Harvard Library's coronavirus policy updates

Key Facts

We are working with the University on a shared goal of lowering the number and proximity of people on campus

Non-Harvard affiliates must contact special collections in advance to use the collections

Visiting researchers must complete an online Access Request form before coming to campus

Dear Harvard Library community,

I write to you today to share information about Harvard Library’s contingency planning for the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

This is a fast-moving situation. We have been working closely with the University and our colleagues across Harvard Library to ensure the continued safety of our full community, while sustaining the University’s academic programs and operational continuity. As we respond to evolving circumstance, we are building on an ethos of fairness, open communications, and concern for the wellbeing of our staff, students, and faculty.

Our shared goal is to begin lowering the number and proximity of people on campus, de-densifying campus, to reduce the likelihood of transmission. The fewer people who are concentrated in an area, the lower the risk for everyone. To that end, as President Bacow announced, the University is moving to virtual classrooms for the remainder of the spring semester.

Our senior team is in continuous communication and we have a daily check-in first thing in the morning, with the full Library Leadership Team talking daily at 10:30am. Locally, library leaders are meeting frequently with their School and administrative leadership. The Library’s Emergency Management Team (LEMT), led by Vaughn Waters, is continuing to refine business continuity plans with our shared services.

Updated policies and procedures as of March 10, 2020 at 9am:

Library spaces:

  • We remain open to HUID holders.
  • Individual library policies remain in effect for visitor access to their spaces. We are in conversation with the University to coordinate any future change to this policy.
  • Our special collection libraries, archives, and reading rooms require that non-Harvard affiliates contact them in advance to use the collections.
  • We ask that all visiting researchers complete an online Access Request form before coming to campus. Visitors from a location with a CDC level 3 travel warning for COVID-19, must complete a confidential health form at least 48 hours before their return/arrival to campus and self-isolate

Teaching and learning: Harvard Library supports learning online. We have created a new page, Teaching in Virtual Classrooms with Harvard Library, and will continue to prepare and enhance this page as the University implements virtual classrooms. If you have suggestions to improve this page, please email library_webteam@harvard.edu

Events and programming: The University is discouraging any non-essential meetings, particularly events of 25 people or more. I ask that at the Library, we reduce all in-person group meetings as much as possible, using Zoom as an alternative. Please review the University events policy.

Travel: All University-related international travel is prohibited; personal international travel is strongly discouraged. All University-related non-essential domestic air travel is prohibited; use extreme caution and judgment for your personal domestic travel. See the full University travel policy.

Communication resources: Our updated visitor access policy will be made available on the Visitor Access page this morning. Harvard Public Affairs and Communication will be producing a one-pager on how to share information on social media. Please email harvard_library@harvard.edu to request that information. In library and work spaces, we are encouraged to post CDC posters and table tents information locally.

Quick resources:

Staff who are well are expected at work as usual. It is essential that we all practice and promote good hygiene (vigorously washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; coughing/sneezing into a tissue or the crook of your elbow rather than your hands; etc.). These are basic, but effective methods that are often taken for granted.

As of right now there is no University directive mandating a remote work from home policy for staff. However, we are closely watching the situation and monitoring guidance from the CDC and the University. As part of Harvard Library scenario planning, we are developing worst-case contingency plans. In the unlikely event that the situation reaches a level that would significantly impede staff’s ability to come to work, we are looking at options to enable staff to work from home. To this end, we are exploring what resources we have and need to ensure that we continue to protect the health of our staff and to function as an educational and research institution. 

This situation is continually changing, with new information available every day. We are working as quickly as possible. We will continue to prepare for what we know and plan contingencies for various scenarios. A deep thank you to all the many Library staff who have already been involved in working on these preparations.

We will share updates and news as quickly as possible across Harvard Library. We have created a coronavirus planning resource page, specifically for Harvard Library. If you have questions about your work or your users, please raise those matters with your manager.

Thank you all for your tremendous efforts as we navigate this new situation together.

With deep appreciation,


Martha Whitehead
Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian
Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences