Established by the Council of the National Library of Australia in 1983 as the National Library Fellowships, the first Fellows commenced their research in 1984. The Fellowships were renamed in honour of Sir Harold White CBE (1905-1992), the first National Librarian, in 1985.

The Fellowships aimed to promote the Library as a centre of scholarly activity and research, and encourage the use and promotion of the Library’s rich and varied collections. It supported 150 researchers until 2014 when it was replaced by the Fellowships and Scholarships program.

The Library will continue to honour Harold White's legacy in other ways.