I recently met a family visiting the Smithsonian from Alabama. The mother had come here 15 years ago with her high-school class, and she was proud to bring her children now. She told me something that has stayed with me: the family had saved for three years to make the trip.
Each year 23 million people visit the Smithsonian. Now, through our Web sites, we can offer the countless others who cannot visit in person a virtual showcase of our collections: the art masterpieces, the historic artifacts, the rare minerals, the planes and rockets, the strange creatures of the deep. We're well under way to digitizing our major holdings with engaging explanations, interactive elements, audio, 3-D and high-resolution images and video. The Smithsonian collections comprise 136.9 million objects and specimens. We now have about 10 percent of them available electronically.
Already the Smithsonian has won five Webby Awards, a.k.a. the Oscars of the Internet. The first went to this magazine; the second, in 2005, recognized our "Lakota Winter Counts" (Plains Indian pictorial calendars), an online exhibit (wintercounts.si.edu). This year's three Webbys were for sites for the Smithsonian Photography Initiative (photography.si.edu), which offers a selection of the Institution's 13 million photographic images; the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum's new "People's Design Award" (peoplesdesignaward.org); and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies' gateway to more than 1,200 free educational resources (smithsonianeducation.org). On this site, teachers can find specialized lesson plans, virtual exhibits and other resources based on Smithsonian treasures.
Webby Honorable Mention awards this year went to the American Art Museum's "Del Corazon! Latino Voices in American Art" (delcorazon.si.edu), the Cooper-Hewitt's main Web site (cooperhewitt.org) and smithsonianeducation.org. And that's not all. The Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra telescope site (chandra.harvard.edu), with video podcasts illustrating NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, won a Pirelli Award (for scientific and technological communication on the Internet), and the Postal Museum's main Web site (arago.si.edu) received honorable mention for an American Association of Museums MUSE award.
Of course, developing our Web sites requires considerable resources. The Terra Foundation for American Art gave the Archives of American Art $3.6 million to scan and digitize more than 1.2 million documents. And EMC Corporation donated a high-capacity archival storage system for the "digital Smithsonian." We're grateful that such partners enable us to expand our service to the public—so that more of the Smithsonian will be just a mouse click away.
Cristián Samper is Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.