Digital Collections

HCL Collections Digitization Program



A medieval manuscript page positioned for photography.

The Harvard College Library Collections Digitization Program (CDP) focuses on building digital collections of enduring value drawn from materials in the Harvard College Library. The program supports projects that:

  • demonstrate a significant added value to collections through reformatting;
  • have an identifiable academic constituency;
  • comply with copyright and intellectual property law and University policies;
  • provide university-wide access, and broader access whenever possible.

The Collections Reformatting Review Committee (CRRC) oversees the Collections Digitization Program. The CRRC develops policies and priorities for the CDP, reviews and approves digital projects, and manages CDP funds. The Librarian for Collections Digitization (e-mail) coordinates CRRC activities, responds to inquiries from librarians and faculty regarding potential digital projects, and works with librarians and technical specialists to plan and implement projects.


Rare books and manuscripts staged for digitization.


Four formats of materials in the Harvard College Library have been prioritized for digitization, taking advantage of established workflows for preservation, cataloging, and digitization:

  • Medieval manuscripts
  • Historical photographs
  • Music scores
  • Pamphlets

The CDP also supports the digitization of rare and unique special collections materials for long-term use by faculty, students, scholars and researchers.

Materials to be digitized receive conservation review and treatment as necessary prior to digitization. Conservators and technicians in the Harvard University Library’s Weissman Preservation Center work in partnership with HCL’s Conservation Services to perform condition reviews, treat materials to stabilize them for digitization, and assure the long-term preservation of collection materials following digitization. See Library Preservation at Harvard for more information.

Items selected for digitization are cataloged in one of the Harvard Library's centrally managed catalogs (i.e., HOLLIS, VIA, OASIS, HGL, or TED database). Cataloging may be done by the holding repository, by HCL Technical Services, or by the Bibliographic Services Unit of Imaging Services in HCL. Cataloging records conform to national and local standards and practices.


An especially rare and valuable book being carefully photographed partially open.

Imaging Services, an HCL division based in Widener Library, provides a broad range of digitization services to CDP projects. Digitization methods are matched to the formats and structure of the source materials—from large-scale selections of manuscripts, to texts in a variety of languages, to photographs in plate, film, and print formats—and to the project goals.

The Audio Preservation Studio preserves, reformats, and reproduces audio materials from the collections. APS relies on a staff of engineers experienced with a wide variety of audio formats.

Access and Delivery
Digital collections are available online through the Harvard University Library’s Digital Library infrastructure, a collection of systems and services designed for the discovery, delivery, and long term preservation of digital assets. These systems are supported by OIS Systems Overview (OIS).

Digitized reproductions are made available to all members of the Harvard Community, and whenever possible are made available online to users beyond Harvard.

For more information contact Maggie Hale, Librarian for Collections Digitization, via e-mail.

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Digitizing Library Materials for Teaching and Learning

As a component of the Harvard College Library Collections Digitization Program, HCL is pleased to offer to faculty support for the digitization of Harvard library materials selected for teaching. A modest amount of funding for digitization is currently available, and requests will be considered on a case by case basis. The schedule for digitization is dependent upon the condition of the material (time may be required for conservation) and the number of items requested. Recommended lead time prior to use is a minimum of eight weeks.

Eligible Materials

  • Items that are out of copyright or which the library has the right to reproduce
  • Items needed for long-term teaching and research use
  • Items from special collections and non-circulating or circulating general collections
  • Requests for can be submitted for one or more items

Access to Digitized Works
The Library will make the digitized works accessible from the appropriate catalog: HOLLIS, VIA (visual images), and OASIS (archival materials and manuscripts). In addition, faculty will be provided with persistent links to the digitized work(s) for inclusion in course web-sites. Copies of the digital images may also be requested for educational technology projects, such as a project with the FAS Presidential Instructional Technology (PITF) program. Digitized works will be preserved for the long-term in the Digital Repository Service.


Maggie Hale
Librarian for Collections Digitization
Harvard College Library Collections Digitization Program
Imaging Services, Widener Library
T 617.384.9405

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Preservation Review Digitization

Harvard Library Preservation routinely reviews books returned through circulation, knowing that these returns include many works that are too deteriorated to survive continued use. Titles are selected for digitization through various criteria such as rarity, condition, use, research relevance, and/or visual content. Titles in poor condition that are not selected for digitization are treated and/or rehoused. The Shelf is a blog dedicated to showcasing some of the most noteworthy titles that are now available online, as well as titles in progress.

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