Fact Sheets

Smithsonian Institution Archives

June 1, 2014


The Smithsonian Institution Archives captures, preserves and makes available to the public the history of the Smithsonian, which is a vital part of the history of the American experience, of scientific exploration and of international cultural understanding. From its inception in 1846 to the present, the Smithsonian’s records—its people, programs, research and stories—have been gathered, organized and disseminated by the Institution’s archivists.

In the earliest organizing documents of the Institution the importance of maintaining archival records was explicitly mentioned, and throughout the years, the recordkeeping practices of the Smithsonian Archives has evolved into a sophisticated program that serves staff and researchers (by appointment).

The Archives’ mission is to document the activities of the entire Smithsonian, its 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities, in its pursuit of increasing and diffusing knowledge and exciting the learning in everyone. The Smithsonian Archives is also responsible for:

  • Appraising, acquiring and preserving the records of the Institution and related documentary materials
  • Offering a range of research and reference services to the public
  • Establishing policy and providing expert guidance on recordkeeping best practices
  • Creating and promoting products and services that broaden understanding of the history and culture of the Smithsonian
  • Providing professional archival and conservation expertise to the Institution


The Archives staff includes 24 full-time employees, several volunteers and interns. The director is Anne Van Camp. Each year, thousands of scholars and researchers visit the Smithsonian Archives or use its online reference services. Increasingly, collections of significant scholarly importance are digitized and available online. The collections are public and the Archives may be visited by appointment (202-633-5870).

Program Areas
Archives—This group includes the Reference Team and the Archives and Information Management Team. The Reference Team provides access to records held by the archives to visiting researchers, and they respond to queries that come by phone, mail or email. The Archives and Information Management Team works with museums, research centers and other units at the Smithsonian to identify and acquire official records that document the activities and research output of the organization.

Collections Care—These experts provide services to preserve paper, photographs, audio and visual records held by the Archives. Other units across the Institution also rely on their shared laboratory facilities, special equipment and professional expertise.

Digital Services—Staff provides professional leadership in the area of preservation of electronic records and digital resources. Using technology to provide broader access to the collections online and using the Web and social media to push the Archives’ resources out to a wider audience are central priorities.

Institutional History—Historians research the history of the Smithsonian for internal and external purposes. The history of the Institution reflects the history of science, technology, art and cultural development nationally and internationally. Queries come from offices across the institution and from around the world. Staff experts also conduct oral and video histories that further document important figures and events in the history of the institution.


The Archives holds approximately 39,000 cubic feet of 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.

Detailed descriptions of the collections can be found online through the Archives’ website at siarchives.si.edu/collections, through the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) catalog, and through the Collections Search Center. In addition to making information about the collections publicly available, the Archives invites the public to interact with the collections and staff through various social media outlets, including the Flickr Commons, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube as well as the Archives’ blog, The Bigger Picture. Many manuscript collections are also being transcribed by the public through the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center.

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Effie Kapsalis