The development of the NIVAL collection began at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in the 1970's in response to a significant demand for documentary resources for the study of Irish visual art. The Arts Council Plan of 1995 - 1997 signalled the need for such a national resource stating, 'Council will explore with the National College of Art and Design, the National Library, IMMA and the National Gallery of Ireland, the provision of a centrally located Irish visual art library, containing all existing books, catalogues, slides and videos of contemporary Irish art.'
Following discussions it was agreed that the pre-existing collection at NCAD should be the genesis for a center for the documentation of the Irish visual arts. Important collections of material were added to the NCAD collection from the Hugh Lane Gallery and the Arts Council.
In 1997, NIVAL was formally established as a partnership project between the National College of Art and Design and the Arts Council. Since then, the collection of material has grown exponentially and has developed into a research resource of national importance.