Magnificent Obsessions

Why We Collect

Magnificent Obsessions

Why We Collect

The impulse to collect is human. We collect for many reasons: to gather information about the world, to preserve the past, or to follow our interests and desires. For some, it is a lifelong pursuit.

Pioneering collectors have long shaped Smithsonian Libraries. Each had their own unique passions, from hot-air balloons to seashells, from Japanese prints to world’s fairs. Together, these diverse collections form a vast network of knowledge.

Smithsonian Libraries continues to build upon the work of these curious collectors. We preserve historic treasures and everyday items to provide a window onto the past. We seek out new sources and collections to advance research and scholarship. And we share our collections with the world to inspire curiosity and spark new ideas. Like a modern day cabinet of curiosity, Smithsonian Libraries collections span eras and disciplines, enabling discovery, inspiring creativity, and illuminating history.

Our collections are living and breathing.
What will we collect next?

Visit the Exhibition

Through April 11, 2022
Hours: 10:00 AM - 5:30 PM
(summer hours may vary)

Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition Gallery
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, 1 West
14th St and Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

Stephen H. Van Dyk, Smithsonian Libraries
Mary Augusta Thomas, Smithsonian Libraries

Dig Deeper

What’s New:

Get a Closer Look at the Books: Visit our Digital Collection

Books are carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculations at a standstill.

— Historian Barbara Tuchman

Smithsonian Libraries
At a Glance

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Smithsonian Libraries as a networked library system. But our libraries have been an important part of the Smithsonian Institution since it was founded more than 170 years ago. Today, we continue this legacy through our collecting, research support, education, and outreach initiatives.

Discover more at

Magnificent Obsessions would not be possible without the generous support of this collection of contributors:
  • The Burpee Foundation, Inc.
  • John P. Ryan and Claire Prouty Mansur
  • The Ronald J. and Deborah A. Monark Endowment
  • Relly and Brent Dibner
  • Peter Bedini and Leandra Bedini
  • Laughlin Andrew Campbell
  • Susan R. Hanes
  • Richard W. Renner
  • Emily Train Rowan and James A. Rowan
  • Allan and Kim Stypeck
  • C. Bowdoin Train and Georgina Sanger
  • Jacqueline Vossler