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Director, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Director, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Smithsonian Institution Job Location: District of Columbia Apply By: Open until filled Date Created: 04-01-2020

Our Client

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums, 9 research centers, 5 educational units, and the National Zoo. Every day the Institution continues to shape the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing its resources with the world. Under the leadership of the Secretary, the Smithsonian advances its core values of discovery, creativity, excellence, diversity, integrity, and service.

The Smithsonian employs more than 6,700 committed professionals, including renowned scientists and scholars, and a comparable number of highly motivated volunteers, interns, fellows, and visiting artists including over 700 fellows and an additional 8,500 digital volunteers. The Smithsonian annually attracts more than 20 million visitors to its museums, and 160 million unique visits to its websites, as well as 8M+ followers on social media. The Institution reaches millions of others through its cable channel, magazine, and other publications. The Smithsonian’s vast collections hold more than 154M objects and specimens.

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives is a major specialized research library, providing library and information services to support the research, curatorial, exhibition, publication, public service and education programs of the entire Smithsonian Institution. The organization is also a documentary collection of records and archival history of the Institution, and a champion for digital records management, preservation, and access.

The total volumes owned by the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives exceed 2 million, more than 40,000 of these volumes are rare books, complemented by 10,000 manuscripts. The Libraries house the nation’s largest collection of commercial catalogs – 480,000, representing more than 35,000 companies dating from the 1810s. More than 180,000 microfilm and microfiche are also accessible for research in the disciplines of science, history, art, and technology. The SLA also maintains a substantial and fast-growing collection of digital journals and databases to satisfy user expectations, an Institutional archive of 43,000 cubic feet and over 12 PB of digital records, and special collections.

Users of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives are served through a system of 21 branch libraries located in the greater Washington, D.C. area, the Republic of Panama, and New York City. The Institutional Archive maintains a public reading room in Washington, D.C., and three leased facilities. The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives also shares its collections of library and archival materials with researchers and the general public through inter-library loan, email, the Internet, and public programs such as exhibitions, lectures, and publications.

Individually each of the Smithsonian Libraries is among the world’s greatest repositories of knowledge for the specialized fields they support. Collectively they are among America’s greatest scientific and cultural treasures. They belong to the nation, and through their expanding on-line presence and digitization initiatives more and more people from across the country and around the world are able to access their vast resources. The Smithsonian Libraries are a hidden national treasure, where experts come to test and expand knowledge and where America and the world can turn for authentic answers.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives captures, preserves, and shares with the public the history of this extraordinary Institution. From its inception in 1846 to the present, the records of the history of the Institution—its people, its programs, its research, and its stories—have been gathered, organized, and disseminated so that everyone can learn about the Smithsonian and its role in American history, scientific exploration, and with the promotion of international cultural understanding.

This role presents a unique opportunity to join the Smithsonian Institution as Director of a newly created entity, as the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives have recently integrated into one organization. SLA is in a new era of increased strength and synergy, and the Smithsonian looks to the next Director to assist in the ongoing integration of these component parts into a dynamic new whole. The successful candidate will bring strategic leadership to the task of navigating ways to combine the strengths of these two exceptional teams in support of the Institution, bringing increased communication and collaboration which leads to even greater strength, alignment, and impact.

Smithsonian Institution Libraries

At the center of research across the Smithsonian are the specialized branches and librarians of the Smithsonian Libraries. The collections and staff of the Libraries play a key role in helping the Smithsonian’s research and curatorial staff make sense of the museums’ almost innumerable, often unique, objects and their cultural and historical contexts.

The network of 21 specialized research libraries that make up the Smithsonian Libraries provide the Institution’s museums and research centers with resources and services that are as diverse and deep as the collections, exhibits, and scholarship they support. They span the range of scientific and cultural pursuits of humanity from aerospace, anthropology, and art history to business history and botany, cultural history, design, philately, zoology, and much, much more.

While sharing the values, methods, and efficiencies of a unified network, each library in the system supports the work of its own community of interest comprising specialized researchers and museum curators, as well as visiting scholars, educators, students, and others pursuing or advancing knowledge in their fields. In this capacity, the Libraries play a dynamic role in advancing scientific and cultural understanding and in preserving America's heritage. The libraries also benefit from the engaged leadership of the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board of Directors, which is comprised of 18 leaders in the field.

The work of the Smithsonian Libraries includes number of key areas of focus:

  • Research Support: Smithsonian Libraries staff provide research and related consultation services with individuals and cross-disciplinary groups across the Smithsonian. Integrated into the work of the museums and science centers, they support Smithsonian researchers wherever those researchers are located, on-site or across the globe. Research Services staff have taken on expanded roles in support of Smithsonian-wide data management initiatives and extended library service to units previously underserved.
  • Collections: Smithsonian Libraries’ world-class collections support the current research interests of the Smithsonian Institution and maintain legacy collections that document research conducted over the history of the Institution. These collections actively support exhibitions across the Institution and provide content for Smithsonian ventures including publishing, licensing, and media projects. Smithsonian Libraries support an active digitization program to make many collection items available openly to both Smithsonian researchers and a global audience.
  • Research Information Management: Smithsonian Libraries provide a suite of tools and services to manage the scholarly research output of the Institution. Smithsonian Research Online and Smithsonian Profiles are two key services that generate metrics for and increase visibility of Smithsonian research and researchers.
  • Public Exhibitions: The Libraries exhibition program in museums throughout the Smithsonian enables visitors to see and experience the Libraries collections treasures firsthand. They illuminate the Smithsonian’s rich and distinctive holdings in history, science, art and culture while putting the objects into context and telling their stories. They play an important role in Smithsonian Libraries’ educational offerings.
  • Outreach: The Outreach Office helps to share the Libraries' collections and expertise with the wider public. This team is responsible for coordinating social media, managing internships, hosting tours and participating in other public-facing activities.
  • Education: To disseminate resources to a wider and younger audience, the Education Program has created a classroom resource, "Smithsonian Libraries Unstacked," to uncover our collections and frame them with context and questions that promote discovery and the desire to learn.
  • Biodiversity Heritage Library: SIL serves as the host for the Secretariat and technical infrastructure of the BHL, a global consortia consisting of 80+ contributors that provides open access to nearly 300,000 digitized volumes and serves over 1.2 million unique visitors from 243 countries.

Smithsonian Institution Archives

In the earliest organizing documents of the Smithsonian, the importance of maintaining archival records was explicitly called out. Throughout the years the record-keeping practices of the Smithsonian Institution Archives have evolved into a highly professional program that serves the staff of the Smithsonian as well as an international audience of researchers. The evolution of the Archives is a fascinating story that reflects the growth and development of the Smithsonian as a whole.

Internally, the Archives' staff helps to manage records created throughout the Smithsonian and identify those materials that have long term value for research and for institutional accountability. Preservation experts ensure that archival records are maintained and cared for using state of the art standards and practices. Historians and reference specialists provide expert service to researchers and the general public. Increasingly, our digital archivists and web and outreach staff are making the archives more accessible by taking advantage of current technologies.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives’ mission is to document the activities of the entire Smithsonian, its 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities, in its pursuit of increasing and diffusing knowledge and exciting the learning in everyone.  Programs and activities carried out by the staff of the Smithsonian Institution Archives are organized around core roles, responsibilities, and areas of expertise:

  • Archives: This group includes the Reference Team and the Archives and Information Management Team. The Reference Team provides access to records held by the archives to visiting researchers, and they respond to queries that come by phone, mail or email. The Archives and Information Management Team works with museums, research centers and other units at the Smithsonian to identify and acquire official records that document the activities and research output of the organization.
  • Collections Care: These experts provide services to preserve paper, photographs, audio and visual records held by the Archives. Other units across the Institution also rely on their shared laboratory facilities, special equipment and professional expertise.
  • Digital Services: Staff provides professional leadership in the area of preservation of electronic records and digital resources. Using technology to provide broader access to the collections online and using the Web and social media to push the Archives’ resources out to a wider audience are central priorities.
  • Institutional History: Historians research the history of the Smithsonian for internal and external purposes, and provide historical research and reports to Smithsonian administrators. The history of the Institution reflects the history of science, technology, art and cultural development nationally and internationally. Queries come from offices across the institution and from around the world. Staff experts also conduct oral and video histories that further document important figures and events in the history of the institution.
  • Collections: The Archives holds approximately 42,000 cubic feet of records and nearly 3 million photographic images. The collections include official records of the Smithsonian; personal papers of individuals associated with the Smithsonian; oral and video histories; and other special materials that document the staff, research, events, exhibitions and facilities of the Smithsonian. The collections provide primary research resources for anyone interested in Smithsonian history and the history of American museums, science, technology, art and cultural development.

The Role

The Director of Smithsonian Libraries and Archives (SLA) is charged with the authority and responsibility for overall planning, development, direction, and management of all programs and activities of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives. S/he will report to the Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support.

The Director of SLA will partner closely with stakeholders across the Smithsonian to promote institution-wide collaboration and the advancement of the Institution’s strategic goals.  S/he will be both a visionary digital leader and a proven operating manager. The SLA Director will lead a staff of more than 145 archivists, librarians, computer scientists, administrative staff, and more. The Director oversees a complex budget of Federal and Trust (private) funds totaling over $16 million.

Specific duties and responsibilities of the SLA Director include:

  • Help to shape the Smithsonian’s overall digital strategy to increase access to our collections, research, and publications; develop collaborative research, dissemination and outreach platforms; and make use of technological advances to meet the needs of our audiences: online visitors, educators, scholars, researchers, conservators, and visitors to our physical locations.
  • Responsible for maintaining and expanding research resources in a cost-effective manner to support the scholarly research of Smithsonian staff; serves as a global advocate and leader for open access publishing and opening of the scholarly record.
  • Oversees management of and policies regarding geographically dispersed physical collections and service points; effectively manages upgrading the quality of user experience to meet an ever-changing and developing environment for delivering services and managing collections.
  • Assures that the Smithsonian archives contains documentary records required for accountability, that the archival collection is preserved and protected, and that the holdings are available for research by both internal and external users.
  • Takes a leadership role in the larger Smithsonian archival community, coordinating archives and special collections needs across the Institution. This includes policies, standards, and best practices for shared collections storage; collections management; preservation of analog, digital and audiovisual materials; and descriptive standards.
  • Develops and recommends both short- and long-range program plans encompassing all aspects of SLA programs and activities. Collaborates with senior SLA managers and other staff to frame appropriate plans for operations, and to ensure efficient and timely implementation of programs.
  • Solicits advice from Institutional staff (both within and outside SLA) on procedures that will allow the SLA to enhance its functions in research services, collections management (including preservation and digitization), and information technology. Develops technology initiatives to further the SLA mission as well as services of SLA to the user community.   
  • Responsible for leadership of all SLA teams including performance evaluations of staff. Assures that senior- and mid-level supervisors effectively carry out their management responsibilities. Reviews employee performance appraisals initiated by supervisors and approves such actions. Develops and administers SLA policies for human resource development, affirmative action, and employee-management relations.
  • Responsible for overseeing a program of continuing evaluation of all aspects of SLA operations and taking proper action to implement any required changes. Working with key team members, identifies actual and potential problem areas, trends, significant accomplishments, merit and deficiency situations, areas of imbalance, or other similar factors in the SLA programs.
  • Oversees the development and execution of the SLA’s operating budgets by staff. Presents and justifies budget requests to institutional management officials, as well as OMB and the Congress when requested. Ensures that SLA has established an adequate control system to monitor expenses and does not exceed budgeted amounts. Adheres to institutional financial management policies and procedures.
  • Responsible for planning and managing the SLA development program, including corporate and individual prospect identification, cultivation, and solicitation. Seeks grant funds for special projects as required. Works with SLA Advancement staff and the SI Office of Advancement to bring in private funds to forward the mission of SLA both within and outside of Smithsonian Fundraising Campaign activities. Establishes and works with outside advisory groups that assist SLA in development activities, including a philanthropic Advisory Board with nationwide membership.
  • Represents the SLA to a variety of constituencies, both internal and external, ensuring that the plans and goals of the SLA are widely communicated and understood. Represents the institution to national and international constituencies involved in libraries and use of information technologies.

Candidate Profile

The Smithsonian is looking for a visionary individual to create – within the world’s largest and most exciting museum, educational, and research institution – the model research libraries and archives for the 21st Century. This individual will bring innovative, strategic, and collaborative leadership to the newly integrated Smithsonian Libraries and Archives (SLA) to create an organization for advanced research functioning to global standards of discoverability and access, and contribute to the digital transformation of the Smithsonian. A member of Smithsonian leadership, the SLA Director heads a world-class organization with a talented staff of diverse expertise with more than 2.1 million volumes in its collections.

This inflection point – as the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives integrate to become one organization – reflects an unprecedented and unique leadership opportunity in the field. The successful candidate will be an ambitious and proactive champion for the Smithsonian’s bold mission in research and education, and bring a sophisticated understanding of the current environment and potential future for research libraries and archives.

The challenge and demands of new technologies are an opportunity to engage a wider audience and amplify an unprecedented collection, and to continue to bring together teams with field-leading expertise and experience. As such, the new Director must have experience leading teams through change, and be able to direct SLA’s finances, collections, and other resources by setting clear priorities and holding teams accountable. In order to do so, the Director will bring extensive knowledge of research resources and information infrastructure, including technologies for users, access to publications, relations with publishing houses, digital collections, data repositories, and cataloguing and metadata, etc. In addition to these areas of technical competence, the next Director will bring experience with the cultures of libraries and archives, in terms of both team dynamics and operations. Relevant experience in research libraries and/or archives will be key.

Interpersonal skills and experience are vital to success in this position. The Director holds a central place in the Smithsonian community, and s/he will motivate and organize a large staff across multiple locations, providing strategic direction and ensuring that consistent, reliable services are delivered to the Smithsonian community and other users. The Director must be prepared to work with SLA’s team, Advisory Board, and other key partners throughout the Institution to set a clear direction for the organization and continue to elevate efforts to collaborate across the Smithsonian. These partners include the Smithsonian’s museums and their directors, many of which have embedded libraries.

Implicit within this priority is a strong ability to build and foster the professional growth of the SLA team, as well as the capacity to lead staff though the ongoing integration process of the libraries and archives towards a clear and unified short and long-term vision. The Director will create a culture of collaboration within departments and across SLA as a whole.

This position is an extraordinary opportunity to join the world’s preeminent museum, education, and research institution, and to lead an outstanding professional team that is working strategically to ensure that every researcher and stakeholder is able to make the most of the Smithsonian’s collections, services, and resources.

In terms of the performance and personal competencies required for the position, we would highlight the following:

Leadership, Strategy, and Clarity of Direction

  • The ability to create and articulate an inspiring vision and strategy for SLA and continue the process of effective integration of the libraries and archives.
  • Excellent understanding of the evolving landscape of scholarly research and research institutions, as well as the contemporary issues facing research institutions and the ways in which the audiences for these institutions are changing.
  • The inclination to seek and analyze data from a variety of sources to support decisions and to align others with SLA’s overall strategy.
  • An entrepreneurial and creative approach to developing new, innovative ideas that will stretch the organization.
  • Advanced understanding of digital technologies and trends, including open access.

Executing for Results

  • The ability to set clear goals for SLA across the board, and to translate the SLA’s vision and strategic goals into clear objectives for staff while committing the organization to improved performance; tenacious and accountable in driving results.
  • Comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty; the ability to adapt nimbly and lead others through complex situations.
  • A leader who is viewed by others as having a high degree of integrity and forethought in his/her approach to making decisions; the ability to act in a transparent and consistent manner while always taking into account what is best for the organization.

Managing Teams and Resources

  • An effective communicator who deals successfully with people at all organizational levels, and who has a demonstrated ability to motivate, mentor, develop and advocate for staff to work successfully in a collegial environment.
  • The ability to lead through complex organizational and cultural change, and to persevere in the face of challenges.
  • Temperament to make decisions in a thoughtful and timely manner and prioritize initiatives around the vision, all the while fostering collaboration among staff.
  • A leader who is self-reflective and aware of his/her own limitations; leads by example and drives SLA’s performance with an attitude of continuous improvement by being open to feedback and self-improvement.
  • Experience with administering a complex budget with competing demands for funds, and will approach the financial oversight of SLA with an even-handed and transparent approach to decision-making.

Relationships and Influence

  • Naturally connects and builds strong relationships with others, demonstrating strong emotional intelligence and an ability to communicate clearly and persuasively.
  • An ability to inspire trust and followership in others through compelling influence, powerful charisma, passion in his/her beliefs, and active drive.
  • Encourages others to share the spotlight and visibly celebrates and supports the success of the team.
  • Creates a sense of purpose/meaning for the team that generates followership beyond his/her own personality and engages others to the greater purpose for the organization as a whole.


The Smithsonian Institution has engaged Russell Reynolds Associates exclusively for this search and prospective candidates are invited to contact RRA directly. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential. For more information or to apply for the role, please reach out to SLADirector@russellreynolds.com. All applications should include a resume and letter of interest.

This position has been reviewed to determine the level of POSITION SENSITIVITY. Based on the nature of the work, the position has been determined to be Public Trust / HIGH RISK. This designation will require (1) a pre-employment Security Agency Check (SAC) for the prospective incumbent; and (2) a subsequent comprehensive background investigation and favorable adjudication in order to continue in the position.

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