Visitor Access

Not a Harvard affiliate but interested in using our libraries? There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to experience our collections. Discover what you can do.

Welcome

Not a Harvard student, faculty, or staff member but interested in using our libraries? You’re in the right place. 

While our libraries exist primarily to serve the Harvard community, we strive to make our world class research resources available to as many qualified researchers as we can.  
 
There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to experience our collections. Discover what you can do. 


What's Open to the Public

Special Collections, Archives & Government Documents 

Many of our libraries are home to rare and unique materials that can’t be found elsewhere. Those special collections are available to all researchers, regardless of academic affiliation. The Harvard University Archives, as well as Lamont Library’s collection of government documents, are also available to all.

Getting Access & Planning Your Visit

Events & Exhibits

Many of our events and exhibits are open to the public.

An event at Houghton Library
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Public Events

Some library events are open to the public. Check the event details for admittance information.

An exhibit at Houghton Library
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Exhibits

Library exhibits tell the unique stories of our diverse and deep collections. Many are open to the public.

A visitor takes an image inside Widener Library
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Tours

Browse upcoming library tours. Some tours are open to the public, others are open to Harvard ID holders and their guests.


Additional Levels of Access

We offer two levels of access for qualified researchers wishing to take advantage of library materials beyond special collections and archives — reading room access or borrowing access. Privileges Office staff can help determine which option is best for you.

Reading Room Card

  • A Reading Room Card gives you access to a library’s physical space. You can use library materials while in the space, but you cannot take materials out of the library.
  • Physical access also allows you to use computers in the library space to access our electronic resources.
  • Charges apply for some.

Borrowing Card

  • In addition to the access outlined for Reading Room Card holders, Borrowing Card holders can also borrow materials from our libraries.
  • Loan periods vary depending on your affiliation.
  • Charges apply for some.

Applying for Access

Access and charges are broken out by affiliation. If you don’t see yourself in any of the descriptions below, contact the Privileges Office and we’ll be happy to discuss access options that are available to you.

All visitors must visit the Privileges Office to get their Reading Room or Borrowing card. More about our location and hours.

Visiting Researchers

Researchers visiting from other institutions can apply for a Reading Room Card free of charge. Borrowing Cards are available for a fee.

You may qualify for access if you’re:

  • A librarian/curator from another institution
  • A faculty or graduate student of another institution
  • Affiliates of partner institutions 
  • Sponsored by a Harvard department or unit

Fees: Borrowing privileges cost between $275 and $750 for access ranging from 3 months to 1 year. Senior discounts are available. 

To Apply: 

  • Faculty: Bring a government-issued photo ID and valid faculty photo ID.
  • Visiting Students: Bring a government-issued photo ID, along with a photo ID card from your institution and a letter from a faculty advisor or school reference librarian introducing you and requesting the use of the Harvard's libraries. This letter should be printed on the institution’s letterhead or be emailed directly to library_privileges@harvard.edu from an institutional email account. 
  • Other: Bring a government-issued photo ID, along with a letter stating that the specific material you need is not available through your institution or public library.

IvyPlus Partners

Our partnership with BorrowDirect extends access to our libraries to affiliates of fellow IvyPlus institutions, which include:

  • Brown University 
  • Columbia University 
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University Libraries 
  • Johns Hopkins University 
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania 
  • Yale University

To Apply: Affiliates can apply for a Reading Room or Borrowing Card free of charge. To apply you’ll be asked to show a government-issued ID and sign into BorrowDirect with your school credentials. 

Harvard Affiliates

Harvard faculty, staff and students generally have library access and do not need to apply for additional access. 

Other Harvard affiliated scholars can apply for Reading Room and Borrowing access free of charge. This includes:

  • Alumni: Bring your student ID or a government-issued photo ID to the Privileges Office to get physical library access — 3 months is $75; 6 months is $125; 1 year is $200; Senior Citizens (65+) 1 year is $50. Electronic access to some resources is also available for alumni.
  • Research assistants: Fill out this form and bring it to the Privileges Office. 
  • Affiliated programs and centers: Bring a government-issued ID to the Privileges Office. 
  • Domestic partners of Harvard faculty and staff: Bring your government-issued ID and a copy or picture of your partner’s Harvard ID to the Privileges Office. If you and your partner’s last names differ, we ask that you also bring a copy of a lease, utility bill, marriage certificate or other piece of official mail with both names listed as residing at the same address.

Other Researchers

Other researchers, such as qualified independent scholars or researchers from nonprofit institutions, can apply for reading room or borrowing access for a fee.

Fees: Borrowing privileges cost between $275 and $750 for access ranging from 3 months to 1 year. Senior discounts are available. 

To Apply: Bring a government-issued photo ID to the Privileges Office. 

 


Privileges Office

Staff in the Privileges Office are here to answer your questions about library access and borrowing. See our hours here.

The front doors of Widener Library
Privileges Office

Widener Library Room 130
Harvard Yard
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

The Privileges Office is located on the left when you enter Widener Library via Harvard Yard. An accessible entrance is available on the Mass. Ave. side of the building. Tell security you're here to register with the Privileges Office and they will direct you.