The Smithsonian Institution Archives ensures the preservation of the permanent, official records of the Smithsonian Institution, and the proper disposition of records with limited or short-term value. To this end, it provides a range of services to Smithsonian staff, including:
- advising in the daily management of active records,
- providing guidance in the ultimate disposition of records,
- and assisting in the preparation and transfer of permanent records for acquisition by the Archives.
In addition, the Archives manages a Records Center for the temporary storage of records scheduled for destruction and ensures that those records are properly destroyed at the appropriate time.
The Smithsonian Institution defines records as any official, recorded information, regardless of medium or characteristics which are created, received, and maintained by a Smithsonian museum, office, or employee. In general, the Archives does not distinguish between formats, and the same overall guidance applies to paper, electronic, photographic, and audiovisual records. However, format-specific guidance is occasionally provided to address unique logistical details between formats.
On average, the Archives accessions over 1,200 cubic feet of permanent records and a growing number of permanent electronic records each year. In addition, almost 900 cubic feet of temporary records are transferred to the Archives’ Records Center each year. All transfers of permanent records become part of the Archives' collections and will be made available to the public immediately or after an assigned restriction period. Finding aids to the collections are created upon receipt of the permanent records and may be searched online by both staff and the public. All transfers of temporary records are restricted to staff of the transferring unit and those who receive permission from that unit.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives also provides assistance and guidance to professional organizations and individuals in preparing and transferring their records and personal papers to the Archives.