What are special Collections and Archives?
Enrich your understanding of the world with Harvard’s vast special collections and archives. Connect with a range of primary sources including letters, photographs, books, scores, digital materials, and objects.
We collect and preserve this history so anyone can access it for years to come. Connecting with these materials can enhance your understanding of the present and future and take you to new and exciting places and ideas.
The process for finding and accessing these rare and unique materials is different from other library materials. Use this guide as your map.
Teaching with Special Collections
Using Special Collections Remotely
Although our reading rooms may be closed, we're still able to get you access to the materials and items you need for your research.
- Scan & Deliver: In an item's HOLLIS record, click "Scan & Deliver" and we'll send a digital copy to your inbox.
- Non-circulating items: In HOLLIS or HOLLIS for Archival Discovery, you can request an item and we can create a PDF.
- One-on-one virtual appointments: For some items, we may be able to offer an online session with a librarian or archivist.
- Microform: If you need to review microfilm, we can set up a remote-viewing session. Make your request through HOLLIS, and our staff will determine if remote-viewing or Scan & Deliver is the best option.
Not sure if the items you'd like to see can be scanned or wondering what the best way to access materials will be? Just ask us, and we'll come up with a solution for you.
- If you’re traveling to Harvard for a research visit, individual libraries often ask to hear from you ahead of time. That way they can ensure the materials you need are available. Find contact information for each library.
- During the request process you will have to pick a day on which you plan to go to view the items.
- Items stored onsite can often be retrieved the same day. Any items that indicate they’re stored offsite or in the Harvard Depository take more time to retrieve.
- Some items can't be requested via HOLLIS. If there is no “View in Library” option, you should contact the library that holds the materials for more information.
Once you’ve submitted your requests or arranged to see items with library staff, you will be able to view the items in the holding library’s reading room. If you don't have a Harvard ID, find out more about reading room access.
Library staff will be able to provide tips and guidance for handling any fragile materials.
Here are some things to keep in mind ahead of your visit:
- Archives and special collections stacks are closed to researchers and materials do not circulate beyond reading rooms.
- There may be limits on the amount of material that can be used at any one time.
- Staff may limit what you can bring into the reading room, including bags and other personal property.
- Bags may be subject to search by staff.
- You can use pencils, notepaper and laptop computers for note taking. Pens and highlighters are not allowed.
- There's no food or drink, including gum and candy, allowed in the reading rooms.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, our reading rooms are currently closed to visitors.
Harvard Library's special collections and archives are open to all.
Getting Access & Planning Your Visit
- To use Harvard’s special collections and archives you need to complete a registration. Some libraries offer registration on-site and others require you to register at the Privileges Office for a Special Collection Access Card. More about the Privileges Office location and hours. Contact the holding library ahead of time to find out their policy.
- Some libraries ask to hear from you ahead of your visit so they can ensure the materials you need are available. Find library contact information.