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.

Houghton Library Access

Houghton Library's reading room and exhibition spaces are open to researchers and visitors. We welcome all who wish to use the library’s collections.


Visiting Houghton

  • All visitors to Houghton Library age 17 or older will be required to present a photo ID.
  • Masks recommended: Although it is not required, face coverings are recommended inside the library. 
  • Our policies are based on current disease dynamics and federal (including CDC), state, and Harvard guidelines and may be subject to change or reevaluation. Please review the Harvard Library Visitor Access page prior to your visit for up-to-date policies and guidelines, including information on visiting other libraries.
  • If you have any questions about Houghton Library access, please email us at

Things to know

  • Researchers are always welcome to contact the library prior to visiting so that our librarians can assist you in planning your research project.
  • Researchers younger than 14 years old are welcome to use the collections when accompanied by an adult (18+ years of age).  Both children and adults are responsible for adhering to all reading room policies.

Requesting Materials

Researchers can use the HOLLIS catalog to search for rare books, manuscripts, images, maps, and printed materials. Finding aids, which provide detailed descriptions of archival materials, can be searched via HOLLIS Archival Discovery.

We encourage you to place requests for materials in advance of your visit, and we will be happy to page up to six collection items at a time. You can place requests to view items in the Reading Room online by clicking "Request Item" via the catalog, which will bring you to your HOLLIS Special Request account. Don’t hesitate to contact Houghton staff for help in placing requests.

You may keep up to six collection items on hold at one time. If an item has not been consulted for two weeks, we will return it to the stacks.

Requesting On-site Materials

  • We recommend that you place requests in advance of your visit.
  • Requests for materials stored onsite must be received by 4pm one business day in advance in order to be available at opening.
  • Same day requests: On-site materials are retrieved a set schedule: 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Researchers physically in our reading room can take advantage of same-day paging by submitting their requests prior to the paging time. Requests placed between 3pm and 4pm will be available when the library opens the following day.
  • Requested items will be available in the reading room 30 to 50 minutes after the scheduled paging time and may request up to six items at once.

Requesting Off-site Materials

All requests for off-site material must be received two business days in advance by 2pm, and include a scheduled visit date.

If you have questions or would like an accommodation, please contact our Public Services Division.

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.

Reference scans

Houghton Library is currently scanning requests for reference scans in-house at no charge. In order to ensure that all patrons receive their copies in a timely manner, we are introducing limits in the amount that patrons can request at a time.


  • Boxed Manuscripts: 5 item/folder numbers not to exceed 150 pages
  • Bound Material: 1 volume or 150 pages, whichever is greater
  • Microfilm: 5 item numbers scanned in house
  • Downloads: 5 items per request

If you have any questions, please reach out to us at

Things to know

  • Please review your requests before entering them into your HOLLIS Special Account. In the event that your requests exceed the amount we can do at any one time, we will cancel the remainder of your requests and ask that you resubmit them once the current batch is completed.
  • Check the HOLLIS catalog record or entry in the finding aid to view the page count
  • Enter your requests in order of priority (this is especially helpful if you cannot determine the page count).


  • There are no limits to the number of batches you may request over the course of a calendar year. 
  • Please note that we may not be able to copy items due to their condition or size.

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 a personal reference book into the Reading Room only if it is necessary for immediate research. Based on the nature of that material, researchers may need to fill out documentation to differentiate their materials from Houghton collections.
  • Houghton Library provides free lockers to store any materials not permitted in the reading room, such as food and drink, bags, outerwear, and writing instruments other than pencils.
  • 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, a desktop computers, and headphones.
  • Because of the rarity of the material in the collection, Houghton material may not be removed from the Reading Room. Researchers must show all belongings to the Reading Room staff each time they leave the Reading Room to ensure no collection items are among them. If researchers bring strollers into the reading room, please be aware that they will need to be searched by library personnel upon exit from the room.
  • Please be aware that there is a mandatory bag check for all visitors, researchers, and staff at the library exit.

Houghton community expectations

Houghton's values guide us towards welcoming everyone who is curious about our collections, programs, or expertise; respecting each of our users; and creating an inclusive environment where all feel they can participate fully.


We will:

  • Treat you with respect and communicate clearly our policies on our website and in conversation with you remotely and in-person.
  • Protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted or transmitted, in alignment with the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics.
  • Cultivate and celebrate diversity in our collections and our community to construct a more inclusive environment and experience.

We expect you to:

  • Respect the policies and follow the instructions of library employees regarding access to and the use of library resources.
  • Respect the comfort, privacy, and safety of fellow library users and library staff. If your behavior is making others feel unsafe or uncomfortable, we’ll communicate with you about the impact of your behavior to resolve the situation.
  • Ask us for help and bring any questions or concerns to our attention.

If you are not meeting our expectations, we will let you know. If we’re not meeting yours, please let us know.

Additional Resources:

We are grateful to the Librarians and staff at the University of Alberta for publishing Community Expectations and allowing us to draw from them to create our own.


Harvard University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact our Public Services team in advance of your visit. 

Houghton Library can be entered by a gently sloped walkway or a short flight of steps. The Library has an elevator to all public spaces. The restrooms are accessible, gender neutral, and include changing tables. The Houghton Reading Room includes ADA accessible tables, adjustable chairs, and task lighting.

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.

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.