Introduction & General Principles
The Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) is the collector and keeper of records of the Smithsonian Institution, and of other documents pertinent to its history, collections, and research interests. SIA holdings are essential for institutional maintenance and accountability, and as a major source of evidence for scholars interested in Smithsonian history and the history of American museums, science, technology, art, and culture.
Reference service at SIA is designed to provide maximum benefit to institutional and public users. The Archives is not, however, a general information database for comprehensive public knowledge, so it is less well suited to random, general interest inquiries unrelated to Institutional history or subjects related to Smithsonian interests. Routine inquiries that cannot be readily answered from sources at hand in the Archives are referred to more appropriate sources such as curatorial departments and special collection repositories at the Smithsonian; the National Archives and Records Administration; the Library of Congress; local college or public libraries; or other repositories as appropriate.
Research & Reference Service Defined
Research and reference service are not the same thing. Research is labor-intensive; involving extensive searching through, reading, and intellectual immersion in large quantities of documentation. The researcher seeks to attain comprehensive mastery of the material, and thereby, gaining understanding and drawing trustworthy conclusions from it.
There are two kinds of reference service. Reference service can be systematic assistance to help researchers employ their research time effectively and to direct them to large bodies of material most likely to contain the richest yield of information pertinent to their topics for research. It can also be searching, sometimes extensively, for particular answers to relatively narrow questions of fact.
Reference staff provide guidance and answers when asked about . . .
- how to use the holdings for intensive research;
- specific information from the holdings,
- the nature and organization of SIA and its holdings;
- hours of operation, location, and procedures for use of the reading room, copying services, etc.;
- other repositories, libraries, or curatorial departments;
- general preservation issues and procedures;
- the archival profession, in general.
Reference Service Objectives & Standards
There are four primary objectives of reference service:
- to help patrons find answers they need to specific questions;
- to guide patrons to sources of material through which they may search to master chosen topics of study;
- to lead patrons to other sources/repositories which may be helpful in answering inquiries; and,
- to ensure the survival of materials for future use.
Access & Restrictions on Use
The Smithsonian is a public trust dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Its Archives is dedicated to providing equitable service to all registered researchers and inquirers; and access to its holdings to the fullest possible extent consistent with personal privacy and Institutional proprietary rights.
While the majority of institutional records and special collections in SIA custody are open to research without restrictions, in some cases sensitive materials are restricted through agreement between the Archives and transferring offices or donors. Access to restricted institutional records requires explicit permission of the transferring office or its successor office. This may be had through direct application by a researcher to the pertinent office. SIA supplies a form which researchers may use in applying for the waiver of restrictions.
Privately donated materials may carry restrictions imposed by deed as a condition of donation. SIA does not accept restrictions without careful examination of their impact on the overall purposes of the Smithsonian Institution and a careful weighing of the relative values of private rights and public knowledge. Explicit permission from the donor, or his agent, is required before access to restricted materials is granted. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for donor contact information if requesting access to restricted papers.
Any restriction, whether imposed by an originating office of the Smithsonian Institution or by a private donor, may be waived only by the originating office (or its successor) or the donor (or the donor's designated agent). SIA does not itself waive such restrictions, nor will it act as an advocate for any researcher seeking such waivers. Reference staff will assist researchers with information (office contacts, donors, etc.) needed to apply for a waiver of restrictions. The application process is the responsibility of the researcher.
Oral History & Videohistory Collections
Oral history collections are an excellent supplement to official records and special collections and researchers are encouraged to use this additional documentation when appropriate to their research project. While many collections are open to research, others hold restrictions on access or use, or may be closed to examination unless explicit permission is granted by the interviewee. Researchers wishing access to restricted interview transcripts/tapes must sign a release form. The release form details any restrictions or conditions the researcher must agree to honor when using the material. Researchers who wish to receive a waiver to a restriction, such as no copying or quoting, can also submit a request to the interviewee. If an interview is closed, the researcher must submit a written request to the interviewee for written permission to use the transcript/tape. Researchers should contact SIHistory@si.edu for further information. Researchers wishing to listen to or view audiotapes or videotapes of interviews may use cassette copies in the playback machines in the reading room.
Freedom of Information Act Requests
SIA does not directly respond to requests received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Office of General Counsel (OGC) serves as the Smithsonian's FOIA office. If a FOIA request comes directly to the Archives it is forwarded to OGC for action.
Loans & Charge-Outs
The Archives exists to preserve surviving documentation. Lending or "charging-out" an original document, photograph, or file imperils its survival. Therefore, archival loans are rare and carefully managed to ensure protection of material during its absence.
- Archives may be loaned to responsible offices and institutions, often for exhibition, reproduction, or conservation.
Institutional records may be loaned to the office that created them, or to their legal successors.
- Personal papers may be loaned to the person who created the collection and/or donated it to the Archives, or to those authorized by the donor.
- Records of professional societies may be loaned to the society, or to those authorized by the society.
In each case, however, a readable copy is preferred to the loan of original documents. Primary concern is for the survival of the original primary evidence and its continued availability in the Smithsonian Archives for all users.
Archives are not checked out to any researchers merely for their convenience. Similarly, although SIA maintains a small library of printed works for ready reference in the reading room, these items are not available for check out. They must remain available in the reading room for the use of all patrons and SIA staff members who require access to them daily.
Retrieval of Records
The central Archives is located in the Capital Gallery Building in southwest DC. However, most records and special collections are stored off-site at three remote locations: Fullerton Industrial Park in Northern Virginia; Iron Mountain at Boyers, Pennsylvania; and the Smithsonian Institution Support Center (SISC) in Washington.
Researchers should contact the Reference Team at least one week prior to visiting to ensure that records can be made available in the central Archives Reading Room.
- Records located at Fullerton Industrial Park are delivered to Capital Gallery each Thursday by mid-day.
- Records located at Iron Mountain are delivered to Capital Gallery within 36 hours. Requests for retrievals must be received in the Archives by 2 p.m. on the day prior to delivery.
- Records located at SISC are delivered to Capital Gallery each Monday by mid-day.
Copyright & Citation of SIA Records & Special Collections in Publications
Unless there is a specific Smithsonian Institution copyright involved, the burden of determining copyright status and permissions falls on the researcher. Archives staff do not routinely research the copyright status of materials for clientele.
It is also expected that researchers will give full and proper credit to the Smithsonian Institution Archives as their source of quotations and citations, and to cite those sources completely so that others may refer to them easily.
Copying & Reproduction Services
Each researcher may receive ten (10) free photocopies, or copy-flow copies from microfilm/microfiche per fiscal year. Subsequent copies (both letter and legal size) cost $0.20 per page. Payment for all copying orders over $5.00 must be received in full before the materials requested will be delivered to or mailed to the researcher.
Waiver of Fees
Copying fees are waived for any employee, research associate, research collaborator, fellow, volunteer, or intern duly registered and in possession of a Smithsonian identification badge and in current employment or affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution. Fees are also waived for donors of special collections and organizational records in the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Limitations on Photocopying
- SIA will not provide copies from restricted record units/accessions without permission of the originating office or donor.
- SIA will not copy an original item that is deemed too fragile to survive the handling required for copying; or any item in which copying will likely produce further deterioration. The Preservation Team will always be consulted whenever the condition of material to be copied is in question. In some cases, a copy master (filed with the original material) will already have been prepared and copies can be made from it. In other cases, a Preservation Team member will offer to copy delicate materials for researchers. As a general rule, original tissue, letterpress books should not be copied. Researchers will be asked to take notes when studying these volumes. Whenever a collection is available on microfilm, it is preferable to make copies from the film. All copyable books, journals, diaries, etc. should be copied on the book-edge copier.
- SIA reserves the right to refuse extremely large copying orders that will place undue pressures on the staff. When receiving such requests reference staff will suggest that the requester visit the Archives, or hire someone to examine materials in the reading room [a list of freelance researchers is maintained at http://www.nmnh.si.edu/naa/freelanc.htm]. Large on-site copying requests should be handled by the researcher, under supervision of the Reference and Preservation Teams.
- SIA reserves the right to refuse any copying request that requires excessive searching or judgment and choices among alternatives by a team member instead of the researcher.
Copying of Photographs
Digital imaging of photographic materials for researchers is performed on-demand by SIA staff, or by Smithsonian Photographic Services at standard fees. Ordering forms and fee schedules are available for use of staff members and researchers. See Reproduction Policies for Photographs.
SIA allows on-site photography as long as the material is open for research and the process itself does not interfere with other researcher or staff activities.
Copying of Audiovisual Materials
Copies of videotapes, audiotapes, motion picture film, microfilm, and other forms of audiovisual records may be arranged when necessary. However, in most cases this service must be contracted through a commercial vendor, and the researcher must bear the cost of service, including the creation of any copy masters required to complete the copying process. Again, a commercial user fee may be levied depending on the nature of the research project. See Reproduction Policies for Audiovisual Materials.
SIA Fee for Commercial Users
In cases where SIA photographs/audiovisual materials are used in commercial, money-making projects (e.g., publications, television/video productions, websites, etc.), the requester may be charged a user's fee. This fee is separate from any production fees charged by Smithsonian Photographic Services or commercial vendors.