John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology

The Anthropology Library, officially known as the John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology, is located within the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History. Its collection reflects the important role that the Smithsonian Institution played in the development of anthropology as a formal discipline in the United States. The Anthropology Library was established in 1965 with the merger of two principal Smithsonian collections--the library of the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE;1879-1965) and the divisional collections of the Department of Anthropology. The former supported "anthropological researches" among the indigenous people of the Americas and was considered one of the best such resources in the world.

Today's library is named after John Wesley Powell, the BAE founder and first director who is also well known for his early exploration of the Colorado River region. The latter collections grew out of the work of other museum staff not only in the Americas but also many places abroad, including Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Oceania.

About the Collections

The Anthropology Library is the product of a century and a half of building in support of museum collections and the pursuits of its staff. It contains approximately 80,000 print volumes, including over 400 serial titles, a large number of microforms, smaller collections of CD-ROMs, audio cassettes, slides, and the like, as well as electronic links to other information sources. All can be located through the SIL's online catalog ( The library includes research material from the four sub-disciplines that traditionally define American anthropology—physical anthropology, archaeology, cultural anthropology and linguistics— as well as some related disciplines, such as folklore, linguistics, biomedicine, forensic science and a number of area studies.

The overall strength of the collection lies in its holdings of early materials, including national and international journals. With respect to subject emphases, it remains especially strong in Native American culture, language and history for all of North America and the Arctic Rim with additional collections focusing on indigenous cultural and linguistic development in Latin America. The Asian cultural history collection is exceptionally strong. Also represented is material on the Near East, Africa, Europe, the New World diaspora, and Oceania. The latter includes the Alexander Easter Island Collection, an extensive collection of books, pamphlets and reprints from the 1950s through the 1970s.

A diverse body of physical anthropological and biomedical literature supporting research in skeletal biology, paleopathology, forensics and human variation is also held. In addition, the library has research materials concerning the study of human origins in Africa and of early humans in the Americas. The Anthropology Department's Physical Anthropology Division maintains a separate reprint collection of former curator Aleš Hrdlicka. Approximately 700 boxes of reprints and offprints, primarily from European sources, are arranged topically for use. There is an author/subject index to the collection. The Division also houses more than 100 boxes of reprints and offprints collected by the late curators Lawrence Angel and T. Dale Stewart. Finally, the library collection is especially strong in the history of American anthropology and complements that of the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) and the Human Studies Film Archives as many of its published materials support and/or stem from its archival holdings.