Welcome and Overview

This guide is intended to give new visiting scholars in a brief overview of Harvard's library resources and to give visiting scholars an idea of available resources before arrival.  

The Harvard University Library is composed of 80 libraries.  Most of the schools of which Harvard is composed have their own libraries. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences comprises the undergraduate College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and is served by the 14 libraries of the Harvard College Library. The library system has traditionally been highly decentralized, so it is important to check individual library websites for local policies.  

Widener is the largest of the libraries and contains the main collection for the social sciences and the humanities.

The Harvard Library Portal is the central source of information on the Harvard University Library.

Harvard University Library librarians have created numerous research guides that describe how to do research at Harvard in a variety of subjects.

Translation: A Guide to Harvard Libraries in Plain English offers basic information on the Harvard Library.

David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies has an excellent Orientation and Guide to Harvard most of which applies to any visiting scholar. Statements referring to DRCLAS apply only to the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.

*Harvard Library Resources which are restricted to current Harvard faculty, staff and students (usually identifiable by the fact that you'll be asked to log in) will not be available until you have received your Harvard ID number and activated your HarvardKey. This usually happens once you arrive on campus, but more specific information should be available through your program administrators.

Special Collections

There are 40 special collections (archives, manuscript and rare book collections).  Houghton, the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, and the University Archives are stand-alone special collections. The others exist within other libraries.

Stacks Access

Apart from the special collections (rare books and archival collections), the libraries (with the exception of the Botany Libraries) are open stack, that is, with the proper ID card you can go into the book stacks and obtain your own books.


Several libraries, including Widener, offer carrels, regular study spaces where checked out materials may be kept in the library.

Materials Not On-Site

Material not held by Harvard or not currently available in the library is available through a variety of methods.  These are outlined in the Library Research Guide for History.

ID Cards and Library Privileges

Visiting scholars with a University appointment will receive an ID card that allows full library privileges in any Harvard Library and enables them to borrow books and to use e-resources from outside the library.

Visiting scholars without academic appointments who are current university faculty members or librarians are eligible for Harvard Library Visiting Researcher Card which allows them access to most Harvard libraries but not to the Widener Library stacks. Consult the Library Privileges Office (library_privileges@harvard.edu) for details on particular libraries. They are also eligible to purchase a Harvard College Library Special Borrower Card which gives them borrowing privileges at many Harvard libraries. Ph.D. degree candidates are also eligible for a Visiting Researcher card and to purchase a Special Borrower Card, but they must present a letter of introduction from their faculty advisor. No off-site access to licensed e-resources is available for visiting researchers.

Other visiting scholars are eligible for a Visiting Researcher Card but they must present a letter from their university library or public library resource sharing librarian stating that they were unable to procure the needed material via interlibrary loan. Visiting Researcher Card holders may request that books be paged for use in the Phillips Reading Room.

Library policies do change. Please email the Library Privileges Office (library_privileges@harvard.edu) for up-to-date information.


Your HarvardKey is your login credential for Harvard University resources. It is essential for many library functions, including off-site access to online resources, BorrowDirect and Interlibrary Loan, and Harvard Depository requests. Your Harvard University ID number (HUID) allows you to claim a HarvardKey and uniquely identifies you within Harvard University.

Once your Harvard ID number is issued and activated, you can claim your HarvardKey.

Money for Printing and Other Needs

Harvard affiliates with a Crimson Cash card can add cash value to their card and then swipe it to make purchases at various restaurants and stores on and off campus.  Crimson Cash can also be used for most photocopiers and printers on campus.  Get a Crimson Cash card from the Widener Circulation Desk.  Add value with a credit card.  There are a few machines where you can add value with cash.

Scanners and Technology Loans

Most of the libraries have free scanners available which allow sending scanned material via email or putting it on a flash drive (thumb drive, USB).  To ensure that the library you wish to use has scanners available, go to the Find a Library page on the library web page and enter the library name.  In the entry for the library under "Features," look for a scanner icon. Also: Scanners

Specialized Technology Equipment

If you are looking for specialized technology for your research or other needs, Lamont and Cabot both have loanable technology for your use. In addition, Lamont has a Multimedia lab with specialized software and hardware, plus staff who can help guide you in using the technology.

Shuttle Buses

Shuttle Buses are available for traveling within Cambridge and to the Allston and Longwood campuses.