Fact Sheets

Digitization of Smithsonian Collections

October 1, 2016

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. The Smithsonian Digitization Strategic Plan outlines how the Smithsonian will achieve this goal. 

Object Collections

The Smithsonian currently holds 154 million objects, which include artworks, artifacts, specimens and 2  million library volumes, for a total of 156 million items.

Fourteen million museum object and library collections (10 percent) are eligible 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. For example, instead of digitizing each of the National Museum of Natural History’s 2.3 million moth specimens, the Smithsonian will digitize approximately 60,000 representative specimens.

Currently, the Smithsonian has digitized 2 million object and library collections, which represent 15 percent of the eligible collections.

Archival Collections

The Smithsonian currently holds 155,000 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.

Seventy-nine thousand cubic feet of archival materials (or 52 percent) are eligible for digitization.

Currently 8,500 cubic feet (11 percent) of the eligible collections habe been digitized according to Smithsonian archival standards.

Electronic Records

Museum Objects and Library Collections—The Smithsonian has created 7 million electronic records (descriptive information such as object name, size, location, description, etc.) for its collection objects and estimates that an additional 35 million electronic records will be required to describe the entire 154 million-object collection. Depending on the object, one electronic record can represent multiple items.

Archival Materials—The Smithsonian has 634,000 electronic records for archival material and estimates that an additional 425,000 electronic records will be required to describe the entire 155,000-cubic-foot collection.

The Smithsonian has made many of its digitized materials available on its Collections Search Center website and is currently pursuing funding for its digitization priorities.

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