How to...

Get Started Using the Libraries

Ways to power up your library skills.

You probably know that you can check out a book from Widener and book a study room in Cabot, but the libraries offer so much more. Below you'll find tips on how to get started with library spaces, materials, and online resources. 

Which library is right for me?

Libraries belong to you. Your Harvard ID gets you access to all the libraries on campus. Need to snack while you study? Choose Cabot. Prefer silence? Visit Widener. Reading for fun? Browse the Farnsworth Room in Lamont.

Use Find a Space to see photos of libraries before you visit. Browse library spaces by noise level, seating type, and other features.

Find a Space

See all libraries

Cabot Library study space

Cabot Science Library

A 24-hour space for student collaboration and study, with studios for media production and support for science and engineering research and education.

Books are seen in the Loker Reading Room in the Widener Library.

Widener Library

Harvard Library’s flagship location, Widener Library offers inspiring study spaces, miles of stacks to explore, and friendly librarians ready to help.

Lamont Library Cafe with students working at tables

Lamont Library

A 24-hour creative space with a wide range of services supporting the humanities and social sciences.

Types of library collections

  • Circulating collections: Most items are available for you to borrow, like books, laptops, or musical scores. Circulating libraries, like Widener or Gutman, also offer spaces for individual and group study.
  • Special collections: These libraries have rare and unique items, which are available for scanning or scheduled visits. Bring your curiosity. Special collections like those at Houghton or Schlesinger want students to come explore.
  • Local libraries in Cambridge and Boston: Great for Kindle books, leisure reading, museum passes and events. 

Explore Collections

How to make HOLLIS understand what you need

Searching in HOLLIS

HOLLIS is the Harvard Library catalog. It searches most library resources in a single unified search, including books, articles, media and more.

Make your search more specific:

  • Add a search term: instead of Barack Obama try Obama healthcare.
  • Select a filter like, Show Only > Peer Reviewed Articles or Resource Type > Images, to limit your results.

Know what you're searching:

  • HOLLIS usually searches item descriptions, also known as the item's metadata, like author, title, date, abstract, and subject heading.
  • HOLLIS is not searching an item's full text.

Try search operators:

  • Search operators, like AND and NOT, are special commands that combine your search words in specific ways. 
  • There is a core set of commonly used operators, though you will find occasional variations: HOLLIS uses NOT, where Google uses a minus sign (-).

More HOLLIS Tips

Take a deep-dive into HOLLIS.

Meet an expert in your field

We're here to help

You're not supposed to do your research alone. Librarians are your thought partners, available to work with you at any point in your research process. From developing a research topic, choosing sources, and sharing your research - we're here for you.

Visit and ask to be connected with the librarian who specializes in your topic. Or reach out to any librarian you've met. 

Ask A Librarian

You can also find a liaison librarian who specializes in a particular field.

Questions your librarian might ask:

  • What is your immediate goal?
  • How big is this project? Is there an assignment prompt? What's your timeline?
  • What have you already done? 
  • How do you feel about the materials you already have? How did you find them?
  • What do you want to know? 
  • What are you trying to learn with this project? Where are you feeling lost or confused?

Questions to ask your librarian:

  • What's a good way to refine my topic?
  • How can I tell which sources will be most useful for this project?
  • What tool for formatting citations and organizing PDFs best fits my needs?
  • Do I need copyright permission for the material I want to reuse?


Librarian Elizabeth Berndt-Morris welcomes incoming students at Widener Library.

Get free articles anywhere on the web

What if Harvard doesn't provide digital access?

It's true, we don't have instant access to everything. But we can often make a scan and deliver it to your inbox.

What's better than Google & faster than HOLLIS? Databases.

Specialized search engine

The right tool for your project may be a specialized search engine, also known as a database. Databases are subject-specific or format-specific search tools. You might know JSTOR or Academic Search Premier, but there are hundreds more.

When and why to use a database

  • Find things that you might not see in HOLLIS or Google
  • Results are focused, relevant, and trustworthy
  • More specialized search options, like specific filters

Database search

Find Materials Fast Using Call Numbers

Understanding call numbers

You can get something off the shelf right now if you know how to read a call number.

A call number is the code that shows you where something is on the shelf. They organize things by things like topic, region, year, or format. The libraries at Harvard use multiple call number systems, including Library of Congress, Dewey, or Old Widener.

Have a call number?

  • There are charts, maps, and staff ready to answer questions in each library so you can get to the right place. 
  • Or you can always request a book for pickup in HOLLIS. Pick them up from a library's main desk.

Find Call Numbers in HOLLIS

  • Use "Starts with/Browse" to explore items in HOLLIS by call number
  • Example: explore African government documents with Call number, Other > Afr Doc

This is useful for for things you can request, but are in shelves are closed, like the Government Documents collection in Lamont Library.

Did you know, the library gives you free...