The National Literary English Museum (NELM) started in 1972 as a collection of documents and has grown to become a national resource funded principally by the Central Government. On 18 April 1980, it was declared a cultural institution. NELM currently falls under the Cultural Institutions Act 119 (1998).
The artefacts of the Museum are literary, the imaginative and creative writings in English of southern African writers, regardless of their mother tongue. There are three chief collections from the past and present. Where possible, NELM keeps unpublished manuscripts and drafts as well as proofs, diaries, and private correspondence. It also collects all genres of creative or imaginative writing published by Southern African authors: poetry, plays, novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs, journals and travelogues, including books for children. In addition, it preserves the works of Southern African authors, their lives, words and works by recording it in the daily press and in learned journals.
These collections are physically present for anyone to consult, and the bibliographic information is also accessible in separate electronic databases. NELM collects and conserves material and also aims to serve all reading communities.