Sport Collections

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Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available


The Library holds a large number of sporting books, dating from the 17th century through to latest releases and covering sports both widespread and obscure.

Accessing our book collection

Most of the Library’s books can be requested through the catalogue and viewed in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room. Special Collections card holders also have the option of accessing books in the Special Collections area of the Mitchell Library Reading Room. 

Keep in mind that some of the Library’s book collections are held offsite, and will be available after 4 pm the next business day after a request has been placed. Onsite items are generally available 30 minutes after a request has been placed. Planning a visit? Request your books from home through the Library catalogue to ensure they are waiting for you when you arrive.

Books in the collection

Our collection of books relating to sport is as diverse as it is large. Below are some popular types of sporting books held by the Library:


For many years, books about sport were mostly in the instructional category, written to educate readers about the finer points of a particular sport. 

One of the earliest examples in our collection is a 1782 reprint of a book originally published in France in 1696 titled L’art de Nager or ‘The art of swimming’. 

The Library also holds a similarly titled English-language book, published in 1875 and written by Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim across the English Channel. This is one of many instructional sporting books held as part of the ES Marks Sporting Collection (see sidebar).

Suggested search strategy
[Keyword=Sport/Athlete name] + [Format=Books] + [Subject="Handbooks/Manuals etc."]

Biography & memoir

Works by and about prominent (and less prominent) people have been written in various forms for thousands of years. The Library’s oldest biographies date back to the 15th century, and our rare book collection includes biographical works detailing the lives of saints, monarchs, military leaders, philosophers and more.

Sporting biographies, however, did not become commonplace until much later. Among the earliest in the State Library of NSW collection is SO Beeton’s 1866 account of champion English boxer Tom Sayers. Legendary English cricketer WG Grace was the subject of a biography in 1887, but individual sportspeople were not regularly remembered in book-length profiles until much later. 

This can be demonstrated by looking at the Library catalogue. Between 1884 and 2020, 737 items in the collection have been catalogued with the subjects ‘cricket’ and ‘biography’. A look at the chronological spread of these books is revealing:

1884-1900 1901-1930 1931-1960 1961-1990 1991-2020
16 results 23 results 48 results 168 results 438 results

Until the second half of the 20th century, instructional sports books and compilations of records and achievements (see below) were far more common than biographical works.

Suggested search strategy
[Keyword= Athlete name] + [Format=Books] 
[Keyword= Sport Name] + [Format=Books] + [Subject= Biography]

Records, statistics & rule books

Record keeping is an important aspect of sporting culture. Statistics and other records of achievement are used to measure greatness, fuel debate, and contribute to the story of a particular sport, club or athlete. Similarly, all sports are grounded in rules, and the Library’s collection includes some of sport’s most famous guiding principles, such as boxing’s Marquis of Queensberry Rules and cricket’s Rules of the Marylebone Cricket Club.

Suggested search strategy

[Keyword=Sport/Athlete name] + [Format=Books] + [Subject= Statistics]

[Keyword=Sport/Athlete name] + [Format=Books] + [Subject= Rules and Practice]


The Library’s book collection includes many titles relating to the history of sports, clubs and sporting organisations. This includes the histories of large sporting bodies such as the New South Wales Rugby League, all the way through to histories of local organisations like the Alstonville Croquet Club. 

The collection also includes books relating to the history of sport in Australia and its place in the national culture. Some useful subject headings to browse in the catalogue include:

Suggested search strategy
[Keyword=Sport/Athlete name] + [Format=Books] + [Subject= History]


Collection highlight: The E.S. Marks Collection

Inside book cover of Twenty five years' yachting in Australia

Reminiscences of twenty-five years' yachting in Australia : an essay on manly sports, a cruise on shore &c., &c. : notes of a voyage to China and Japan / by W. H. Bundey - E.S. Marks/0140

Ernest Stanley Marks was a sporting administrator and former Lord Mayor of Sydney. He was a founder and executive member of the New South Wales Amateur Athletic Association, among many other sporting connections. ES Marks Athletic Field, in Sydney’s Kensington, is named in his honour.

Following the death of Marks in 1947, the State Library of NSW was bequeathed his large collection of sporting books and pamphlets. The collection covers a wide variety of sports and includes material dating back to the early 19th century.

Browse the E.S. Marks Collection

Search Tip: Subject Headings

Once you have found a relevant item, checking the catalogue record to view the subject terms used (found at the bottom of the record under the heading ‘Subjects, people and places’) can be a useful shortcut to find other useful items in the Library catalogue.

Simply click on the subject tag within the catalogue record to view every other catalogue record tagged with the same subject heading.

For example, someone researching the history of soccer in Australia may enter a keyword search using the words ‘soccer’, ‘Australia’ and ‘history’, and the format filter ‘Books’

One of the results from this search is Roy Hay’s book The Global Game: a history of football in Australia

By selecting that title and viewing the catalogue record, under the ‘Subjects, people and places’ field is the subject heading ‘Soccer Australia history’. 

Selecting this as a subject term retrieves 32 books about the history of soccer in Australia.