America’s First Known African American Scientist and Mathematician

Julia Blakely : February 15, 2017 9:00 am : Collection Highlights, Events, Research, Special Collections

At the beginning of February, Black History Month, the former slave Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was much in the news. The most prominent African American of the 19th century, he first moved to Washington, D.C. in the early 1870s after his home in Rochester, New York burned down. Here he published his newspaper, The New National Era. From 1877 until his death in 1895, Douglass lived and worked in a stately Victorian house, called Cedar Hill, overlooking the Anacostia River. The property is in the D.C. Southeast quadrant and has been maintained since 1988 as a National Historic Site by the National Park Service. more »

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January Events at Smithsonian Libraries

Erin Rushing : January 5, 2017 9:00 am : Collection Highlights, Education and Outreach, Events

The Smithsonian Libraries would like to invite our colleagues to two January events, both of which are free and open to the public. More details are below. We hope you’ll join us!




Color in the Scientific Image
Mazviita Chirimuuta, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

6:00pm, Friday, January 13, 2017
Warner Bros Theater at the National Museum of American History
12th Street and Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC

Do colors exist or are they merely an illusion? The posing of color as a challenge to our habitual belief in the reality of the visual world is commonly thought to stem back to the so-called scientific revolution of the 17th century. Between the wars of the last century historians and philosophers like Burtt, Husserl and Whitehead gave us highly influential narratives in which the mathematized and mechanical physical sciences of Galileo and Newton (amongst others) formed a new metaphysical picture which stripped colors away from objective nature. In this lecture, Dr. Chirimuuta will reconsider the narrative, suggesting that the puzzle of fitting color into the scientific image really took shape in the 19th century, with the appearance of a mechanistic science of the brain and nervous system.

See event page for additional information and RSVP link:




The Future of Learning: How will people learn the skills they need for academe, work, and life?
Dan Russell, Google

11 am ET,  Thursday, January 26th, 2017.
Q?rius Theater
National Museum of Natural History, Ground Floor
10th Street and Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20560

What does it means to be literate in the age of Google? At a time when you can search billions of texts in milliseconds, we need to rethink what it means to be literate, and to be a learner. Although you might think that “literacy” is one of the great constants that transcends the ages, the skills of a literate person have changed substantially over time as texts and technology allow for new kinds of reading and understanding. Knowing how to read is just the beginning of it – knowing how to frame a question, pose a query, interpret the texts that you find, organize (and use) the information you discover, and understand your metacognition – these are all critical parts of being literate as well. In his talk Dan reviews what literacy means today and shows how some very surprising and unexpected skills will turn out to be critical in the years ahead.

This lecture is part of the Information Matters series, which is made possible through a collaboration between the Smithsonian Libraries, Smithsonian Institution Archives and the Smithsonian Office of the Chief Information Officer. This event will be webcast and recorded for later viewing. If you plan to join us in person, please RSVP. See event page for additional information:









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Cooking up some fun with Adopt-a-Book

Erin Rushing : November 7, 2016 9:00 am : Advancement and Development, Collection Highlights, Events, Food and Drink, History and Culture, Special Collections

On Wednesday, November 16th, the Smithsonian Libraries will once again hold its annual Adopt-a-Book Evening and you’re invited! Join us for food and merriment, all while supporting the Libraries’ collections. Visit the event page for additional details and to purchase your tickets.


Can’t make it to DC next week or just want a preview of the evening’s menu of books? Enjoy this “appetizer”, a mere sample of the 80+ items that will be on display during the event. Each has a unique place in culinary history and all will be available for adoption on November 16th. Learn more about our Adopt-a-Book program here. more »


Eerie October happenings with Smithsonian Libraries

Erin Rushing : October 7, 2016 9:00 am : Biodiversity Heritage Library, Collection Highlights, Education and Outreach, Events, History and Culture, Holidays and Special Occasions

The month of October brings lots of some spooky good times for Smithsonian Libraries. Pumpkin carving patterns, the science of Frankenstein, a behind-the-scenes tour of rare anatomy books, and more! more »

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September and October Events

Erin Rushing : September 6, 2016 9:00 am : Education and Outreach, Events, Food and Drink

Mark your calendars! September and October are great months for Smithsonian Libraries events! more »

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Fantastic Worlds of the Natural Philosopher

Doug Dunlop : August 24, 2016 9:00 am : Education and Outreach, Events, Exhibitions

Dean Howarth as Charles Willson Peale and Melinda McCalley as Mary Anning

Dean Howarth as Charles Willson Peale and Melinda McCalley as Mary Anning

The term “Natural Philosopher” was common in the early 19th century for someone who studied nature and the physical universe. It was not until the mid-19th century onward that the term scientist becoming more popular. Natural philosophers often pursued a wide variety of both scientific and artistic interests and offer a colorful glimpse into the world they inhabited.

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Color with us on National Coloring Book Day!

Erin Rushing : August 1, 2016 9:00 am : Art and Design, Collection Highlights, Education and Outreach, Events, Exhibitions

coloring book cover

Smithsonian Libraries Coloring Pages, Volume 2. Click to download.

Sharpen your colored pencils! Tomorrow, August 2nd , is National Coloring Book Day! To celebrate, we’ve put together a second set of coloring pages based on images in our collection. The booklet, which features 11 pages of pretty pictures begging to be colored, is available as a downloadable pdf file (10 MB) on our webpage here.

Shade in a few sea shells, diatom cells or fancy French fashion plates. Share your creations via social media and tag us (@SILibraries on Twitter and Instagram). We can’t wait to see what vibrant combinations you come up with.

In need of coloring inspiration? Check out Color in a New Light, our newest exhibition which just happens to be focused on the subject. Want to download our first coloring booklet? Find it here.

Special thanks to Pamella Selby, graphic design intern, for creating the lovely coverpage.


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Upcoming Events in August

Erin Rushing : July 29, 2016 9:00 am : Education and Outreach, Events, Exhibitions

The Smithsonian Libraries is pleased to host a full roster of events in the Washington DC area in the month of August. Topics include South African artists’ books, early natural history collections and more! All are tied to our current exhibitions: Artists’ Books and Africa, Color in a New Light and Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction, 1780-1910. Click on the links in the event titles for additional details and RSVP information. more »

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Inspiring Discovery at the 2016 BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival in Washington, D.C.

Grace Costantino : May 30, 2016 9:00 am : Biodiversity Heritage Library, Education and Outreach, Events, Natural and Physical Sciences

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and Smithsonian Libraries staff participated in BioBlitz 2016 in Washington, D.C. on 20-21 May. A BioBlitz focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. In this special edition of the BioBlitz, held in conjunction with the National Park Service’s centenary, the D.C. BioBlitz was accompanied by a two-day Biodiversity Festival on the National Mall at Constitution Gardens. The event was co-hosted by the National Park Service and National Geographic.


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Harrison Dyar: Personal meets Professional

Erin Rushing : May 20, 2016 9:00 am : Biodiversity Heritage Library, Collection Highlights, Education and Outreach, Events, Natural and Physical Sciences, Research

Harrison G. Dyar, Jr., third from right, with Entomology staff of the U.S. National Museum in 1905. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives.

From May 13-20th, the Smithsonian Libraries is participating in the #DigIntoDyar campaign – encouraging the public to transcribe the field books of this remarkable entomologist in the Smithsonian Transcription Center and to learn more about his life and work. This post was written by Marc Epstein, Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History and author of Moths, Myths and Mosquitos:The Eccentric Life of Harrison G. Dyar, Jr.. You can read Marc’s first post about Dyar here and second here.

Harrison Dyar’s scientific legacy has been overshadowed because he dug extensive underground labyrinths and because of his known bigamy (both explored in-depth in this Washington Post series).  His family wealth allowed him to either work gratis or for a pittance at the Smithsonian from 1897-1929. more »

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