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Houghton Library: A Student's Guide

A guide for Harvard students using Houghton Library.


Contact Houghton reference staff.

Hours and Location

Houghton Reading Room hours and location.

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About Houghton Library

Houghton Library buildingHoughton 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. 

Libraries like Houghton are often called special collections, because of the rarity and uniqueness of the items that form the library. There are many other special collections at Harvard. Explore them to find additional material.

Because items at Houghton are rare or unique, additional rules are in place to ensure the security and preservation of the collection. Most notably, researchers cannot enter the stacks, and collection material can only be used in the Houghton Library Reading Room.

Visit the Houghton Library website for detailed information on collections and policies, as well as additional research guides on pre-1600 and post-1800 material.

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