Digitization of Smithsonian Collections

September 1, 2018
Media Fact Sheet

Through digitization, the Smithsonian seeks to broaden access to its treasures, safeguard them for future generations, speed research, add meaning, encourage collaboration and integrate its holdings across museums and programs, and on platforms where our audiences engage with us.  

Digital Images

Museum Object/Specimen Collections

The Smithsonian currently holds 155 million objects/specimens, which include artworks, cultural artifacts, and natural world specimens.

Eighteen million museum objects/specimens (12 percent) are prioritized for digitization. This includes the vast majority of artworks, historic and cultural objects and some of the scientific specimen collection. Among those not to be digitized are scientific specimens of which multiple examples exist.

Currently, the Smithsonian has digitized 3.8 million objects/specimens, which represent 22 percent of the prioritized museum collections.

Archival Materials

The Smithsonian currently holds 162,000 cubic feet of archival material. This includes personal papers, business records, photographs, recordings and film. If placed end-to-end, all boxes of material in the archival collection would extend 30 miles.

One hundred and one thousand cubic feet of archival materials (62 percent) are prioritized for digitization.

Currently 29,000 cubic feet (29 percent) of the prioritized collections have been digitized according to Smithsonian archival standards.

Library Volumes

The Smithsonian currently holds 2 million library volumes. This includes special collections and American trade literature.

Nearly 717,000 library volumes (33 percent) are prioritized for digitization.

Currently, the Smithsonian has digitized 3.9 million objects and library collections, which represent 21 percent of the prioritized collections.

Digital Records

Museum Objects/Specimens—The Smithsonian has created 7.2 million digital records (descriptive information such as object name, size, location, description, etc.) for its collection objects/specimens and estimates that an additional 45 million digital records will be required to describe the entire 155 million-object/ specimen collections. Depending on the object, one digital record can represent multiple items.

Archival Materials—The Smithsonian has created 1.1 million digital records for archival material and estimates that an additional 1.9 million digital records will be required to describe the entire 162,000-cubic-foot collection.       

Library Volumes—The Smithsonian has created 1.5 million digital records describing library holdings and estimates that an additional 700,000 records will be required to describe the entire 2 million volumes.

The Smithsonian has made many of its digitized materials available on its Collections Search Center website, and on education and research platforms such as Learning Lab, the Digital Public Library of America, and the Global Biodiversity Information Network. The Smithsonian is currently pursuing funding for its digitization priorities.

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Sarah Sulick



Linda St.Thomas

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