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How to...

Access Materials at Houghton Library

Houghton is home to rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. Here's how to access these primary source materials.

Library Access

Requesting Materials

Requesting Restricted Materials

Most of Houghton Library’s materials can be seen without special arrangement. However, items designated as "Restricted" in the catalog need permission for access.

Usually an item is restricted because it's very fragile or in a special format that requires staff help for its use. In most cases we offer readers the use of a surrogate (microfilm, facsimile or digital copy) of the restricted item with the goal of prolonging the life of the original.

Occasionally a donor or the family of an author whose papers we hold has requested that an item be restricted because of privacy concerns. In both cases, you must request permission from Houghton staff to view restricted material.

To request permission to access restricted materials, place a request through your HOLLIS Special Request account. Include a note that provides the specific reasons that you would like access to the restricted materials and include a prospective date for your visit.

Researchers who request to see restricted materials will receive a reply to their request as soon as possible, generally within two business days.

Requesting Offsite Materials

Requests for material must be placed at least two business days in advance of the scheduled date by 2PM, and include a scheduled visit date.

No more than six boxes per day may be requested from offsite. If you have questions or would like an accommodation, please contact our Public Services department.

Reading Room Policies

Houghton Library welcomes researchers to our Reading Room to view our collections, which do not circulate outside of the library. The Reading Room is not open for general study purposes.

Here are some things to keep in mind for your visit:

  • Handling guidelines must be conscientiously followed in order to preserve library material for future use. Library staff are always available to provide guidance.
  • Researchers are welcome to bring pencils, laptops, tablets, phones (in silent mode), digital cameras, and other materials to assist in their research.
  • Researchers are welcome to photograph most materials. Some collections may be subject to donor stipulations that limit or prohibit photography. Researchers are asked not to take pictures of the Reading Room itself, other patrons, or library staff. 
  • The library does not permit the use of pens, tripods, scanners, camera flashes, special lighting, or any other equipment that rests directly on collection material or may pose a risk of damage.
  • In order to preserve relative quiet for our researchers, we ask laptop computer and digital camera users to turn off all audible features, if possible.
  • Researchers may bring personal books or papers into the Reading Room only if these items are necessary for their immediate research. Based on the nature of that material, researchers may need to fill out documentation to differentiate their materials from Houghton collections.
  • Lockers are provided for personal property not essential for research.
  • We offer a number of supplies that may help you in your research, including: pencils, note taking paper, magnifying glasses, tape measures and rulers, a light box, a UV lamp, a transilluminator, collator, CD player, a loaner laptop, 3 desktop computers, and headphones.
  • Because of the rarity of the material in the collection, Houghton material may not removed from the Reading Room. Researchers must show all books and papers to the Reading Room staff each time they leave the Reading Room to ensure no collection items are among them.


Harvard University welcomes individuals with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.

Houghton Library’s entrance is up a short flight of steps. For questions about physical access to the library or other accessibility concerns, please contact the library at 617-495-2440 or via email.

In order to preserve relative quiet for our readers, we ask laptop computer users to turn off all audible features if possible. Readers who need to work with specially equipped machines, including text-to-speech, should contact Reading Room staff in advance to be sure of accommodations. Magnifying glasses and table lamps are available upon request in the Reading Room.

If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Public Services in advance of your visit.

Requests for Sign Language interpreters and/or CART providers should be made at least two weeks in advance if possible. The university will make every effort to secure services, subject to availability.