Frequently Asked Questions

Is all the archival material available online?

A limited amount of archival material is available online. Our ability to post material is dependent on intellectual property issues and staff resources. The commercial recordings in our collection can be accessed online via the Smithsonian Folkways website. Users can access thirty-second samples of all the individual tracks from the Folkways, Cook, Paredon, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, and Monitor record label collections. These include all the tracks released on commercial albums but not the outtakes. We do not have the rights to post the outtakes. Users can pay to download the entire track or album through the Smithsonian Folkways site. There the liner notes for most of three thousand recordings are also available.

What can I find out about the Archives’ collections on the web?

We have posted selected archival finding aids and inventories of our collections on this site, and more will be posted as they are completed. We also intend to put selected examples of each collection online. Visit the pages for each collection for more information.

Can I get copies of archival materials?

Our commercial recording titles are available through Smithsonian Folkways. You can listen to commercial recordings on non-Smithsonian labels in the Archives, but we do not have the rights to make copies of this material. The non-published archival materials are only made available on a very limited basis for research purposes. The Archives does not have the resources to make audio or video copies for the public. Copying these materials is only possible by arrangement with the performer or informant.

Although we do have photographic collections in the Archives, the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections is not a clearinghouse for photographic resources. If you find a photograph published in any of our commercial publications, it does not necessarily mean we have rights to give to third parties for republication. Folkways or any of the other labels frequently licensed these photographs from the photographer for one-time use. Use of these photographs will require contacting the photographer or rights holder.

We have other archival photographs from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival which can be used for nonprofit educational uses by arrangement with the Center. We also have photographs from the Diana Davies Photograph Collection and the Robert C. Malone Photograph Collection which can used by permission of the archivists. Please contact Stephanie Smith if you have additional questions about photographs (202.633.6439 or

Can I come in and use the collections?

We are glad to have researchers use our materials, and we have a reading room open to the public by appointment. We are unable to handle walk-ins due to staffing constraints. Please let us know what materials you are interested in seeing so that we can determine if they are currently accessible and available for research. Recording playback equipment is available for use, and audio/visual materials can be used depending on the format and the preservation status. One-of-a-kind fragile recordings cannot be used without advance notice; Archives staff will need to make a compact disc reference copy of the recording for your use. There are a number of obsolete formats which cannot presently be played or viewed in the Archives, particularly obsolete video formats.

The Archives has a library of commercial LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes, and CDs of sounds of the world from other recording companies available for listening. There is an in-house database listing our holdings. At some point in the future we hope to have more database information available online.

We have binders of photographs, slides, and contact sheets from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in addition to the Diana Davies Photograph Collection and Robert C. Malone Photograph Collection, for which finding aids are available. There are also photographs associated with the different record labels in our archival collections. We have a small library of serials and monographs related to folklore, ethnomusicology, anthropology, musicology, and the music business available for use. We have a photocopy machine which is available free of charge. Copies of manuscripts can be done depending on their preservation status.

You can make an appointment to visit the Rinzler Archives by calling 202.633.7322 or emailing

Do you have transcripts of your audio interviews you can send me?

We do not have transcripts for most of our holdings. Audio tapes must be listened to in the Archives.

Is it possible to volunteer or intern in the Archives?

The Archives is very glad to have interested individuals contact us about volunteering or interning. Much of the good work done with the collections is done by volunteers and interns. Please contact us by phone or email if you are interested. Jeff Place: 202.633.7322 or Stephanie Smith: 202.633.6439 or

How do I find the words to a song?

The archivists may be able to assist you with a lyric search, but you can also check The Digital Tradition database at If we are unable to assist you, another source of information is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Their reference desk number is 202.707.5510, and their email is

I have a collection of old records or fieldwork tapes. Can/should I donate them to the Archives?

The Center for Folklife and Cutural Heritage collects materials only if there is intention to use them to further the Center’s mission. We acquire materials that we can use to create publications, web sites, and public programs. The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections only collects outside materials on a very limited basis. We primarily collect the materials generated by the work of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, such as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

We also collect record company collections which document the world in sound. These collections are acquired only when all of the publishing rights are turned over to the Center which allows us to distribute them. We do acquire other collections if they directly relate to our pre-existing collections or they are related to important persons connected with the Center. We also collect outside published materials on a limited basis for our library if they complement the Archives’ collection strengths (world traditional music, American vernacular music, sounds of the civil rights and labor movements, American Indian traditions, Latino culture, topical and political songs, among others).

I have a collection of old records. Can you tell me how much they are worth?

The Smithsonian does not do valuations of recordings, artifacts, and other items. If you are interested in the value of your records, a good source of information is Goldmine Magazine. The Record Collectors Guild website is another good source of information.