The subject coverage of the collection is wide-ranging, but has particular emphases on:
New Zealand activities in Antarctica (records of scientific work, logistic support, environmental concerns, Antarctic Treaty matters)
Antarctica in general
Some material is received under the Antarctic Treaty requirement of "free exchange of information". A special strength is the full-text on microfiche of the items listed in the Antarctic Bibliography, on loan from the National Science Foundation. The Antarctic Bibliography is included among the Arctic & Antarctic Regions group of databases which can be searched online.
The materials include around 5000 books and journals, and also a substantial number of maps and videos.
Christchurch's location as a major "gateway to the ice" has meant that there is longstanding interest here in the continent of Antarctica and the southern ocean which surrounds it. Material about Antarctica is held in all parts of the Library but in September 1998 resources were strengthened by the move of this special collection from the International Antarctic Centre to the University Library. The Antarctic Collection is the result of a partnership between Antarctica New Zealand and the University of Canterbury Library. It is managed as a distinct collection by the University Library on indefinite loan from Antarctica New Zealand, and it continues to be developed. It supports the work of Gateway Antarctica, the University's Centre for Antarctic Studies.
The Antarctic Collection is a focal point for those interested in the continent, but much other material on Antarctica can be found in all branches of the Library by using the Library Catalogue
Material on the shelves may be freely browsed, and may be borrowed by University staff and students. The books and journals are available through the interlibrary loan system to other libraries
Maps and microfiche may not be borrowed.
The Antarctic Division of the New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and its Library were established in 1959."The initial emphasis was on building up a comprehensive collection of historical publications covering New Zealand's Antarctic interests and the interests of other countries in the Ross Dependency." This later changed to establishing "a comprehensive scientific and technical collection of Antarctic literature".
When the DSIR was dis-established, the New Zealand Antarctic Institute Act 1996 created Antarctica New Zealand which took over the Library. The Library served the International Antarctic Centre (including Antarctica New Zealand, the International Centre for Antarctic Information and Research (ICAIR), the Visitor Centre, members of the United States and Italian Antarctic programmes while in Christchurch, and Scott Base). It was also open to researchers and members of the public interested in Antarctica.
In 1998, Antarctica New Zealand approached the University of Canterbury Library which agreed to manage the collection on indefinite loan, and further develop it. The collection has been recatalogued so that it integrates better with the University's collections.