Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

December 8, 2020
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The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives enjoys a dynamic and multifaceted role within the Smithsonian Institution. The Libraries and Archives is a service provider, meeting the needs of the Institution’s scholars, curators and researchers around the world. It is a public educator in its own right with an active exhibition program and progressive digital library initiative, bringing important, rare and valuable works from the collections to the widest audience possible online. The Libraries and Archives is a steward of the Smithsonian’s institutional memory, capturing, preserving and making available its history.

From the Smithsonian’s inception in 1846 to the present, its books, manuscripts and records of its people, programs, research and stories have been gathered, organized, preserved, exhibited and disseminated by the Institution’s librarians and archivists. The importance of establishing both a library and an archive was explicitly mentioned in the earliest organizing documents of the Smithsonian. In 2020, the Smithsonian Libraries joined forces with the Smithsonian Institution Archives to become the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, evolving into a unified organization to better serve users at the Smithsonian and around the world.


The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives staff includes 137 full-time employees. In addition, the Libraries and Archives hosts dozens of volunteers and interns through various programs. Each year, thousands of scholars and researchers visit in-person or use its online reference services.

The Libraries and Archives is strengthened by a national advisory board consisting of 15 members from around the country. The board meets three times per year and supports the Libraries and Archives financially and philosophically.


Total library volumes exceed 2.8 million, more than 100,000 of which are rare books, complemented by 10,000 manuscripts. The Libraries and Archives houses the nation’s largest collection of commercial catalogs—490,000, representing more than 32,000 companies dating from the 1810s. The Libraries and Archives also provides access to over 300,000 electronic resources, such as journals and subscription databases, for researchers.

The Libraries and Archives holds approximately 44,000 cubic feet of archival records and nearly 3 million photographic images. The collections include official records of the Smithsonian, personal papers of individuals associated with the Smithsonian, oral and video histories, and other special materials that document the staff, research, events, exhibitions and facilities of the Smithsonian. The collections provide primary research resources for anyone interested in Smithsonian history and the history of American museums, science, technology, art and cultural development.

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives is headquarters to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, an international consortium of over 80 natural history, botanical garden and national libraries. It also hosts the Library’s Secretariat and technical infrastructure. To date, the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives has contributed over 10 million pages to the Biodiversity Heritage Library.


The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives provides critical services to the Smithsonian and users around the world. The Libraries and Archives is a leader in the digitization of text-based materials and continually works to make collections available digitally. In addition, the Libraries and Archives documents and provides access to the scholarly output of the Smithsonian through Smithsonian Research Online. Staff also answers reference questions from within the Smithsonian and from the public. To help conserve library and archival collections, the Libraries and Archives’ expert staff coordinate activities relating to the preservation of materials, including consulting on disaster planning at the Institution and beyond.

The Libraries and Archives works with museums, research centers and other units at the Smithsonian to identify and acquire official records and capture website and social media accounts that document the activities and research output of the organization. Historians on staff study these records to answer internal and external reference queries and conduct oral and video histories with notable staff.

Internal and external researchers may contact Smithsonian Libraries and Archives reference staff to learn more about services and collections.


The Libraries and Archives provides innovative educational programs, access to expansive digital collections and rare treasures and immersive classroom experiences. Professional opportunities for youth and graduate students considering careers in museums and libraries are also offered.


The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives’ exhibitions feature books, special collections and archival materials from its extensive holdings and are organized by curators from around the Institution. The Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition Gallery is located on the first floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The Libraries and Archives also produces exhibitions in the Evans Gallery on the ground floor of the National Museum of Natural History.

Public Outreach and Programming

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives invites the public to interact with collections and staff through various social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as well as blogs The Bigger Picture and Unbound. Many manuscript collections are also being transcribed by the public through the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center.

The Libraries and Archives typically hold several free, public events each year, including lectures on topics related to collections, programs and exhibitions. The annual Dibner Library Lecture highlights recent scholarship in the history of science and technology. The Libraries and Archives also hosts educational tours (by appointment) of locations and operations for small groups.

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives Locations

Washington, D.C.               

Chantilly, Virginia

Edgewater, Maryland

Landover, Maryland

Suitland, Maryland

New York City

Republic of Panama

Online Catalog

The Smithsonian Institution Research Information System is available at The Archives collection is available at The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives collections are also available through the Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center.

About the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives is an international system of 21 library branches and an institutional archives. It maintains a collection of almost 3 million volumes and 44,000 cubic feet of archival materials. The Libraries and Archives serves as an educational resource for the Smithsonian Institution, the global research community and the public. Locations are in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, New York City and the Republic of Panama. Find out more at  

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