Citing Special Collections Material

Properly citing the sources you use in a paper is a necessary part of academic work. In addition to crediting work that is not your own, citation is essential in helping others locate the sources you have used. This is particularly important for the kinds of materials found in a special collection, which may exist in only that collection. In addition to using the format required by the citation style (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.), most special collections require researchers to add a credit line specific to the library in order to facilitate others in tracing their work. Houghton Library requires the following credit line:

[call number of item]. Houghton Library, Harvard University

Citation management tools can be useful in keeping track of the sources you have consulted and quickly generating citations in your papers. If you are using a citation management tool, make sure to choose the item type that most closely matches the source when adding an item from a special collection to your citation database. Remember to add the above credit line after the tool has generated your citation.

Permission to Reproduce Houghton Images

Houghton Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of most collection material (a few exceptions are listed on our website), nor does it charge permission or use fees. 

Permission may be needed from other copyright holders or executors.


The vast majority of Houghton material is either in the public domain or under copyrights not controlled by Houghton. For material that is protected by copyright, certain uses (including but not limited to quoting, publishing, performing, and reproducing) may require permission from the copyright holder(s). When required, it is the researcher’s responsibility to obtain such permissions.

The following resources may be helpful in this regard:

  • Columbia University’s Copyright Advisory Office includes an overview of copyright law, including fair use, as it applies to research and teaching.
  • Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, published by the Cornell Copyright Information Center, can help researchers to determine if a work is in the public domain.
  • Several online resources can be useful in finding the current copyright holder of a work, and requesting licensing permission if it is required:
    • The WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders) maintained by the Harry Ransom Center and the University of Reading is a database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent figures in other creative fields.
    • Artists Rights Society is a copyright, licensing and monitoring organization for visual artists in the United States.
    • DACS is a visual artists’ rights management organization in the United Kingdom.​
    • The ADAGP is a French collective which monitors copyright in the visual arts.
    • ASCAP and BMI are performing rights organizations which license and collect royalties for musical works.

Still confused? Contact our reference staff.