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Harvard Library

Harvard Library
Widener Library, the largest and primary library of Harvard University
42°22′24″N 71°07′07″W / 42.3733923°N 71.1186862°W / 42.3733923; -71.1186862
LocationCambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
TypeAcademic library system of Harvard University
Items collectedmore than 20.4 million volumes, 180,000 serial titles, an estimated 400 million manuscript items, 10 million photographs, 124 million archived web pages, and 5.4 terabytes of born-digital archives and manuscripts.[2]
Size20.4 million (2020)
Access and use
Circulation733,890[3] (2013)
Other information
BudgetUS$250 million (2020)
DirectorMartha Whitehead
Employeesaround 800 total (2020)[2]

Harvard Library is the network of Harvard University's libraries and services. It is the oldest library system in the United States and both the largest academic library and largest private library in the world.[4][5] Its collection holds over 20 million volumes, 400 million manuscripts, 10 million photographs, and one million maps.[6]

Harvard Library holds the third largest collection of all libraries in the nation after the Library of Congress and Boston Public Library. Based on the number of items held, it is the fifth largest library in the United States.[7] Harvard Library is a member of the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP); other members include Columbia University Libraries, Princeton University Library, New York Public Library, and Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation, making over 90 million books available to the library's users.[8]   

The library is open to current Harvard affiliates, and some events and spaces are open to the public. The largest and most recognized building in the Harvard Library system is Widener Library in Harvard Yard.


Harvard's library system grew primarily from personal donations, including from John Harvard and John Hull.[9] John Harvard was a Puritan minister who accumulated 400 books spreading word of his faith. These volumes were left to Harvard, initiating the library's collection. The works in this collection soon became obsolete, as Harvard Library quickly changed to an academic institute and found little need for the theological titles.[10]

Until 1676, the library was based in Old College building. That year, it moved to Harvard Hall, where it remained until 1764. By 1764 it was the largest library in British America, with 5,000 volumes, but disaster struck that year when the library was destroyed by fire.[11] A new Harvard Hall was built, and 15,000 books were collected to create the new library.[11] After the fire, readers in the library were not allowed candles or lamps and if there was a fire burning in the hearth, a librarian or assistant had to be present. Patrons were allowed to borrow and return up to three books at a time on Friday mornings and were allowed to keep them for up to six weeks.[11] Thomas Hollis V, great-nephew of one of the university's early benefactors, began shipping thousands of specially chosen volumes to the library. Hollis continued to send books regularly until his death in 1774, and he bequeathed £500 for the university to continue acquiring books. This became Harvard's first endowed book fund, and the fund has grown annually since. Harvard Library's online catalog, HOLLIS,[12] a bacronym for "Harvard On-Line Library Information System", is named after him.

In 1841, with space limited in Harvard Hall, the library was moved to Gore Hall in 1841. In 1912, the library moved again after Gore Hall became unsuitable, and the library was moved into multiple buildings with some of the buildings representing specialized topics.[13]

Some books were digitized in Google Books[14] under the management of former Harvard Library director Sidney Verba.

In August 2012, based in part on recommendations from the Task Force on University Libraries and the Library Implementation Working Group, Harvard Library began working to coordinate and encourage collaboration among Harvard's 73 libraries.[15]


Harvard Library houses a range of historical artifacts and primary documents from around the world, including one of only 23 complete Gutenberg Bibles.[16] The largest collection of East Asian-language material outside of East Asia is held in the Harvard–Yenching Library.[17]  

The largest collection of archives focused on business and economic history is housed in Baker Library/Bloomberg Center at Harvard Business School. Botany Libraries’ archives include Henry David Thoreau’s personal herbaria, letters from Charles Darwin to Asa Gray, and thousands of botanical illustrations. The Wolbach Library, which was established in 1975 and closed March 22 2024, held the oldest surviving images of the Moon. It was formed by merging the collections of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.[18][19] The Tozzer Library is one of the oldest anthropological libraries in the world.   

Harvard Library also has a robust collection of digital content. More than 6 million digital objects are accessible online by anyone, regardless of whether or not they're affiliated with Harvard, via the Harvard Digital Collections page.[20]

The CURIOSity tool offers another way to explore Harvard's digital collections, providing curated views, specialized search options and discovery of unique content. Curated collections include the Colonial North America archive, the Islamic Heritage Project, and over 3,5000 digitized daguerreotypes.[21]


By 1973, Harvard Library had authored or published over 430 volumes in print in addition to nine periodicals and seven annual publications. Among these is a monthly newsletter, The Harvard Librarian and a quarterly journal, Harvard Library Bulletin, which was established in 1947, dormant from 1960 until 1967, and published regularly since.[22] The Bulletin is published three times a year in spring, summer, and fall. Harvard Library Bulletin is available to the public under subscription and an archive of past issues is available on Harvard Library website.[23]

Organizational structure

Harvard Library is the formal name for an administrative entity within the central administration that oversees the development and implementation of strategies that facilitate access to research, collections, services, and space in ways that raise the value of the university's investment in its libraries.As of June 2019, Martha Whitehead is the current vice president for Harvard Library and the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.[24] The Harvard Library holds or offers:

  • Access Services connects the academic community to the vast array of library resources.
  • Information and Technical Services is responsible for acquiring, licensing and providing access to tangible and online collections in all formats.
  • Preservation, Conservation and Digital Imaging Services is committed to ensuring that library materials remain secure and usable for contemporary and future scholars by conserving materials, digitizing collections, preserving library content in digital formats and providing robust education and outreach programs.
  • Harvard University Archives is the university's institutional archives. It oversees the university's permanent records, collects Harvard-related manuscripts, papers, and historical materials, and supervises records management across the university.
  • Finance supports the library by providing accurate information that assists decision-making, maintaining the integrity of finance systems and completing financial transactions.
  • Program Management ensures that potential projects and approved projects are managed in a considered, predictable and transparent way.
  • The Office for Scholarly Communication provides for open access to works of scholarship produced by the Harvard community.


Library Visiting Committee

Visiting Committee members are experts and Harvard alumni who are appointed by the corporation. The committee oversees the strategy and administration of Harvard Library on behalf of the Overseers. Bi-annual visits and regular updates by the Office of the Provost provide an opportunity for Visiting Committee members to understand and advise on the Harvard Library's progress.

Library Board

The Library Board is charged with reviewing strategic plans of the Harvard Library and assessing its progress in meeting those plans, reviewing system-wide policies and standards and overseeing progress of the central services. The provost chairs the Library Board (established in December 2010) and the Office of the Provost is responsible for overseeing the Harvard Library. The Harvard Library Board is composed of six permanent members and five rotating members who serve three years each, with their initial terms staggered. The permanent members include the provost, the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor, and the deans or designees from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Medical School.

Rotating members include three at-large, tenured faculty members, as well as deans or designees from Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Radcliffe Institute.

Faculty Advisory Committee

In 2011, the Harvard Library Faculty Advisory Council was established to advise the university. Robert Darnton, Pforzheimer Professor, is chair, and James Engell, Gurney Professor of English Literature, is vice-chair the advisory committee.

Library Council on Student Experience

Established in 2012, the Library Council on Student Experience is a joint council consisting of librarians and students from across the university who identify and work together on University-wide priorities identified by the council for improving the student library experience. The council is co-chaired by a librarian appointed by the vice president for Harvard Library and by a student elected from student council members. Students and librarians are nominated by the university's library directors and selected by the Office of the Provost. Other members include representatives from the Tell Us project, the Berkman Institute, and Harvard Library Shared Services. Terms are for two academic years. The Council makes recommendations to and is supported by the vice president for Harvard Library.

Library Leadership Team

Harvard Library Leadership Team is responsible for planning, prioritizing and implementing joint library initiatives. The team works with the vice president for the Harvard Library to develop and implement library-wide strategy and policy approved by the Board in collaboration with other standing committees and working groups. Chaired by the vice president for Harvard Library, the team includes members of the library's senior management team, library directors from the ten professional schools and the Radcliffe Institute, the managing director of Library Technology Services (HUIT), Harvard Library shared services heads, and Harvard Library's director of communications and its director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Harvard libraries

Along with shared services such as circulation, cataloging, and preservation, the following libraries make up Harvard Library:[25] 


See also


  1. ^ Harvard Library (February 14, 2011). "About the Harvard Library". Harvard Library. Harvard University. Archived from the original on January 7, 2013. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Harvard Media Relations. "Quick Facts". Archived from the original on November 12, 2019. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  3. ^ Harvard University (2013). "Harvard Library Annual Report FY 2013". Harvard Library. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  4. ^ Karl, Thomas (1998). Toward an Earth Science Enterprise Federation: Results from a Workshop. National Academies Press. p. 27. ISBN 0-309-06134-2.
  5. ^ Pezzi, Bryan (2000). Massachusetts. Weigl Publishers. p. 15. ISBN 1-930954-35-2.
  6. ^ "Harvard Library | Harvard University - The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  7. ^ American Library Association, "ALA Library Fact Sheet 22 – The Nation's Largest Libraries: A Listing by Volumes Held". October 2012.
  8. ^ "Harvard Library joins forces to bring 90 million books to users". Harvard Gazette. June 6, 2019. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  9. ^ The History of Harvard University – Josiah Quincy -pg 407).
  10. ^ "Harvard University | History & Facts | Britannica". Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  11. ^ a b c Murray, Stuart (2009). The library : an illustrated history. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ISBN 978-1602397064. OCLC 277203534.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Burke, Sarah K. "Bookish fires: the legacy of fire in the Harvard libraries" (PDF). Harvard Library. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 26, 2014. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  14. ^ "Library Partners -- Google Books".
  15. ^ "Report of the Task Force on University Libraries" (PDF).
  16. ^ "The Gutenberg Bible". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  17. ^ "Harvard-Yenching Library". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "John G. Wolbach Library". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  19. ^ Wild, Sarah (February 15, 2024). "Prominent astrophysics library is set to close". Physics Today. Retrieved April 6, 2024.
  20. ^ "Harvard Digital Collections". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  21. ^ "CURIOSity Digital Collections". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  22. ^ Kent, Allen; Lancour, Harold; Daily, Jay E., eds. (1973). "Harvard University Library". Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Volume 10: Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science: Volume 10 - Ghana: Libraries in to Hong Kong: Libraries in. CRC Press. ISBN 9780824721107.
  23. ^ "Harvard Library Bulletin". Harvard Library. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  24. ^ "New Leader for Harvard University". February 12, 2019. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  25. ^ "Locations & Hours". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  26. ^ "Baker Library | Bloomberg Center | Harvard Business School". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  27. ^ "Countway Library | Countway Library". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  28. ^ "Ernst Mayr Library". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  29. ^ "Fine Arts Library". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  30. ^ "Fung Library". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  31. ^ "Gutman Library". Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  32. ^ "Harvard Divinity School Library". Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  33. ^ "Library & Knowledge Services". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  34. ^ "Harvard Law School Library". Harvard Law School. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  35. ^ "Harvard Map Collection". Harvard Library. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  36. ^ "Loeb Music Library". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  37. ^ "Frances Loeb Library - Harvard Graduate School of Design". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  38. ^ "Robbins Library". Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  39. ^ "Schlesinger Library". Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. February 16, 2012. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  40. ^ "Tozzer Library". Harvard Library. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg Alfred Claghorn Potter, Charles Knowles Bolton (1897), The Librarians of Harvard College 1667-1877, Cambridge, Mass: Library of Harvard University, OL 7223959M
  42. ^ Librarian pro tem in 1737, per Sibley's Harvard Graduates. Vol. 9. p. 501. OCLC 950913670.

Further reading

  • "History of the Library." In The Library of Harvard University: Descriptive and Historical Notes, 4th ed., 12–35. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934.
  • Carpenter, Kenneth E. The First 350 Years of the Harvard University Library: Description of an Exhibition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
  • Bond, W. H. and Hugh Amory, eds. The Printed Catalogues of the Harvard College Library, 1723–1790. Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1996.
  • Kraus, J. W. (1961). The Harvard Undergraduate Library of 1773. College & Research Libraries, 22(4), 247–252.
  • Olsen, M., & Harvey, L. G. (1993). Reading in revolutionary times: book borrowing from the Harvard College Library, 1773–1782. Harvard Library Bulletin, 4, 57–72.

External links

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