Introduction to Library Services and Collections

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives supports research activities across the Smithsonian through a network of 21 specialized libraries, its digital presence, and its skilled staff.   

Getting Started

Anyone new to the Smithsonian is encouraged to do the following:  

1. Obtain a library card 

Smithsonian employees and other affiliated persons with a valid Smithsonian identification badge and email address can open a borrower account with the libraries. See Borrowing and Access Privileges for more information.  

Outside researchers and public visitors cannot obtain a Smithsonian library account, but they can request Smithsonian library collection materials via interlibrary loan from their local library. They can also visit our libraries by appointment.  

2. Use your new library card number to establish an interlibrary loan (ILLiad) account 

An ILLiad account is used to request scans of articles and borrow materials from branch locations within the libraries as well as from our partner libraries worldwide. Learn more about ILLiad at Resource Sharing and Delivery

3. Attend the General Orientation to the Libraries 

The General Orientation to the Libraries is a quick and easy way to find out more about using the library resources. Smithsonian community members can find a list of scheduled and recorded trainings at the Training Opportunities (SI staff) page. The 30-minute General Orientation is a great place to start.  

Smithsonian staff can also request custom orientations and trainings for groups and individuals about any of the online or print library research tools, research methods and strategies, and more. Contact a branch librarian or Contact Us for more information.  

Using Library Services

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives provides many services that help researchers find, organize, and share their research.  

Library Reference Services

Library staff are available to help users navigate collections at the libraries and will try to answer research questions to the best of their abilities. Visit Library Reference Services for more details about what services are available.  

Manage Citations and Bibliographies

There are several software programs available to help with citation management. Library staff have selected and detailed some of these programs on Manage Citations and Bibliographies.  

Manage Research Data

For pointers to the many resources SI has to help manage research data including software and computing, collaboration tools, training, tutorials, storage and archiving, and one on one consultation services see Manage Research Data

Index or Services and Guides (SI staff)

Additional services available to the Smithsonian community are available via the Index of Services and Guides on Prism (SI staff). 

Using Library Collections

The library collections cover the diverse range of subjects and collections reflected in the Smithsonian’s museums and research centers.

Digital collections and databases

OneSearchOneSearch makes it easy to find items from the library catalog, e-journals, and many research databases using a single search. 

  • All tab – Use the OneSearch box on the Research Tools page to access our extensive collection of journals (electronic and print), articles, books and e-books, and other items.  
  • Catalog tab – Select the Catalog tab to search only the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives catalog, or go directly to the library catalog.  
  • e-Journal tab – Select the e-Journal tab to search for electronic access to journal titles.  

E-journals, E-books, and Databases: Use the E-journals, E-books, and Databases to search or browse for thousands of e-journals and e-books by title, and browse to a specific database, such as JSTOR, Project Muse, Web of Science, ProQuest Historical Newspapers, Ancestry Library Edition, or many others.   

E-books: E-books are also discoverable via OneSearch. Finding and Accessing E-books and Books Online provides more information about e-book access.  

Digital Library: The digital library and digital ephemera collections represent digitized versions of our physical collections.   

  • Books Online includes both out of print books and images. (Contemporary e-books are discoverable via OneSearch.)   
  • Digital Collections includes selected groups of digitized bibliographies, indexes, photo and ephemera collections.  
  • As a founding member of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, much of the Smithsonian’s historic biodiversity literature is available through the BHL consortium’s online collections.  

Physical collections

Locations: The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives welcomes staff and visitors at all its library branches. Some of the branches are located in restricted areas, so please contact the library branch staff to arrange a visit. 

Special collections and rare books: Our rare books and special collections are found in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology and in the Joseph F. Cullman Library of Natural Science as well as small collections across various library branches. More information about the Special Collections department and using these materials is available on Special Collections

Research Guides

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives experts create and update research guides on a variety of topics. Some guides focus on how to access and use specific subscription-based electronic resources while others highlight helpful or important resources freely available on the internet. Research guides are available in the following topic areas: 

Last Updated November 2, 2021