Situated at the center of the world’s largest museum complex, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) forms a vital part of the research, exhibition, and educational enterprise of the Institution. Each Smithsonian scholar engages in an individual “voyage of discovery,” using the artifacts and specimens of the National Collections in conjunction with the written and illustrated record of the past. The Libraries is uniquely positioned to help visitors understand the continuing vitality of this relationship.
Today, the Smithsonian Libraries participates in the advancement of science and the arts, just as we have done from the inception of the Institution. Our role vis-à-vis the Institution, the federal government, universities, and the American people has grown, changing to meet the needs of the times. Acting as both public and academic library, as both scholarly resource and general information service, the Libraries offers a galaxy of resources and the help of informed staff to anyone via the Internet or in person.
The Smithsonian Institution Libraries unites 20 libraries into one system supported by an online catalog of the combined collections. We maintain publication exchanges with more than 4,000 institutions worldwide that supply Smithsonian scientists and curators with current periodicals, exhibition catalogs, and professional society publications. Through preservation treatments, experts work to save the Smithsonian’s 1.5 million printed books and manuscripts for future generations. Skilled catalogers apply new “metadata” rules to make websites as accessible as books on the shelf. Our Imaging Center creates electronic versions of rare books and other distinctive collections, as well as exhibitions and specialized finding aids. The Libraries offers its treasures to the nation through book exhibitions, lectures, special tours, and a well-designed public website.