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Celebrating 40 Years of Smithsonian Libraries

Happy Birthday, SIL!

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries has officially kicked off its 40th anniversary.  On Tuesday, April 8th, about 200 SI-wide staff members and guests enjoyed ice cream and cake at the Castle Commons as the Libraries launched a year of special anniversary activities.  Among the attendees at the party were Roger Sant, the chairman of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Cristian Samper, the Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian, Ira Rubinoff, Acting Undersecretary for Science, NMAH Director Brent Glass and NZP Director John Berry. 

During remarks, Acting Secretary Samper said "I know, we all know how indispensable the 20 libraries are to our age-old mission, "the increase and diffusion of knowledge.  They are invaluable to our Smithsonian scholars, and also the general public, offering a galaxy of resources and the help of informed staff to anyone via the Internet or in person.  And they are curators of magnificent treasures that they share online and through exhibitions.

A library was part of the original legislation that founded the Smithsonian in 1846 and it grew rapidly to 40,000 volumes by the 1860s.  However, following a terrible fire in 1865 that burned the roof and center core of the Smithsonian Building, the Smithsonian’s library was moved to new fireproof stacks in the Library of Congress in the U.S. Capitol. In 1881, the second Smithsonian Secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird, re-created the library as the U.S. National Museum Library, a working library designed to support scientific research. By 1964, a prospective user could find libraries containing over 430,000 volumes in nearly 80 locations in the Smithsonian and spread among seven U.S. cities.

When S. Dillon Ripley took office as the 8th Smithsonian Secretary in 1964, he found a library organization that badly needed an overhaul and thus created the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.   Now about 100 staff members make accessible and preserve over 1.5 million volumes that are housed in just twenty libraries.

Other 40th Anniversary activities include a symposium and the June 9th showing of the film “The Curious Mister Catesby,” which highlights the life and times of Mark Catesby, one of the first British naturalists to collect the flora and fauna of the New World. His marvelous illustrated publication on the natural history of Virginia, South Carolina and the Bahamas is part of The Libraries’collection. The celebratory year will conclude with a grand Ruby Gala in the Donald F. Reynolds Center, which houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Stay tuned for more details!

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