Borrowing and Access Privileges

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives provides access to physical and electronic library collections. Search Library Collections explains the ways to search and browse these collections. This page explains the types of borrowing and access privileges available to the Smithsonian community (individuals with a current Smithsonian identification badge, referred to as "SI staff" throughout this site), and visiting researchers and the public. Contact Us if you have any questions. 

Electronic Access

The Libraries and Archives maintains subscriptions to a wide variety of electronic resources (e-resources), including databases, journals, and e-books. These can be accessed by anyone on a Smithsonian network or in our reading rooms (see Onsite Access below). SI staff working remotely can access e-resources by following the directions on Off-Site Access to Electronic Resources or connecting to the Smithsonian network via or the VPN. In addition to Search Library Collections the following are good places to start: 

  • OneSearch: Searches across the library catalog, e-journals, e-books, and many research databases from a single search box. Anyone can use this tool to search our collections; however, access to many e-resources will be restricted to Smithsonian community use only.
  • E-journals, E-books, and Databases: Access to the complete list of subscription-based electronic databases, journals, and e-books.
  • Digital Library and Online Exhibitions: Open access to digitized rare books (pre-1924), journals, trade literature and manuscripts from the Libraries and Archives' library collections.

Onsite Access 

The Libraries and Archives welcomes SI staff and other visitors to its locations to access both physical materials and electronic resources. Our staff and collections are spread across locations in museums and research centers in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, New York, and Panama. For information about hours and access for each location see Library Locations and Smithsonian Institution Archives Reference.

During CDC High COVID-19 Community Levels, on the day of your visit we ask that you:

  • Complete the Smithsonian’s four-step visitor health screening, which is hosted on the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s website.
  • Observe standard COVID protocols. Masks are required for High COVID-19 Community Levels.  We provide space for physical distancing with our staff and other visitors.

Visiting researchers and the public

  • Most of the branches are in restricted areas requiring an appointment and registration with a form of identification. Request an appointment for on-site access by using Contact Us.
  • Library collections must be used on Smithsonian property and some collections must be used in their designated reading rooms.
  • If you cannot visit a Libraries and Archives' location in person, you may place interlibrary loan requests for many of our library materials through your local public library or an academic library with which you are affiliated. Borrowing libraries, please see the Resource Sharing and Delivery page for more information.

Smithsonian community

Borrowing and Requesting Materials

  • Borrow: Individuals with a valid Smithsonian identification badge can open a borrower account with the Libraries and Archives. See Get a Library Account (SI staff) for registration and more information.  Library accounts must be renewed at least every 5 years by completing a new Borrower Registration Form (SI staff).
  • Interlibrary Loan: Anyone with a borrower account and a Smithsonian email account may open an ILLiad account and request materials from most Smithsonian library branch locations as well as from our partner libraries worldwide. See the ILLiad User Guide for registration and more information. 
  • Requesting: To obtain materials, visit your designated branch library or request books, book chapters, or articles from a Libraries and Archives' branch or partner libraries by submitting an ILLiad request. Many physical items can be delivered directly to your Smithsonian office via interoffice mail. Scans/PDFs are delivered electronically to your ILLiad account.
  • Care and handling: Borrowed items must be used on Smithsonian property. Some materials must be used in designated reading rooms. Libraries and Archives’ collections materials should be treated like any Smithsonian collection items and are covered by Smithsonian Directive 600.  

Loan Periods

Each library branch and partner library has its own policies regarding what materials may be checked out and for how long. Generally, you can borrow as many items as you need for the following loan periods:

Material   Permanent Smithsonian Community Members Non-permanent Smithsonian Community Members
Books     Six months One month
Microforms and Audiovisual Materials One month One month
Bound Journals One week One week
Interlibrary Loan  Varies by lending library     Varies by lending library

Renewing or Returning Materials

You are expected to renew or return books as soon as possible after receiving notification. You will receive notices by email. 

Returning All Library Materials

  • Return all physical library materials on or before the due date to any Libraries and Archives' branch location or at the Smithsonian Institution Archives reference desk in Capital Gallery.
  • Smithsonian library books can also be returned through interoffice mail to any Libraries and Archives' library branch.
  • Books with a colored paper band around the front cover indicate it is an Interlibrary Loan book. Interlibrary Loan books may not be sent via Smithsonian interoffice mail. These materials which have been borrowed from other institutions must be returned by hand directly to a Libraries and Archives' location.

Renewing Libraries and Archives' Books

  • Renew Libraries and Archives' books by contacting a library branch or Contact Us, or you can easily renew items yourself online. From the library catalog:
    • Click the tab labeled “My Account” and log in using your library card number.
    • Click “Items Out” from the Account Overview or “Checked Out” from the top menu bar.
    • Check the box next to the item(s) and click the “Renew” button. You should notice the due dates changing on the right-hand side.

Renewing Interlibrary Loan Books

  • Renew Interlibrary Loan books from other library systems by submitting a request via ILLiad or by contacting the Resource Sharing and Delivery department at
  • Lending libraries lend materials for a wide range of periods, from 30 days to 4 months. Loan periods, renewals, and restrictions for use are determined by the lending library.
  • Requests to renew material must be made at least 4 days prior to the due date. There is no limit to the number of times you may renew books, but in some circumstances, a renewal may not be possible.


  • If you receive a notice that an item you have is being recalled, the notice will indicate the new due date for that item. 
  • All books are subject to recall after they have been checked out for 14 days.
  • If an item is checked out and you need it sooner than its current due date, submit an interlibrary loan request via the ILLiad Request Form.

Fines and Lost Books

  • Smithsonian Libraries and Archives does not charge overdue fines. You are encouraged to renew before it is due.
  • If a book is lost or damaged beyond repair, an administrative fee of $50.00 will be charged. Additionally, you are responsible for the cost of the repair of damaged material or the cost of replacement. Alternatively, you can replace the book with one acceptable to the branch librarian.
Last Updated June 27, 2023