Houghton Library

Teaching at Houghton

Holding classes at Houghton

Houghton Library welcomes classes working with our collections.  Our Seminar Rooms, on the second floor of Houghton Library, may be reserved for instructors wishing to bring a class to consult Houghton material as a group. We can accommodate sixteen adult students per session between the hours of 9:30 am and 4:30 pm on weekdays throughout the year. We are sometimes able to make special arrangements for larger classes and for meetings outside of these hours.

To request a class visit, please enter the Special Collections and Archives Class Request Tool by clicking the image below.

Request a class

Once your request has been confirmed (room scheduled and staff assigned), you can begin to choose the material you wish to show your students.  Our holdings are found in HOLLIS, the main Harvard Library catalog and OASIS, a database of finding-aids for manuscript collections.  To make requests, you will need to set up a Special Collections Request Account.  Houghton staff can suggest material that may be pertinent to your subject, and you may also want to explore further by visiting the descriptions of our collections on Houghton's website (click on the Collections bar), our exhibitions, and the Houghton Library Blog

Teaching spaces are in great demand so early reservations are essential.

When you submit your request electronically you will be asked for:

  • the course title and number
  • contact information for the instructor responsible for the class
  • the number of students in the class. Our classroom can accommodate 16 students per session. We can sometimes arrange to reserve a space larger than our seminar room, or we can divide the students into two groups visiting sequentially.  Please make your Class Request and a staff member will contact you to discuss possibilities.
  • two possible dates and times for your class visit, in order of preference
  • the best times for you to meet with a librarian ahead of time to discuss materials and procedures for the class
  • your A/V requirements, if any.  The room has a laptop, overhead camera, and projector.  If you'd like to use this equipment, please ask for a demonstration.
  • and whether you would like librarian/curatorial staff to be directly involved in the presentation.  If so, we will do our best to match you up with a Houghton staff member who has experience with the materials you want to cover.

Instructors will need to schedule a pre-class meeting with Houghton staff to finalize arrangements.

Requests are limited to a total of 12 books and manuscripts per session and must be submitted ten days before the class is scheduled to meet so we have sufficient time to gather material, seek approval from the curators, and find workable substitutes for any books or manuscripts that are too fragile for use. To request materials for a class, you must register for a Special Collections Request Account. See Access to Special Collections for more information. 

We look forward to having your class here at Houghton Library.

To download or link to classroom our policies, please click the image below.

Request a class

For the day of the class, please keep in mind that:

  • No food or drink is permitted in the Library.
  • All bags, knapsacks, folders and other containers must be placed in lockers.
  • Students and faculty should bring as little as possible to the Seminar Room itself.  Pencils and paper for note-taking are provided. 
  • The lobby guard must inspect all items that seminar participants bring in and out of the Seminar Room.
  • All classes will be introduced briefly by a staff member to the repository and provided with basic handling instructions.
  • The material will be arranged on the Seminar Room table or in a display case. Students can circulate around the table to examine the material closely but books and manuscripts may not be passed from hand to hand.
  • Equipment (such as scanners or light sources) that rests directly on collection material is not permitted.
  • Reference photography of class materials may be permitted if arrangements are made in advance.  Please see our Digital Camera Policy.

Thank you.

For the days following the class, please remember that you are welcome to return to Houghton as and consult materials in the Reading Room.  

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Guidelines for Multi-Section classes

We are eager to make Houghton accessible to as many students as possible, including General Education courses and other classes with large enrollments. Our seminar rooms can be scheduled for multiple sections of no more than sixteen students each, but we need more planning time to accommodate them.

  • Request a class
    Make your Class Request as early as possible.
    Note: Our calendar fills quickly, and your chances of scheduling the times that work for you are greatly increased by asking for them as early as possible. Also keep in mind that Houghton staff must make time to be available for your classes. A free slot in the calendar does not always indicate that class can be held at that time.
  • Schedule a planning meeting
    In the notes on your Class Request, please suggest possible dates for an initial planning meeting, to be attended by all faculty and teaching fellows who will be leading classes in Houghton. In this meeting we'll learn more about the goals for these sessions, consider what kinds of material will work best for them, and what conditions will best serve the material.
  • Create Special Collection Request accounts
    All the teaching staff, both faculty and teaching fellows, should be currently registered in our Special Collections Request so we can associate their names with the class. Once that association has been made, any of the section leaders or a single delegated requestor can call up material for the class directly from request links in HOLLIS
  • Submit requests well in advance
    Requests for materials must be submitted no later than ten days before the first session, so that we can get curatorial approval and when necessary, provide substitutes for material than its too fragile or otherwise unavailable.
    Note: We strongly recommend that you ask for no more than a dozen items for each hour or one-and-a-half-hour session. Fewer items can engage students' attention more closely than an overwhelming display, and multiple set-ups will be easier.
  • Schedule a preview meeting
    Sometime in the week before the class, we will schedule a meeting for all the teachers and Houghton staff involved to preview the material, select openings of anything too fragile to be freely handled, and determine the order of the display. If at all possible, we'll schedule this preview meeting in the seminar room where the sections will take place.
  • Review classroom policies with your students
    • All sections should be alerted to  Houghton rules for class visits : no food or drink is allowed; belongings must be stowed in lockers; paper and pencil are provided by the library. When sections are coming in back-to-back it's especially important to make the transitions in the lobby as smooth as possible.
    • Ask your students to watch the handling video. Even if the teaching staff will be doing all or most of the handling, it will prepare your students for the nature of the material they'll be seeing.

We look forward to having your classes visit the library.

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Information for HarvardX faculty and staff

Houghton Library supports the HarvardX program by providing collection materials, expertise, reference, and other assistance. Based on our experiences with HarvardX, we have developed this guide for the use of faculty and HarvardX staff working together with the Library.

To film at Houghton, or not to film at Houghton?

  • If you need to film Houghton materials to meet the pedagogical goals of the class, or if a presentation by the curatorial staff will be part of the class, we are happy to work with you to make arrangements following the set of guidelines below. 
  • If Houghton materials are a minor part of the pedagogical goals or can be included briefly and then removed, filming should be scheduled in the Hauser Digital Teaching and Learning Studio in Widener Library. Arrangements can usually be made for a small number of Houghton materials to be brought over, attended by Houghton staff during the time they are needed, and then removed.
  • If Houghton materials are not part of the class, please choose a different filming location.


  • Every filming event requires the presence of Houghton staff, and occupies space generally used for daily library activities.  We try to be judicious about when and how often we disrupt these activities for the extended periods that filming requires.

Guidelines for HarvardX classes

Begin planning as early as you can!

Request a class (at least 1 month in advance):

  • Use the Class Request Tool (CRT).  If you have been in contact with a staff member before you place your “official” request, please add that to the notes in the CRT.
  • Houghton staff members have various subject specialties that can be useful when planning your class.  CRT requests reach all teaching staff so we can do our best to match up classes with staff expertise.  View a list of Houghton staff.

Schedule an initial planning meeting (3 weeks in advance):
Note: required for teachers or film teams new to Houghton

  • Especially if you have not worked with Houghton before, arrange an early prep meeting (1 month or more in advance) to discuss the class with  faculty and staff, to share expectations, and to explore the room possibilities and timing options.
  • Please keep the following points in mind as you begin making arrangements:
  • All collection material must be handled by Houghton staff, or a designated faculty member.
  • The maximum number of cameras is two (one stationary, one mobile.)
  • Additional lighting must be approved by Houghton staff. 
  • If students will be involved, they must sign release forms, and the total number will be limited to the amount that can fit in the selected room along with the equipment and crew without posing a hazard to the material.

Select materials (2 weeks in advance):

  • Clarify whether the requests for material will be made by the faculty member, by Houghton staff, or HarvardX staff.  Those who will be making selections must set up Special Collections Request accounts.
  • Requests for materials must be submitted no later than ten days in advance, so that we can get curatorial approval and when necessary, provide substitutes for material than its too fragile or otherwise unavailable.
  • Please limit your selection to 12 items.

Make final arrangements (1 week in advance):

  • Identify and flag pages for discussion in selected material; go over any special handling requirements; and arrange for display supports as needed. 
  • If curatorial staff will be sharing in the presentation, please confirm roles and expectations.
  • Confirm final decisions about location, staffing, and scheduling.
  • If the film crew needs to arrive through the back door, please confirm precise scheduling as staff will have to arrange for back door security access for specific times.

On the day of filming:

  • Please keep these points in mind:
  • No food or drink is permitted in the Library (an exception may be made by staff for bottled water.)
  • All bags, knapsacks, folders and other containers must be placed in lockers (with the exception of film crew equipment in cases, which must enter and exit the building through the side door, by special arrangement.)
  • Participants should bring as little as possible to the upstairs rooms as the lobby guard must inspect all items that participants bring in and out of the upstairs rooms.

We hope you have a successful session.

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