Searching for Material

Most books and manuscripts in the Harvard Theatre Collection can be found in the catalog systems using the instructions below. However, some collections may not be fully described in the catalog - or even described at all. Additionally, a large portion of the ephemera in the collection cannot be found using the catalog systems alone. Because of this, it can be useful to contact reference staff, who would be happy to discuss your research project with you.


Printed books in the collection can be found in Harvard's online catalog system, HOLLIS.

  • To search HOLLIS for books held in the Harvard Theatre Collection, choose the Advanced Search option, select Library Catalog, limit the Location to Theatre Collection and the Material Type to Books.
  • There are numerous other options available in Advanced Search. For example, while you can search for keywords in any field by default, you can also limit your search to AuthorTitle, or Subject keywords, or search by other material types or language.
  • Once you have found the record of an item, subject links can lead you to other items in the same subject area.  You can also click on the name of the author to call up other pertinent records.
  • See the HOLLIS User Guide for more tips on searching the catalog.


Manuscripts are cataloged in a variety of ways. Many manuscripts, especially those that were acquired individually, are fully described in HOLLIS. Larger collections may only have a short summary or “collection-level” record in HOLLIS, but often have a more detailed description in the form of a finding aid. Links to the finding aids can be found in the HOLLIS record, as well as in Harvard's online collection of finding aids, HOLLIS for Archival Discovery.

For example, this manuscript actor's side for a 17th century play is only described in HOLLIS, while the Tennessee Williams Papers have both a collection-level record in HOLLIS and a finding aid.

HOLLIS searches online finding aids at Harvard, but only by keywords. For more targeted searching, use HOLLIS for Archival Discovery. Search in both systems to be comprehensive.

Searching HOLLIS for Manuscripts

  • To search for manuscripts in HOLLIS, choose the Advanced Search option, limit the Location to Theatre Collection, and the Resource Type to Archives/Manuscripts.
  • If you are searching for materials related to a specific person, searches of Keywords anywhere rather than more limited searches (such as Author/Creator or Subject) can be a good way to find material by and related to that person.

Searching HOLLIS for Archival Discovery

A guide to searching in HOLLIS for Archival Discovery can be found at

When searching for material, it may be useful to search for personal names, production titles, companies, and the names of theater buildings related to your research project.

Musical Scores

  • In HOLLIS, select Advanced Search and limit the Resource Type to Scores to return records of both printed and manuscript scores.
  • To search for scores specifically in the Theatre Collection, limit the Location to Theatre Collection.
  • Many musical scores in the Theatre Collection have not been cataloged and therefore do not appear in HOLLIS. If you are searching for specific scores and cannot find them in HOLLIS, or for additional information on your research topic, please contact reference staff.
  • There is also a printed guide to music manuscripts at Houghton: Wolff, Barbara Mahrenholz, Music Manuscripts at Harvard: A Catalogue of Music Manuscripts from the 14th to the 20th centuries in the Houghton Library and the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Library, 1992). All of the manuscripts in the printed catalog also appear in HOLLIS, but the printed catalog may contain additional information about them.


  • Some ephemera are cataloged, and can be found using HOLLIS or HOLLIS for Archival Discovery.
    • In HOLLIS Advanced Search, try searching for the format of material (e.g. programs) as a Form/genre along with other search terms.
    • In HOLLIS for Archival Discovery, try searching for production titles, or personal, organizational, and theater names. Include quotation marks around searches with more than one word (e.g. "American Repertory Theater").
  • Most ephemera are only described by summary records in HOLLIS. These collections of ephemera do not have finding aids that list their contents in more detail. But the bulk of them are arranged (variously by name, production title, or theater and date), and staff can search them for you. See the page on ephemera for more information.

Visual Material

The Harvard Theatre Collection contains a wide array of visual material, including:

  • Photographs
  • Scenic and costume designs
  • Original artwork, in the form of portraiture and depictions of productions
  • Printed material, such as posters, lithographs, and fine engravings

Collection Descriptions 

Searching HOLLIS

  • From the Advanced Search, limit Resource Type to Image, and the Location to Theatre Collection.
  • Limiting Resource Type to Image may only return individual items or entire collections of visual materials (such as a photographer's archives). It may not return manuscript collections containing just a few visual items. For a more thorough search, limit Resource Type to Archives / Manuscripts, and enter Any field contains [your search terms] AND [format], where format is photograph, design, etc. Do not include the brackets in your search.
  • When entering the format of the visual material, truncate the word and end it with an asterisk, e.g. photograph*. This way, the system will find all words that begin with photograph (photographs, photography, photographic).

Searching HOLLIS for Archival Discovery

  • If you would like to browse through finding aids that include visual material, enter the format of material (photograph, design, etc.) in the search box. Click the plus sign and on the following line enter “Harvard Theatre Collection”, including the quotation marks.

Searching HOLLIS Images

  • HOLLIS Images is the Harvard Library's dedicated image catalog. However, as it consists almost entirely of digital images (and only a subset of these), it only represents a small portion of the visual material in the Theatre Collection.
  • Results from Hollis Images do appear in searches made from HOLLIS, though you can do more targeted searching in HOLLIS Images.
  • To search specifically for Theatre Collection material, click on Advanced Search, select Image repository from the Any field drop down menu, and enter "Harvard Theatre Collection" (including quotation marks) in the search field.


Many promptbooks are cataloged, and can be found using HOLLIS and HOLLIS for Archival Discovery. Because promptbooks may be cataloged individually or as part of a larger collection, it's best to search both systems.

The Winter 1987 issue of Harvard Library Bulletin (XXXV: 1) is a special issue devoted to promptbooks of Shakespeare productions in the collection that were microfilmed for Harvester Microform's "Shakespeare and The Stage" series.

Searching HOLLIS

  • From the Advanced Search screen, select Form / genre from the first dropdown menu and enter prompt* in the search box. On the next line, search for the production title as Keywords anywhere or Title.
  • Because not all promptbooks in the collection are described as promptbooks in the form/genre field, it may be useful to perform a second search without the Form / genre limitation. Instead, search for prompt* as Keywords anywhere on one search line, and the title as Keywords anywhere or Title on a second line. It may also be useful to try other search terms, such as "stage manager's book".

Searching HOLLIS for Archival Discovery

  • Enter the title enclosed in quotation marks. Note that this will bring back results not only for finding aids that contain promptbooks for the production, but for any finding aid that contains your search term. While you can also enter promptbook in a second search box by clicking on the plus sign, it may not be the case that the word promptbook is associated with the production title you entered, as the system will search for both terms anywhere in a finding aid.

Extra-Illustrated Works

Extra-illustration (or "Grangerizing") was a practice among collectors from the late 18th century to the early 20th century of disbinding printed works, then rebinding them with additional material inserted in order to illustrate the subject matter. Added material of interest to theatre historians can include portrait prints, manuscripts, and playbills.

The Theatre Collection holds a large number of extra-illustrated works related to the performing arts. The added material is indexed in a card catalog located in the Houghton Library Reading Room. While there is some access by production title, most items are indexed by personal name or place and date of production.

Digitized Material

Searching HOLLIS

  • After your search, limit the list of items to those with images online by selecting "Online” from the Show only menu. 

Searching HOLLIS for Archival Discovery

  • Select Limit to digital materials.
  • Within a finding aid, digitized material can be found on the Digitized Material tab. There will also be a link to the images within the item record when that item has been digitized.