Conducting Research at the Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution is best known for being the largest museum complex in the world.  However, besides the numerous and large museums on the National Mall, the Smithsonian also houses a number of research institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution Archives as well as 20 different libraries.

Most of the Smithsonian Institution buildings are located in Washington, DC, near the National Mall.  However, some libraries are in Maryland, New York, and Panama.  The Smithsonian Institution Archives are located in the Capital Gallery Building at 600 Maryland Ave SW.  Many of the libraries are located in their associated museums, such as the National Museum of American History Library located in room 5016 of the National Museum of American History, at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.  A full list of Smithsonian Libraries can be found here.  In nearby Suitland, Maryland is the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Support Center on 4210 Silver Hill Road.

Getting There

There are numerous metro stops around the Smithsonian Institution buildings.  The Smithsonian Institution Archives are nearest to the L’Enfant Plaza stop on the Blue/Orange/Silver or Yellow/Green line.  After exiting the metro, go north on 7th St SW, then take a right onto Maryland Ave SW.

The National Museum of American History Library is nearest to the Smithsonian stop on the Blue/Orange/Silver line.  From the Metro, the Museum is just north, across the National Mall.  It is the long building without a dome, in between the National Museum of Natural History and the upcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture.  A Metro map is available for more information.

Parking is limited all around the National Mall.  There are a few parking lots and garages around nearby, shown on this map.  The nearest free parking is on Ohio Drive SW, just south of the Lincoln Memorial.

The Museum Support Center is reachable from the Suitland Metro stop on the Green line.  Parking is also available nearby.

Prepare in Advance

Considering the size of the Smithsonian, many items are held offsite or in multiple buildings.  If visiting the Smithsonian Archives, first review the list of collections, as well as the online catalog.  Also be sure to contact the Reference Team at least a week before arriving to ensure that the materials you need will be available.

If visiting the Libraries, check out the online catalog.

More information on contacts at the Smithsonian can be found on the AHA Wiki.

Reader Identification Card

A Smithsonian Library card is required if you plan on visiting one of the Smithsonian Libraries.  To receive one, fill out a form and submit it online.


A map of the Smithsonian buildings around the National Mall can be found here.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives are open Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm.

The National Museum of American History Library is open Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 4:30pm.  Most museum libraries are open Monday-Friday 9:00am-5:00pm.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Support Center houses the National Anthropological Archives as well as the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA).  The Anthropological Archives are open Tuesday–Friday, 9:00am – 4:30pm.  The HSFA is open Wednesday-Thursday,  9:30 am – 4:30 pm.

Where to Eat and Where to Stay

The National Mall is the center of Washington, DC, for both locals and tourists.  Options for food and hotels are abundant.  There are cafes in each of the Smithsonian Museums.