The mission of the Special Collections department is to preserve rare and unique library materials for the future and make them accessible in the present to researchers and the public. The department facilitates scholarly research by describing and arranging rare collections and coordinates new projects for wider engagement with special collections material.
The Special Collections of the Smithsonian Libraries are among its most intriguing and unusual assets. They comprise books, journals and pamphlets as well as manuscripts, maps, prints, medals and other objects. Because of their rarity, value, beauty, unusual content, form, or physical condition, these works require the best possible storage environment, tightest security, and highly trained staff. The Special Collections libraries contain approximately 50,000 rare volumes and 2,000 manuscript groups, the majority dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Subsets of the collection include the World’s Fairs and International Expositions Collection, the Joseph Henry and Alexander Graham Bell Libraries, and the surviving volumes of James Smithson’s personal library to name a few.
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