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A Farewell from Director Nancy E. Gwinn

Smithsonian Libraries Director Nancy E. Gwinn

Dear Friends,

I want to let you know that I will retire at the end of 2019. When I tell this to people, they always ask what my plans will be. So, at one stroke, I will tell you that I will spend the month of January “chilling” in Arizona, then return to D.C. and the many house projects that have just been waiting for me to retire. I will also be doing some writing and hopefully attending some Smithsonian Libraries events!

My journey at the Smithsonian has occupied 34 years, with 22 of them as the director. With all the ups and downs, I can truly say that I have been blessed to work for this great institution, the Smithsonian. The Institution as a whole—with its 19 museums, 9 research centers, 21 libraries, and the National Zoo—is bigger than any one of its staff and will continue to do marvelous things for the nation and the world.

Much has been accomplished by the Smithsonian Libraries’ brilliant staff during my tenure. To name just a few:

  • The Libraries became the Smithsonian’s principal resource for digital access to its collections, including the creation of new tools for scholars and students.
  • The Libraries was instrumental in launching the Biodiversity Heritage Library, an open-access database of literature collected by a global consortium that has collectively digitized over 245,000 volumes (57 million pages) of biodiversity literature.
  • The preservation program grew beyond the Book Conservation Laboratory to incorporate environmental monitoring and preservation microfilming.
  • The Libraries established its first Advisory Board and inaugurated an energetic advancement program, raising nearly $20,000,000 to support new programs and operations.
  • The Libraries successfully promoted new awareness and use of its unique special collections, world’s fairs, and historical trade catalogs.
  • In 1991, the Libraries acquired an exhibition gallery in the National Museum of American History and initiated an exhibition, publication, and outreach program to bring its treasures to a broad audience.
  • The Libraries launched fellowship and intern programs to bring researchers and budding librarians to work with staff and collections.

And more is coming! The next director will be challenged to revamp and make nimbler the organizational structure, to increase visibility of the Libraries as a center and producer of knowledge, and to share the collection more widely nationally and internationally.

Going forward, there will be the inevitable need for more space and, of course, more private funds to support exhibitions, fellows and interns, acquisitions, collection conservation, and digitization. And no doubt there will be new software to purchase, new donors to discover, and new kinds of jobs and competencies to develop. In short, there will be no end of experiments and trials; knowing the staff and the Institution, there’s every reason to expect even grander achievements along the way.

I will be watching all of this and know all of you will join me in wishing my successor and the Libraries a marvelous future.

Bon voyage,

Nancy E. Gwinn
Director, Smithsonian Libraries


  1. Wilda Newman

    Congratulations Nancy and thank you for your work at the Smithsonian and support of other libraries and librarians. And a special thank you for your work with IFLA and representing the profession and the USA so well. It has been my pleasure to see your many contributions to IFLA, and to know the 35 years I’ve been involved, to see the professionals in IFLA come together from around the world to make a difference. Congratulations

  2. Greg Hoffman

    Congratulations Nancy! I enjoyed becoming acquainted while we were together on Cottey’s Board. Wishing you all the best!
    Greg Hoffman

  3. Dear Nancy,

    Hearty congratulations to you on all the brilliant work you’ve done growing the Libraries from strength to strength! It was a pleasure to meet and know you, and be inspired by your wit and cheekiness even in such an executive role. I wish you all the best into the future.

    George Oates

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