I really enjoyed my time at the Ask an Expert desk at the Jamboree. One of the questions I got was about how to distinguish between the big three research institutions in Washington, DC. So here’s an overview courtesy of archives.gov:
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent federal agency that helps preserve our nation’s history and define us as a people by overseeing the management of all federal records. NARA’s primary purpose is to acquire, preserve, and make available for research the most valuable records of the federal government, as well as the papers of each President since Hoover.
Regional branches of the National Archives collect records of federal government offices and courts within the area they serve. These branches are located in or near Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York (moving soon), Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle. The military records held by NARA are the most heavily used of all their holdings and the users primarily are genealogists.
NARA also establishes policies and procedures for managing federal records, assists federal agencies in carrying out their records management responsibilities, provides grants for historical publication and records preservation projects through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and publishes laws, regulations, and Presidential documents.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is both a legislative library and the major research arm of the U.S. Congress. It also serves as the copyright agency of the United States, a center for scholarship that collects research materials in many media and in most subjects from throughout the world, one of the world’s largest providers of bibliographic data and products, the home of the nation’s poet laureate, a research center for the preservation and conservation of library materials, and the world’s largest repository of maps, atlases, printed and recorded music, motion pictures, and television programs.
The Smithsonian Institution is the national museum of the United States and a center for research dedicated to public education, national service, and scholarship in the arts, sciences, and history. It is composed of sixteen museums and galleries, the National Zoo, and numerous research facilities in the United States and abroad. The Smithsonian currently holds some 140 million artifacts and specimens in its trust for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”