The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives is an international system of 21 library branches and an institutional archives that serves the Institution and the public by supporting curatorial, research, program, exhibition, educational, and other informational needs
Smithsonian Libraries was formally organized in 1968 when a library system was established uniting many of the Institution's museum and research center libraries into a single, comprehensive operation.
The libraries listed below are those that have significant special collections. Call each individual library for specific information and to make an appointment.
- Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Library
- Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology
- Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Library
- Joseph F. Cullman 3rd, Library of Natural History
- National Air and Space Museum Library
- National Museum of American History Library
- National Postal Museum Library
- Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library
The Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Library, known since 1976 as The Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Study Center, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and contains 60,000 volumes which document and support the Museum's collection of 250,000 objects in decorative arts including textiles, wall coverings, metalwork, furniture, ceramics, glass, jewelry, and prints and drawings. The core of the original Hewitt library was devoted to the European decorative arts from 1500 through 1840. The scope has expanded to encompass other international holdings and to include industrial, architectural, and graphic design since 1840. The Bradley Room, Cooper-Hewitt Library's rare book facility, contains rare books on the decorative arts and architecture, sample books, rare trade catalogs, and sizeable collections of pop-up books and World's Fair material. The Library currently collects and provides research materials in all these areas.
Highlights: The Rare Book Collection of approximately 6,500 volumes on illustrated natural history, travel, architecture, and children's books in addition to fine bindings, early trade catalogs, manuals, sample, and pattern books; the World's Fair Collection of over 1,000 volumes extending from the 1844 Beaux-Arts et Industrie Exposition in Paris to the present, rich in material from the London 1851 Crystal Palace Exposition and the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition; the Pop-Up Book Collection with approximately 600 titles that include instructional and entertainment books with foldout, pop-up and revolving construction for both children and adults; the George Kubler Collection of 60,000 19th century etchings and drawings; the Therese Bonney Collection of 4,300 French photographs, 1918–1939; the Henry Dreyfuss Collection of papers, drawings, etc., documenting industrial design, late 1920s-1970; the Donald Deskey Collection of materials relating to interior and industrial design, late 1920s–1980; the Don Wallance Collection, an industrial designer best known for his stainless steel flatware designs, 1950s-1970s; the George Nathan Horwitt Collection, featuring documentation concerning the digital clock and the Movado watch; the William Metzig Collection, a graphic designer best known for his logo and packaging designs; the collection of Ladislav Sutnar, the graphic designer of McGraw-Hill's Sweets Catalog; the Edward F. Caldwell Lighting Collection of approximately 100,000 photographs and 8,000 presentation drawings relating to the design firm's lighting fixtures and other metalwork products, 1894–1944; the collection of Alphons Bach, an architect, interior decorator, and industrial designer whose career spanned from the 1930s–1970s; the records of M & Company, including graphics, papers, promotional material, project files, package designs, photographs and related drawings, 1978–1992; the Gilbert Rohde Scrapbooks, late 1920s–1944; the Commercial Decal Company Pattern Books containing approximately 20 volumes of printed decals used as decorative motifs by such firms as Lenox China and Corning Glass.
In 1976, the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology was established with a gift from the Burndy Library of Norwalk, Connecticut (created by Bern Dibner). The gift provided the Smithsonian Institution Libraries with its first rare book library, located in the National Museum of American History, Behring Center. Contained in this collection are many of the major works dating from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries in the history of science and technology including engineering, transportation, chemistry, mathematics, physics, electricity, and astronomy.
Highlights: The Dibner Library rare book collection holds some 25,000 rare book titles and 1,800 manuscript groups, the majority dating from the 15th to the early 19th centuries. They include significant holdings of works by Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Euclid, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Leonhard Euler, René Descartes, Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace, and Aristotle. Scientists represented by significant manuscript papers include Dominique François Arago, Humphry Davy, John William Lubbock, Isaac Newton, Henri Milne-Edwards, Hans Christian Ørsted, Henry Hureau de Sénarmont, Benjamin Silliman, Jr., and Silvanus P. Thompson; the most widely recognized portion of the Dibner Library is the "Heralds of Science" collection of 200 works selected by Bern Dibner as the most significant titles in the formation and development of Western science and technology; The Incunabula collection includes one of the largest collections (320 in number) of scientific incunabula. Incunabula (from the Latin word meaning, figuratively, infancy) are European books printed with movable type during the fifteenth century, that is, during the very beginnings of Western printing. Incunabula represent the formative stages of printing practice when the transition from manuscripts to modern books occurred.
This library is the finest Asian art library in the United States today. It contains approximately 80,000 monograph volumes and 1,400 serials titles. Almost half of its printed resources are in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. The library's collection is especially strong in research materials on Japanese ceramics, painting, and woodblock prints. It also has an excellent collection of resources for the study of Chinese painting, calligraphy, ceramics, jade, Buddhist sculpture and ancient bronzes. Its strengths in the area of Near Eastern art are Sassanian metal-work, ceramics and cylinder seals. The library also has an exceptional collection of material on Indian miniature painting and sculpture as well as material on Islamic metalwork, ceramics, glass and the arts of the Islamic book.
Highlights: The Library serves as the U.S. depository library for the Japan Art Catalog Project and this affiliation has enabled the library to develop an important, special collection of catalogs of exhibitions held in Japan. The Library also has a Rare Book Collection, highlights of which include Edo-period Japanese woodblock printed books, Chinese books published in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the Paul Marks Collection of research material on the American painter, James McNeill Whistler. In addition, the Conservation Library, housed separately in the Freer Gallery of Art, is a collection of research materials on the conservation and restoration of Asian art.
The Cullman Library holds the Smithsonian's collection of rare books in anthropology and the natural sciences. Its holdings contain approximately 10,000 volumes published before 1840 in the fields of physical and cultural anthropology, ethnology, Native American linguistics, and archeology; botany; ornithology, mammalogy, herpetology, ichthyology, entomology, malacology, and other zoological fields; paleontology; and geology and mineralogy. The publications of 17th- through 19th-century voyages of exploration are a special strength, as is the history of museums and scientific collecting.
Highlights: The James Smithson Library was provided by James Smithson, an 18th-century gentleman of science, who included his library with his donation of $500,000 to found the Smithsonian Institution. The collection consists of about 110 titles—scientific monographs, literature, journals, and pamphlets. Inscribed and annotated volumes, including multiple copies of several of Smithson's own scientific publications, provide insights into intellectual networks of the period; the Voyages & Expeditions collection consists of publications on voyages and expeditions from early Renaissance travels (Belon, Tournefort, and others) through the government-sponsored exploration of the American West in the mid- and late-1800s, that provided information on the plants, animals, and peoples of distant and previously little-known lands; the Botany rare books include several hundred rare volumes in early botany, a field renowned for the beauty of its illustrations; the Anthropology rare book collections are strong in narratives and scientific treatises by European voyagers to the Americas and other previously little-known parts of the world, which include descriptions and illustrations of the peoples they found living there; the Zoology collections, covering vertebrate and invertebrate zoology and supporting the collection, study, and classification of animals, start with the early printed works of the classical and medieval writers—Aristotle, Pliny, and Isidore of Seville, for example—and the encyclopedic publications of Gesner, Aldrovandi, and others in the earliest years of modern science.
The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Library, a unit of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, evolved from the historical working collections of the Museum and was organized into a library in 1972. It supports the specialized research, exhibitions, and public programs of the National Air and Space Museum and other museums and offices within the Smithsonian. The NASM Library houses more than 29,000 books, 11,000 bound serials, and a microform collection. The scope of the collections covers aeronautics and astronautics, the history of aviation and space flight, astronomy, and Earth and planetary sciences.
Highlights: Rare library materials concerning the history of aviation and space flight are housed in the Ramsey Room, named in honor of Admiral DeWitt Clinton Ramsey, an early naval aviator. William Burden's collection of early ballooning works and the Bella Landauer collection of aeronautical sheet music are housed in this room. In addition, there is a large number of important first editions, many of them autographed by the pioneers of flight. Users wishing to consult the collection must make arrangements in advance.
The National Museum of American History (NMAH) Library, a unit of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, covers broad aspects of social and cultural history, primarily of the United States, and the international history of science and technology. The NMAH Library had its formal beginning in 1958 in the Arts and Industries Building, where the object collections that were the basis for the establishment of the museum were housed. The library collection was a combination of the former Office Library, the Arts and Industries Library, and the sectional libraries of the departments of civil history, military history, science and technology, and arts and manufacturing. In 1964, when the new building housing NMAH was opened the library was moved to its present location.
Highlights: The renowned collection of trade catalogs, estimated at 285,600 pieces representing some 35,000 companies, is a national treasure documenting the history of manufacturing in this country. The name trade catalogs is derived from the expression "to the trade" and the materials were originally produced for wholesalers, retailers, and salesmen. The collection consists of product catalogs, technical manuals, advertising brochures, price lists and company histories. Smithsonian researchers use them to provide primary documentation for objects in the Smithsonian collections, and the catalogs often provide the only precise identification of artifacts. They are useful for the information they give on prices, size and weight specifications, and some contain actual samples of paint chips, textiles, and plastics. The collection also includes the W. Atlee Burpee Collection and the J. Horace McFarland Collection of seed and nursery catalogs that document the history of the seed and agricultural implement business in the United States with a concentration in the years from 1885 to 1950.
Although the resources at the National Postal Museum Library focus on the postal history and philately of the United States, the collections are international in scope. Europe, North America and Australia are particularly well represented. The Library has more than 5,000 books, 6,000 serial titles, manuscript files, photographs and many auction and stamp catalogues. Major archival holdings include the files of the United States Post Office, the Highway Post Office, the Aerial Mail Service, the Railway Mail Service and the Panama Canal Zone Post Office. Major private collections include those of Thaddeus Hyatt, Frederick Melville and George Turner. Treasures of the rare book collection include several early copies of the J.W. Scott & Co. Monthly Price List as well as annotated copies of the Catalogue of the Philatelic Library of the Earl of Crawford, K.T. and the Catalogue of the Royal Philatelic Collection.
Highlights: There are eight separate manuscript collections on United States Post Office Department subjects: Postage stamp & stationery public comment files, 1847 to 1971; United States Post Office Department subject files not related to postage stamp and stationery issues; Highway Post Office files; Panama Canal Zone Postal Administration files; Railway Post Office files; Aerial Mail Service files; National Air Mail Week, 1938–39, files; Zip Code files of Mr. James R. Sydnor. There is also a collection of two thousand black and white photographs covering many topics in postal history, Smithsonian Institution postage stamp and stationery exhibiting history, and general postage stamp design, printing and collecting history.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery (AA/PG) Library is located in the new Victor Building. It was established to support the needs of the Museums' staff, and of visiting scholars and researchers. The Library's collection of over one hundred fifty thousand books includes exhibition catalogs, catalogue raisonnes, periodicals, and dissertations principally on American art, history, and biography, with supportive materials on European art. The AA/PG Library also collects artists' books, uncataloged ephemeral materials (Vertical Files), auction catalogs, scrapbooks, and microforms.
Highlights: The Library owns the Ferdinand Perret collection, which includes 169 notebooks on California artists and 152 notebooks on art activities in Los Angeles from 1769 to 1942. The Perret collection also includes scrapbooks on California history and geography, clippings from San Francisco newspapers from 1926 to 1929, notebooks on California artists and art associations from 1840 to 1940, and references to more than 7,000 artists.
The Vertical Files of the AA/PG Library are a particularly rich resource. They include ephemeral materials (uncataloged exhibition catalogs, newspaper/magazine clippings, exhibition announcements, illustrations, etc.) on American and European art, artists, art institutions, collectors, and special subjects. Items are added daily to the Vertical Files.
The AA/PG Library owns the source material for Daniel Trowbridge Mallet's Index of Artists (New York: Bowker, 1935) and its Supplement (New York : Bowker, 1940). The source material includes handwritten index cards, as well as notebooks containing reproductions and biographical clippings.
The Living Portrait Artists file is a set of notebooks that consists of examples and biographical information on living portrait artists in the United States. This resource is updated regularly.
Random Records of a Lifetime, 1846-1931, by William Henry Holmes, contains sixteen volumes and additional boxes of papers, photographs, and original sketches by Holmes, who began a long association with the Smithsonian Institution as a scientific illustrator, retiring in 1932 as the director of the National Gallery of Art, now Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM).
Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library
Victor Building, Room 2100
750 9th Street NW
Washington, DC 20560