Accessing Archive Center Collections

Online Access

Collection Descriptions
Collection-level descriptions of Archive Center holdings can be found in the Smithsonian Institution Resource Information System (SIRIS). SIRIS is a public database that contains records for archives, manuscripts, and photographs collections found across the Smithsonian. The collection-level records, or catalog records, in SIRIS provide general overviews of collections. For example, these records indicate the collections, and provide associated names and subjects and any relevant biographical or historical information. In the context of SIRIS, collection-level records often alert the researcher to a collection’s presence in the archive. New catalog records are added to SIRIS as they become available and are easily searchable on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center website or through NMAI Collections Search. A complete list of NMAI Archive Center collections is also available on the site.

Finding Aids
A collection-finding aid provides researchers with a detailed description of the contents and arrangement of a given archival collection. Each finding aid includes comprehensive biographical and historical notes regarding the creation and provenance of the collection; detailed information about the scope and content, uniqueness, and quality and quantity of the documentation within the collection; a container inventory that lists all folder headings and dates; and information about using and accessing the collection. Most Archive Center finding aids are now available online, and new finding aids are added as they become available. Links to finding aids can be accessed through collection-level records in SIRIS.

A complete list of NMAI Archive Center collections with finding aids is available through SIRIS. The following are noteworthy collections with finding aids available through SIRIS:

Digitized Photos
The Archive Center currently houses tens of thousands of photographic objects (vintage photographs, photographic and photographically derived postcards, photograph albums, lantern slides, film negatives, glass plate negatives, color slides, transparencies, and born digital photographs). Of these, a small selection—fewer than two percent—are posted to NMAI Collections Search, the Smithsonian Collections Search Center site, or to Flickr Commons. For access to the NMAI’s extensive photograph collection, please contact


Research may be conducted at the NMAI Archive Center by appointment only. Appointments must be scheduled a minimum of five business days in advance. The Archive Center is open for research appointments Monday through Thursday, 9:30 AM to 12 PM and 1 PM to 4:30 PM.

The Archive Center is located at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, approximately six miles southeast of the National Mall. Free parking is available at the CRC. The CRC can also be reached via Metrorail; it is a 10-15 minute walk from the Suitland Station.

In addition, the Smithsonian operates a free hourly shuttle bus service between the NMAI on the National Mall and the CRC. The shuttle bus departs from the museum's entrance on the corner of 4th and Independence Ave (i.e., on the side of the National Air and Space Museum) 10 minutes after the hour and arrives at the CRC 15 minutes later. Researchers must have a Smithsonian-issued pass to ride the shuttle; please request one when scheduling your appointment.