About Archival Collections

The Archival Collections at GSD consist of primary source materials that further academic research in the design fields both within the GSD and beyond Harvard University. These materials, individually and collectively, offer engaging documentation of design history, theory, and practice.

Special Collections Reading Room: please make appointments ahead of your visit. We're open Monday through Friday 10:30 am to 4:00 pm.

To request archival items:


Discover GSD archival collections: 

  • All GSD archival collections are discoverable through HOLLIS.
  • Many GSD archival collections have have paper finding aids or box listings that are available on-site.
  • Some collections have online finding aids that are included in HOLLIS for Archival Discovery
  • Use this Guide for help in searching HOLLIS for Archival Discovery.
  • All GSD archival collections are open to research even when not fully processed. Some items within collections (very few at GSD) may be restricted for access due to a diversity of reasons (including university policy or donation agreements).
  • Know that when you search in the landing page of HOLLIS for Archival Discovery you are searching Special Collections across Harvard University. You can limit the search by repository if you so choose.


Understand GSD Archival Collections:

  •  GSD archival collections vary in content and scope, reflect local or global practices and theoretical positions, and are expressed both in drawing and in writing. They cover mainly the design disciplines related to the built environment.
  • There are different levels of description for archival collections. For some, a HOLLIS record with a scope and content note is enough to provide access to the collection. For others, a finding aid is necessary to arrange and describe the materials.
  • Archival collections are arranged and described following archival principles of provenance and original order. Therefore, each collection is unique in its arrangement reflecting the preferences of its creator. Expect them to be different in their arrangement  if you are doing research across collections.
  • Consult GSD finding aids, they will help you search and discover archival materials within a collection at our school.


What is a Finding Aid?

  • Finding aids are hierarchical descriptions that explain in writing the arrangement and content of collections. Think of finding aids as indices to a collection, they describe the archival materials and help you locate them within a collection.
  • To understand the collection broadly read the  "scope and contents note", as well as the "arrangement" of the collection, and "biography" or "historical note". That information may be sufficient to decide if you want to look into a collection further or not.
  • Groups of materials are arranged in "series" and sometimes "sub-series", that are comprised of "files" with several or individual items. This hierarchical arrangement, together with the description, give you further detail of the archival materials themselves (both in terms of physical characteristics and intellectual content).
  • Files are identified and associated within the finding aid with a container type, such as  "folders", "boxes", "tubes", or "volumes". You will need to know which of these you would like to consult in order to make a request for archival materials.


Plan your visit

  • Not all GSD archival collections are on site, please give us advance notice so that we can make the materials available to you during your visit.
  • You may use personal cell phones and/or digital cameras for your personal research and reference purposes. For publication purposes we may refer you to Harvard Library imaging services. We also have an overhead scanner for which you will need a thumb drive.
  • We can only provide permissions to publish for materials we hold the copyright to.
  • Use Ask a Design Librarian or visit us in the Special Collections Reading Room at GSD. We will help you navigate our collections.