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Using the Archives

As a public resource, we invite researchers and artists to use our materials. Please make an appointment if you wish to consult materials in the Rinzler Archives. Let us know what materials and subjects you are interested in so we can determine if they are available, as some materials are stored offsite.

Photo/Print Material

Our listening and reading room is open to the public by appointment only. We have binders of photographs, slides, and contact sheets from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Diana Davies Photograph Collection, and Robert C. Malone Photograph Collection, with finding aids available. A small library of serials and monographs related to folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology, musicology, and the music business is also available. Copies of manuscripts can be made depending on their preservation status, and use of our photocopy machine is free.

Audio/Visual Material

Audio/visual materials can be used depending on the format and preservation status. We provide recording playback equipment, but a number of obsolete formats cannot be accessed. One-of-a-kind fragile recordings cannot be used without advance notice; archives staff will need to make a reference copy. We do not have transcripts for most of our holdings, nor do we have the resources to make audio or video copies for the public.

Non-published archival materials are made available on a limited basis for research purposes. Copying these materials requires permission from the performer or informant in the recording. In addition to our own collections, there is a library of commercial LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes, and CDs of sounds of the world from other recording companies available for listening, although we do not have the rights to copy this material.

Further Information

Online Access

A limited amount of archival material is available online. A portion of our finding aids and inventories are available on the collections page and the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive. Some of our collections are described in SIRIS, the Smithsonian’s library and archives online catalog.

The commercial recordings in our collection can be accessed online through Smithsonian Folkways. On the website, users can access free thirty-second samples of all individual tracks or pay to download entire tracks or albums along with PDF liner notes.

Archival Materials Requests and Licensing

To request copies of photographs, documents, audio, or video in our collections for research use, use our Archival Research Materials Order form. If you would like to license materials for publication, please submit an Archival Materials License Request form, or contact us for further information. Be advised that we do not own or control the rights to all materials in our collections, and the use of any such materials is contingent upon obtaining final permission for use from the rights holder.

Requests for copies of archival material are considered on a case-by-case basis, subject to copyright, other restrictions, availability of digitization equipment, and staff resources.

TV and Film Production Guidelines

The Smithsonian has developed guidelines to be used by television and film producers in working with Smithsonian units. The guidelines describe key areas that should be addressed when working with Smithsonian archival units and special collections. Specific guidelines for Smithsonian Networks producers are also available.

Acquisitions and Donations

The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections only collects outside materials on a very limited basis, depending on if there is intention to use them to further our Center’s mission. We acquire other collections if they directly relate to our pre-existing collections or they are related to important persons connected with the Center.

New record company collections are acquired only when all of the publishing rights are turned over to the Center so that we may distribute them. If they complement our collection’s strengths, we collect outside published materials on a limited basis for our library.

The Smithsonian does not provide valuations of recordings, artifacts, and other items.


Support the Center and our important work, including the Folklife Festival, Folkways Recordings, exhibitions, films, and educational materials.

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