Frequently Asked Questions - Ask a Librarian
We’re in the business of answering questions, so if you walk up to any SIL employee at your unit’s library, we will be happy to address any query you have from learning about small, routine procedures to collaborating on complex research-level reference questions.
If for some reason our staff is not immediately available, we’ve developed this list of Frequently Asked Questions for Smithsonian Institution researchers.
Forming a vital part of the research, exhibition, and educational endeavors of the world's largest museum complex, the libraries consist of 20 branch libraries located in the museums and research areas they support. Most Smithsonian museums and units have library collections located nearby to support their work.
The 20 branches of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries are located in the Washington, DC area, in Suitland and Edgewater, Maryland, in New York City, and in the Republic of Panama. For exact locations, consult the library home pages. Generally, libraries are located within the museums they serve.
The library collections are fully searchable using the SIRIS online catalog of the combined collections.
Some, but not all branches have all of their exact journal holdings information, by volume, in the online catalog. We are in the slow process of placing all of our journal (serial) holdings information inline, but have limited staff and funds to do so. If specific serial holdings information is needed, please check with your library staff.
Smithsonian staff, visiting researchers, and the public may visit individual libraries in person. For non-affiliated visiting researchers and the public, an appointment is required at most library branches.
Along with specialized reference services, including assistance with using many online resources, library staff are responsible for acquiring whatever published information is needed by Smithsonian staff to accomplish their assigned mission at the Institution. Along with access to the SIL collection of 1.5 million items, this material can also be borrowed or purchased from a multitude of outside sources.
Please consult the individual library home pages for hours, locations, and phone numbers. Generally, all libraries are open only on weekdays (excluding federal holidays), 9AM to 5PM. After-hours access may be arranged by specific library.
Any Smithsonian Institution staff member with a Smithsonian ID can apply for a SIL borrowers' card. Please complete a SIL Borrowing Registration/Authorization form available at all SIL locations. Temporary staff (interns, etc.) will need their permanent SI sponsor to co-sign their registration form.
Books may be checked out at any SIL branch’s circulation desk. Since some “sub-locations” of larger libraries are not regularly staffed, you may need to check with the librarian in your local branch for specific procedures. Not all books can be checked out, for example, reference works, rare books, and materials listed for Special Collections do not circulate and must be used in the relevant library's reading room.
Within reason, as many books as needed may be checked out. Not all books can be checked out, for example, reference works, rare books, and materials listed for Special Collections do not circulate and must be used in the relevant library's reading room.
If visiting the branch in-person is not convenient, please complete an online request form. Fill out as much information as possible about the article or book title you want, including the call number and SIL branch location (available through the SIRIS online catalog).
You may request up to five items per day.
Depending on the SIL library we are borrowing from, SIL books and articles can arrive in two days. Interlibrary loan items may take a minimum of two weeks.
For permanent staff, titles can be borrowed for six months. For temporary staff, the loan period is 30 days.
Just contact your local SIL staff to renew SIL items. You can also use the “My Account” feature through the online catalog interface. However, since we are borrowing interlibrary loan items from libraries outside of the SI, they may not allow us to renew their book(s) (see ILL FAQ).
You can request a hold through your local SIL staff. Holds can also be placed online through the “My Account” feature of the online catalog. Any book that you have checked out can be subject to recall by another library or patron at any time.
Most serial titles/issues do not circulate. Check with your library staff for specifics.
Library staff can provide you with such a listing of all items charged to your library account. Or you can check the “My Account” feature of the online catalog interface.
When an item is overdue, you will be notified with a paper notice in your office in-box. Keep in mind that most SIL items can be renewed. However, interlibrary loan items often cannot be renewed and must be returned on time.
Anyone with a registered SIL account can use SIL’s interlibrary loan services. See ILL FAQ for more details.
Our Interlibrary Loan Department will try to borrow any title requested by SI staff. However, it’s up to the loaning library as to what restrictions can be placed on us in borrowing their titles.
No, for the most part, Smithsonian staff members are not charged for interlibrary loans. In some cases, costs may be passed on to Smithsonian Fellows. See ILL FAQ for more details.
Check with your unit’s branch library for procedures. Some libraries will contact you by phone or e-mail when interlibrary loan items arrive.
You can return books to any SIL location.
Please see SIL’s Public Inquiry FAQ