Houghton Library

Using the Reading Room

Reading Room Rules

View a tutorial for handling special collections

The reading rooms are open without fee to all adult scholars, regardless of academic affiliation.

  • The Houghton Reading Room is open 9am to 5pm Monday, Friday and Saturday; 9am to 7pm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
  • Access to Harvard Theatre Collection material is provided through the Houghton Reading Room.

Please note that we stop paging materials one half hour before closing.

Houghton's front door is accessible via a short flight of steps up from the level of Quincy Street. For wheelchair access, please contact Public Services at 617-495-2440 to make an appointment.

Registration: All readers to the Houghton reading room must register for a Special Collections Request Account. Patrons can register online by going to the Special Collections Request Account. For more information see Access to Special Collections.

Patrons who are not currently affiliated with Harvard University or who do not hold a Special Borrower Card will need to visit the Library Privileges Office at Widener Library after registering to obtain a Harvard College Library Special Collections Card.  Patrons are required to present a valid Harvard ID, HCL Special Borrower Card, or HCL Special Collections Card at the library in order to use materials.

By registering for a Special Collections Request account, readers agree to the Harvard College Library Patron Agreement, as well as the following regulations:

  • The Reading Room is exclusively for the use of Houghton material. A cloakroom and lockers are provided for personal property not essential for research. Personal books and papers must be kept to an absolute minimum, and some may require documentation.
  • The use of pens is not permitted in the Reading Room. Pencils are available at the Reading Room desk. The use of laptop computers is encouraged.
  • Cell phones must be turned off.
  • Equipment (such as scanners or light sources) that rests directly on collection material is not permitted.
  • Houghton books and manuscripts must not be removed from the Reading Room. Readers request collection items and are responsible for all items charged out to them until they return them to the Reading Room desk. The number of items called for at one time may be limited at the discretion of the staff.
  • Harvard Depository (HD) items and Harry Elkins Widener (HEW) Collection items must be at least one business day in advance.  No more than six boxes per day may be requested from off-site.
  • Handling guidelines must be conscientiously followed. These are described in the video, and on handouts available at the Reading Room desk.
  • All books and manuscripts must be returned promptly to the desk when the librarian announces that the Reading Room is closing.

Readers must show all books and papers to the Reading Room staff each time they leave the Reading Room.

Note: Registration and circulation records are kept in perpetuity. These records are kept confidential to the extent permitted by law. Names of readers using Emerson collections and New Directions collections are shared with the boards of trustees for those collections.

  • Requests for duplication are considered on a case-by-case basis.  Readers may take their own digital photographs as stipulated in the “Digital Camera Use Policy.”  Requests images to be created by the Harvard Preservation and Imaging Services Department may be placed through the Special Collections Request system.  Rush orders are accepted at the Imaging Services’ discretion and are subject to additional charges.  No materials may be duplicated that have had copying restrictions placed on them by donors, lenders, depositors or by the Library itself for preservation, processing, or other essential purposes.  The Library does not permit copies of its original materials to be deposited permanently in other repositories
  • Additional guidance on duplication and permission to publish Library materials in a print, electronic, or other public form is available at Reproductions and Permissions.

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Requesting Restricted Materials in the Reading Room
- plan ahead!

The majority of our materials can be seen without special arrangement; however, items designated as "Restricted" in the catalog require permission for access. Usually an item is restricted because it is very fragile or in a special format that requires staff assistance for its use. In most cases we offer readers the use of a surrogate (microfilm, facsimile, or digital copy) of the restricted item with the goal of prolonging the life of the original. Occasionally a donor or the family of an author whose papers we hold has requested that an item be restricted because of privacy concerns. In both cases, you must apply for permission from Houghton staff to view restricted material.

To request permission to access restricted materials, add a note to your request in the Special Collections Request account. Please indicate the specific reasons that you would like access to the restricted materials and include a prospective scheduled date for your visit.

Note:  Readers who request to see/copy restricted materials will receive a reply to their request as soon as possible, generally within two business days.

Viewing Restricted Digital Images

Although the majority of our digital images are in the public domain, there are a few collections that may be restricted to the Harvard community for reasons of copyright or donor request (all restricted images prompt the user for a Harvard ID). If you don’t have a Harvard ID, and would like to request copies of restricted images, please fill out the Photoduplication Request Form.  If you would like temporary online access to restricted images, please contact houghton_library@harvard.edu where the appropriate curator can review your request.

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