for 2020-2022 include:

  • 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 smallholder production such as wine, olive oil, cheese, craft beer, coffee; craft industry such as bespoke furniture, woodworking, toolmaking, 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, and
  • science-related manuscripts and archives, in particular 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.

Donating manuscript material

If you would like to donate manuscript material to the library and it is in line with our 2020-2022 collecting priorities send us the details via Ask a Librarian.

Read more information about donating material to the Library.

Manuscripts collecting plan

Two pages from a scrapbook shown side by side containing clippings and inscriptions.
Pages from the journal of Thomas Hensman, 1855-1939. Ref: MSX-9439. Alexander Turnbull Library.