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Archival Collections

Archival items are documents which have been made or received or accumulated in the course of everyday living by individuals, families, societies, or businesses, and which are considered worthy of preservation for the future because of their continuing value. The State Library's archival collections include manuscript, pictorial, oral, film and other formats of material which document a rich diversity of South Australian life. The collections began to be formed in 1920, when a South Australian Archives was established, the first State archives in Australia. The archival collections now form part of the State Library's South Australiana collections, and the Library collects archival material which is predominantly South Australian in content, or is by or about South Australians and has research value.

Archival formats

Archival material is predominantly paper-based but can include any formats of record keeping such as photographs, films, video recordings, sound recordings, oral history, maps, architectural plans, posters, parchment, artworks and computer disks. The Library collects all such formats. Artefact items, also known as 'realia', such as dolls or medals, are accepted for the Library's archival collections where they support documentary records. Electronic formats require special consideration and hard copies of information are generally preferred because of hardware obsolescence problems. This matter is being given attention at the national level. Official government records are not held in the State Library, but are held by State Records of South Australia.

Community donation

The State Library is keen to collect material which represents South Australia's people, places and events, and provide evidence of cultural, political, economic and social life over time.

The principal way in which the Library acquires archival material is by donation from individuals, families, societies and businesses. The donation of original documents is preferred, since these have an historical integrity lacking in copies. However, where a donor wishes to retain the original, the Library may be happy to make a copy to add to its collection, or the donor may be prepared to receive a copy and donate the original. Archival staff have guidelines to assess whether material offered for donation is relevant and suitable for permanent preservation in a State collection.

The Commonwealth Government has a Cultural Gifts Program which encourages members of the community to donate rare and valuable items, with taxation benefits.

Because the Library has a responsibility to its donors, archival material accepted for donation remains in the collection and may be subject to donor restrictions where these are unavoidable. In particular circumstances, it is possible that some items may be placed in a more appropriate institution. Donors are advised accordingly and approval obtained before items are transferred.

For archival donations please contact the Archival Field Officer Telephone (08) 8207 7260 Fax (08) 8207 7307 Email:


Accessing archival material

The archival collection contains the unpublished papers and records of individuals, businesses and community organisations, such as churches, sporting clubs and special interest groups dating back to the early colonial period of the 1830s. In some cases, items held in family record groups pre-date white settlement in South Australia.

Archival material is listed in the Library catalogue. Most material has a brief summary record on the catalogue, with an increasing proportion described on the catalogue in greater detail in associated series or item-level finding aids. Series lists not on the catalogue are held at the Information Desk. The catalogue can be searched by the name of individuals, societies or companies associated with each archive, subject(s), archival number or keywords from the name of business or organisation, title, project name, subject or notes. Pictorial material is also listed in the Library catalogue which includes over 75,000 digitised images.

Staff at the Information Desk can provide further information or advice about using the Library catalogue, archival materials, and specialist archival staff are also available for consultation.

Archival material is held in storage areas and can be requested from the Information Desk in person, by telephone or email and is used in the Somerville Reading Room. In some cases where the originals are fragile and valuable, microfilm copies or other forms of copies are made available for use. Access to and copying of some archival collections is restricted; Please see the Donor/copyright permission checklist for requirements. Copies of items may be made by staff provided any copyright or donor conditions are met.

Archival records are arranged in five categories: business, private and society record groups which can contain many items and are prefixed with BRG, PRG and SRG; single items such as diaries or letters which are prefixed with D; and maps which are prefixed with C.

  • Some examples of business record groups are John Martin's BRG 121, Holden's BRG 213 and the South Australian Company BRG 42
  • Some examples of society record groups are the Campaign for Peace in Vietnam (SA) SRG 124, the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau SRG 76, Holy Trinity Anglican Church SRG 94/A2 and Blackwood Football Club SRG 567
  • Some examples of private record groups are Colonel William Light PRG 1, Catherine Helen Spence PRG 88 and Lillian Daphne De Lissa, founder of the S.A. Kindergarten Union PRG 253. In cases such as Light and Spence, microfilm copies of the original documents have been made for general use, so the fragile originals are preserved.

For further information

Library visitors: Request assistance from Customer Service staff at the Information Desk
Telephone enquiry service: (08) 8207 7250 TTY (08) 8297 7251 Toll Free 1800 182 013
Facsimile: Customer Services(08) 8207 7247
Letter: Customer Services, State Library of SA, GPO Box 419, Adelaide SA 5001