All virtual services are available and some libraries are open for in-person use, while others remain closed through January 23, 2022. Learn more.

How to...

How to Get Started Using the Libraries

Ways to “power up” your library skills.

Beyond the Basics

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.

See photos of libraries before you visit

Browse library spaces by noise level, seating type, and other features.

Find a Space

Other ways to get to know Harvard libraries

Use local libraries in Cambridge & Boston

Great for Kindle books, leisure reading, museum passes and events. 

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.

How to make HOLLIS understand what you need

Think outside the search box.

How to 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 content you're searching - the full text or an item's description

HOLLIS usually searches item descriptions, also known as the item's metadata, like author, title, date, abstract, and subject heading. 

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

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

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

Get free articles anywhere on the web

Connect to your Harvard access from anywhere on the web. These tools make it easy to find and organize your sources. 

What if Harvard doesn't provide access?

It's true, we don't own everything. You can always request articles through scan & deliver.

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

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

Explore databases search to find the best option.

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. The libraries at Harvard use multiple call number systems. 

  • Call numbers organize things in different ways, often by topic, or by region, year, or format.
  • Each kind of classification, like Library of Congress, Dewey, or Old Widener, represents a different way of organizing items.

Have a call number? There are charts, maps, and staff availability in each library to direct you to the right place. 

Or you can always request a book for pickup from HOLLIS and get it from a library's main desk.


Use "Starts with/Browse" to explore items in HOLLIS by call number. This option is useful for collections where you can request materials, but the shelves are closed to the public, such as Government Documents in Lamont. Example: explore African government documents with Call number - Other > Afr Doc.

Did you know the library gives you free...