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Freshman Family Weekend

Library staff coordinated and hosted a series of events for the Class of 2020 and their families. 


On Friday, November 4, 2016, around 566 family members of students in the Class of 2020 connected with Harvard Library as part of Freshman Family Weekend, meeting library staff and exploring library resources at Lamont Library, Harvard University Archives, Widener Library, and Houghton Library. Weekend participants also visited the FAS/HCL libraries throughout the weekend.

At Lamont, first-years and their families joined student-led tours of the library and visited the Collaborative Learning Space on Level B for a showcase that included Cabot, Houghton, Loeb Music Library, and the Fine Arts Library, as well as the Harvard Map Collection and Harvard Library Digital Collections. “Everyone was really interested to see the bits of history hidden all around Lamont,” commented Michael Rose, tour leader and senior in the College. “I think families and students alike are really interested in those kinds of exhibits and stories, when they know where to look.”

The University Archives open house offered families the opportunity to learn about Harvard’s history, traditions, and student life from the 17th century to the present. The Archives provided a hands-on display of student notebooks, course assignments, expense accounts, and extracurricular activities, complemented by records of Harvard presidents, financial offices, and dining services. Freshman families especially enjoyed the original drawing of the Veritas shield from 1643; T.S. Eliot’s essay for an undergraduate English course (graded B+, with a caution to “be on your guard against becoming pompous, orotund, and voluminous”); Helen Keller’s gracious acceptance of an honorary degree in 1955 (the first woman to be awarded one); and George Bernard Shaw’s pointed refusal of an invitation to attend Harvard’s 300th anniversary celebration. Of particular interest to attendees, and to Freshman Family Weekend keynote speaker Ann Compton, were two examples of parental involvement: a letter written by Harvard president C.C. Felton to US president Abraham Lincoln with regard to the non-studious antics of Lincoln’s son, and letters from President Theodore Roosevelt to Harvard president Charles Eliot, containing an intriguing mix of “helicopter parenting” and high-level US foreign policy discussion.

At Widener Library, family members joined staff-led tours and learned about the history of the building while visiting the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Room and Rotunda, pausing for an opportunity to view the Gutenberg Bible. Families visited the beautiful study spaces including the Loker, West Stacks, and Phillips Reading Rooms. They also entered the library stacks to gain perspective on the library’s print collection and learn about the many resources beyond the Widener shelves. Tour guides engaged with families to raise awareness about Harvard Library’s extensive collections and the research, teaching and learning services accessible to their students. Many families were captivated by the juxtaposition of Widener’s historical elements and the 21st century library. “I have to make sure my [student] knows about this,” said one parent.

First-year students and their families visited Houghton Library for an open house during Friday afternoon. After introductory remarks in the Edison and Newman Room, students and family members visited the John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, William King Richardson, and Hyde Suite rooms on the second floor, circulating at their own pace. Staff members welcomed visitors to each space, describing the permanent and temporary exhibitions in the rooms and commenting on the larger research collections that these special rooms represent. The under-glass exhibitions throughout the library were complemented by open displays of rare books and manuscripts in the Seminar Room and the Hyde Suite, where curators and staff discussed the research and teaching potential of various items used in the many classes taught at the library. 

Arthur Schott Lopes, Class of 2019 and Houghton Library 75th Anniversary Undergraduate Fellow, assisted staff in highlighting the relevance and availability of original research materials at the library for virtually every undergraduate concentration. Visitors then returned to the Edison and Newman Room for a staff gallery chat on the Beyond Words exhibition of illuminated medieval manuscripts mounted in the room’s display cases. Houghton Library, along with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the McMullen Museum of Art in Boston, is participating in an unprecedented display of medieval manuscripts from 19 area institutions and is the primary lender of these items to all three venues.

Freshman Family Weekend provided Harvard Library staff a rare opportunity to welcome families to our many spaces and convey how the Library contributes to student experiences at Harvard.


By Mikel Burt, Lynn Sayers, Dennis Marnon, and Barbara Meloni.

Published on November 23, 2016.