Celebrating the Career of Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn, Retiring Director of Smithsonian Libraries

photo of a dark haired person in a red jacket

Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn, Retiring Director of Smithsonian Libraries.

This month, the Smithsonian celebrates the career of Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn, retiring Director of Smithsonian Libraries. Gwinn’s Smithsonian career began in 1984 when she joined the Libraries, becoming director in 1997. During her tenure, she has made significant contributions to the Smithsonian, the global library community, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

As the director of the Smithsonian Libraries, home to BHL’s headquarters, Gwinn has played a vital role in the founding and development of BHL. She was instrumental in securing dedicated funding for the program at Smithsonian Libraries and founding and expanding the BHL Secretariat. Through her service as the Chair (2012-2017) and Immediate Past-Chair (2017-2019) of the BHL Executive Committee, Gwinn provided key leadership for BHL’s strategic direction and the growth and stewardship of the consortium’s partnerships.

Martin R. Kalfatovic, the current BHL Program Director, noted: “In her service to BHL, Nancy provided invaluable direct guidance on many aspects of BHL, particularly in the development of the BHL governance model. My predecessor, Tom Garnett, and I both benefited from Nancy’s ability to see the big picture and keep BHL moving forward. As BHL continues to grow and expand, Nancy’s legacy will remain a motivating force.”

group of people presenting a plaque

BHL Member representatives (L to R) Jane Smith (Natural History Museum, London), Wai Yin Pryke (National Libraries, Singapore), and Constance Rinaldo (Ernst Mayr Library, Harvard University) recognize Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn during a presentation ceremony honoring her five years as Chair of the BHL Executive Committee.

In addition to her significant contributions to BHL, Gwinn’s leadership brought the Smithsonian Libraries to a new level of activity and recognition. During her career:

  • The Libraries became the Smithsonian’s principal resource for digital access to its collections, including the creation of new tools for scholars and students.
  • The preservation program grew beyond the Book Conservation Laboratory to incorporate environmental monitoring and preservation microfilming.
  • The Libraries established its first Advisory Board and inaugurated an energetic advancement program, raising nearly $20,000,000 to support new programs and operations.
  • The Libraries successfully promoted new awareness and use of its unique special collections, world’s fairs and historical trade catalogs.
  • In 1991, the Libraries acquired an exhibition gallery in the National Museum of American History and initiated an exhibition, publication, and outreach program to bring its treasures to a broad audience.
  • The Libraries launched fellowship and intern programs to bring researchers and budding librarians to work with staff and collections.

Please join us in thanking Dr. Gwinn for her dedication and impact on librarianship, the Smithsonian, and BHL. Her passion and leadership will continue to inspire the many who were fortunate to know and work with her. We at BHL send Dr. Gwinn our heartfelt gratitude and best wishes in retirement.

group of people standing around a BHL birthday cake

Gwinn (far right) and fellow BHL representatives celebrate BHL’s 10th anniversary during a “birthday celebration” at the Natural History Museum in London in 2016.

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Grace Costantino is the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library. In this capacity, she developed and manages BHL's communication strategy, oversees social media initiatives, and engages with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL.