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National History Day: Using the Collections

Resources from the Science History Institute: Digital Collections, Museum collections, Archival collections, and the Othmer Library's collections.

The collections of the Science History Institute Museum and Othmer Library include archival collections, scientific instruments, objects, fine art paintings and prints, modern books and journals, and rare books and manuscripts.  Our research collections are focused and arranged for professional scholars and our services and library schedule is limited so we suggest that you start your NHD project at your local library and utilize our collections once you have a focused project and a developed understanding of the topic. We do not have general reference or popular science books or resources. We hope that you will take advantage of our Digital Collections, which is a primary resource at your fingertips. 

For information about our collections visit:

NEED HELP? Use our Reference Form to ask a question. Call the Othmer Library at 215.873.5146.  

Online Digital Collections

Many items from our collections have been digitized and are available at

You can browse through featured topics or search along all digital collections. Start with a keyword search and then narrow the results with the "Limit your search" box on the left hand side of the screen. 

You can view our materials to use as primary resources and use our descriptions (factual and interpretive information pertaining to the item digitized) as a secondary source. 

You can download images directly from our Digital Collections in a variety of sizes and formats for free and use them to illustrate your National History Day project. Most of the materials in the Digital Collection are in the public domain or have no known copyright. 

Guidelines for Researching in the Library

*The Library is currently closed to researchers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Please email the librarians for remote help at

  • The student must search our library catalog and digital collection prior to making an appointment and know what materials they wish to use. 
  • History Day assistance is limited so a visit must be scheduled at least one week in advance. Make your appointment at  When making an appointment include:
    1. Name of registrant(s):

    2. Name of mentor or parent accompanying student:

    3. Grade:

    4. Project topic description:

    5. List of items (books, archives, objects) that they wish to view:

    6. Type of project (performance, research paper, exhibit, Web site, etc…)

  • A teacher, parent, or aide must accompany the student.
  • Students should already have their topics selected prior to the visit.
  • A list of student topics should be sent at least one week ahead of time, so we can prepare appropriate research materials.
  • Students must observe all library rules and behave courteously in the library.
    • Food and drinks are NOT allowed in the library.
    • Talking is allowed, but students should keep their voices low.
    • Cell phones must be set to vibrate.
    • Students must be accompanied by an adult.

Visiting the Museum

The Museum of the Science History Institute is located at 315 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

For more information about the museum visit:

The main exhibit in the museum is Making Modernity. It will show you how chemistry has touched our lives—frequently in unexpected ways. Visitors can trace scientific progress in the laboratory, the factory, and their homes and learn how chemistry created and continues to shape the modern world.

Drawn from our world-class collections, Making Modernity includes scientific instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of prominent scientists. Topics range from alchemy, synthetics, and the chemical-instrument revolution to chemistry education, electrochemistry, chemistry sets, and the science of color.

Check out our online exhibits here: