About SI Archives
The Smithsonian Institution Archives consists of four Divisions. They are:
- Archives Division - Collects and maintains
the official records of the Smithsonian, and the papers
of associated individuals and organizations. Its holdings
constitute the official memory of the Smithsonian and document
the development of American science, art, and technology,
and the growth of museums in the United States.
- The Digital Services Division - Addresses the Archives’s digital preservation, digital curation, electronic records management and online collection accessibility needs. Concentrations of the division are the Electronic Records Program, the Web and New Media group, and Digitization Services.
History Division -
Is responsible for research, public programs, publications,
and exhibits on the history of the Smithsonian Institution.
The Oral History Program documents the careers of Smithsonian
staff, and the Smithsonian Videohistory Collection provides
visual information about the history of science and technology.
- Technical Services Division- Supports preservation activities within the Smithsonian
Institution Archives, and offers preservation services
to other units within the Smithsonian.
The Preservation Team ensures the long-term
preservation of materials that the Smithsonian Institution
Archives holds in public trust. The teamís primary responsibilities include preservation services, consultations, and outreach.
A Brief History of the
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Although the first Smithsonian Secretary, Joseph
Henry, had seen the need for an archives to preserve the records
of the Institution, the Smithsonian Institution Archives had
its real origins in 1891, when William Jones Rhees, who had
been Chief Clerk since 1852, was given the title Keeper of
the Archives. Rhees served in the post until his death in
For the first half of the twentieth century,
the administrative staff of the Office of the Secretary cared
for the historical records while maintaining the current files.
In 1958 John F. Jameson III was hired by the Secretary's Office
to maintain the archives while also working with the current
files. In 1960 Jameson was succeeded as Archivist by John
DeGurse, Jr., who remained in the position until 1964.
The mission of the Archives became more research-oriented
in 1965, when Samuel T. Suratt was appointed Smithsonian Archivist.
His hiring was accompanied by the charge to engage in the
"development of the Archives as a facility for historical
research in American Science" by making the Archives'
resources more readily accessible to historians through better
identification, preservation, and cataloging of Smithsonian
documents. Within two years the Smithsonian Institution Archives
was no longer funded by the Office of the Secretary and became
a separate line item in the Institution's budget. The Archives
moved into new quarters within the Smithsonian Castle during
Suratt served until April 1969 and was replaced
by Nathan Reingold (who was also editor of the Joseph Henry
Papers Project). Reingold remained Acting Archivist until
the appointment of Richard H. Lytle in January 1970. The Archives,
under Lytle's direction, entered an era of tremendous growth.
Records survey and acquisition programs were initiated in
most Smithsonian museums and central administrative units
and the volume of holdings increased accordingly; expanded
repository guides were published in 1971, 1978, and 1983;
an oral history program to supplement the written record was
established in 1973; and the Archives moved into a new home
in the Arts and Industries Building (A&I) in 1976. Lytle
left the Archives in 1981 to head the Smithsonian's computer
services. William A. Deiss served as Acting Archivist until
1983, when William W. Moss was appointed Director of the Smithsonian
By the late-1980s, shelf space in the Archives'
A&I stack range had been completely filled. As a result,
in FY 1988 the Archives leased around 6,000 square feet of
warehouse space at Fullerton Industrial Park in South Springfield,
Virginia. Over 5,000 cubic feet of records were initially
transferred to the new facility from A&I, with new accessions
sent to Fullerton on a regular basis thereafter. Other highlights
of the Moss years included the establishment of the Smithsonian
Archives and Special Collections Council, which he led during
its formative period; an exhaustive survey of photographic
resources in many Smithsonian museums and offices; and the
creation of the Smithsonian Videohistory Program, organized
in 1987, to conduct videotaped interviews documenting American
In 1993 a reorganization resulted in the creation
of the Office of Smithsonian Institution Archives with Moss
as Director. The new Office consisted of an Archives Division,
directed by Alan L. Bain, and an Institutional History Division,
directed by Pamela M. Henson. Also included in the new office
was the National Collections Program, headed by William Tompkins,
which had taken over some of the duties of the former Office
of the Registrar. In 1993 Moss retired and was succeeded by
Henson as Acting Director, 1993, and John F. Jameson III,
who served as Acting Director in 1994. Edie Hedlin was appointed
Director in 1994. Hedlin retired in 2005. Thomas Soapes served as Acting Director until 2007. Anne Van Camp is the current Director.
The Archives under Hedlin's direction entered
the era of electronic information - establishing an electronic
records program and creating an Archives web site. In 1996,
to commemorate the Smithsonian's sesquicentennial, the Archives
published its fourth (and last) printed Guide to the Smithsonian
Archives which described over 1,100 record units comprising
some 15,500 cubic feet of archival material. In FY 1997,
the Archives began a program to store the records of many
archives around the Smithsonian at Iron Mountain (formerly
National Underground Storage) of Boyers, Pennsylvania.
In FY 1998, the name of the organization reverted
back to Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). At this time, the
Archives Division adopted a team-based staffing structure
and the Technical Services Division was created.
The Archives Division was comprised of three
teams until FY 2007. The Records Management (RM) Team is responsible for the
appraisal and acquisition of all permanent and temporary records
into the Archives and its Records Center. The Team also provides
records management guidance and advice to offices, and creates
records disposition schedules for institutional records. The
Arrangement and Description Team created descriptive tools
for SIA collections, including finding aids, bibliographic
records, and agency histories. The Reference Team receives
visiting researchers into the Archives and answers other inquiries
from remote researchers. In 2007 the Arrangement and Description Team was disbanded, and the RM Team has assumed those responsibilities. Tammy Peters is the current Director
of the division.
The Technical Services Division supports administrative and preservation activities within SIA. Its Preservation
Team ensures the long-term preservation of the materials that
the Smithsonian Institution Archives holds in public trust.
The team's primary responsibilities include preservation services,
consultations, and outreach. In 2003 SIA's preservation program,
like its offsite storage program in Boyers, PA, extended services
to other archival repositories. Through the creation of the
Smithsonian Center for Archives Conservation (SCAC), the services
of a paper conservator are available to all Smithsonian repositories
at a highly concessionary fee. The Center was established
through the support of Eleanor McMillan, who donated $100,000
to SIA for initial support of the conservator's salary. Alan
L. Bain is the current Director of the division.
The Institutional History Division has greatly
increased the amount of historical information and images
available on-line, producing 3,000 digital images and creating
a combined history of the Smithsonian on the web. In 2007, the Joseph Henry Papers Project completed a twelve volume documentary edition on the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
The Electronic Records Division addresses the threefold challenge of digital records: risk management, preservation, and conservation. SIA has accessioned digital records since the mid 1990s, records which are often over two decades old. In addition, to its work with the now obsolete data and media formats of these early records, the division assists other teams in the Archives as more accessions that are fully digital are transferred. Two special projects highlight the work of the division: preserving and archiving the Smithsonian websites and a joint research project with Rockefeller Archives Center to address email record preservation.
In August 2006 SIA moved out of the Arts & Industries and into its new quarters in the Capital Gallery Building. SIA's new space includes a state-of-the-art storage facility; a reading room; several special viewing/listening rooms; processing and preservation space; digital imaging and audiovisual processing facilities; an oral history interview studio; and a conservation lab.