About Houghton Library
Houghton Library is the primary repository for Harvard's rare books and manuscripts. Its collections trace the development of Western civilization. Materials relating to American, Continental, and English history and literature comprise the bulk of these collections and include special concentrations in printing and graphic arts, poetry, and theatre. The collections encompass wonderfully diverse holdings, including:
- Rare books. Books are considered rare when they are scarce in supply or unique. The collection includes numerous examples from the age of Gutenberg through contemporary publications.
- Manuscripts. The word manuscript refers to items written by hand, but has expanded to include typed documents as well. Houghton's collection includes early examples written on papyrus and pottery shards through the working papers of living novelists and poets.
- Photographs. Photographs in the collection include a wide range of formats, from daguerreotypes to digital media.
- Ephemera. Ephemeral items were originally intended for short term use, such as posters, theater programs and postcards.
- Audio-visual material. The collection includes oral histories, lectures, performances, and interviews in a variety of formats.
Because items at Houghton are rare or unique, additional rules are in place to ensure the security and preservation of the collection. Most notably, the colleciton is non-circulating and the stacks are closed to users. Library staff retrieve material for use in the Reading Room.
Libraries like Houghton are often called special collections, because of the rarity and uniqueness of the included items. There are many other special collections at Harvard. Explore them to find additional material.