Houghton Library

Houghton Library is Harvard College's rare books and manuscripts library. The collections at Houghton focus on the study of Western civilization and are especially strong in American, Continental, and English history and literature, but also include significant cultural materials from around the world representing a wide range of experiences. The collections encompass diverse holdings: from the world famous to the entirely unknown, the ancient to the immediate. We host classes in the arts, humanities, sciences, and more.


In August 2019, Houghton Library will close as we begin a year-long renovation. Our goal: to make the building more accessible and welcoming while enhancing research and teaching spaces. To learn more about the renovation and interim services, visit the Houghton Renovation websiteWhile the renovation is underway, the library's collections continue to be accessible for teaching and research.


While Houghton will make extensive efforts to maintain normal operations during the renovation period, we expect to be operating under some constraints with regard to staff time and the availability of meeting spaces and collections. Therefore, we are planning to make some changes to our teaching and instruction program during the renovation year that we hope will keep the logistics manageable while continuing our fundamental commitment to Houghton Library’s role in teaching at Harvard.


The current Houghton Library classrooms will be unavailable during the renovation period, so we have secured temporary classroom spaces that will enable us to continue to host Harvard classes working with Houghton collections. Due to limited facilities during renovations, we will only be able to accommodate class visits from Harvard University courses.


This is a temporary adjustment as we remain committed to hosting classes from outside the Harvard community, and will be happy to welcome back these classes when we reopen in September 2020. Instructors from outside of Harvard who would like for their classes to utilize Houghton's materials are encouraged to contact Houghton teaching staff, who are available to think through alternatives to a class visit.


Harvard instructors looking to schedule visits during the renovation period will need to keep these temporary policy changes in mind:

  •  Harvard courses will be limited to one Houghton visit per semester. Multi-section classes will need to use the same collection material for each section visit. We will work with instructors to find other options to supplement class sessions.

  •  Classes will need to be requested a minimum of four weeks in advance, with final material requests made a minimum of two weeks in advance. Some collection material may be unavailable during the renovation. We will make every effort to suggest alternatives.

  •  Class scheduling will be limited to Monday through Friday from 9:30 to 4:30, and except in extraordinary circumstances will be limited to 90 minutes in length.


Recent classes at the Houghton Library include Interracial Encounters in American Literature and Culture, Intermedia Italy: Poetry and Visuality in the Twentieth Century and Spectacular France.

Display students1

Students from PredictionX in class at Houghton Library.

Display panthers will carry

Black panther paper shopping bag, AC95.B5665.969c (167), examined by a Junior Tutorial.

Display game

Jeu de lot Dauphin, ThrZ, a game of chance, played by the Tangible Things class.

Display bill of sale

Bill of sale for a donkey, papyrus, MS Gr SM2223, used in Harvard's HUM 10a.

Display students2

Student examines a nineteenth century Thai manuscript. MS Typ 439.


  • The Emily Dickinson Collection Houghton Library's Emily Dickinson Collection preserves more than 1,000 autograph poems and some 300 letters.
  • Ludlow-Santo Domingo Library The world’s largest private collection of material on altered states of mind.
  • Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson The premier collection of rare books and manuscripts relating to the life and work of Samuel Johnson.
  • English Broadsides: The Bute, Huth, and Percy Collections Ephemeral posters, advertisements and songs from 17th- and 18th-century England.
  • Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts Houghton Library's collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts represents a significant resource for the study of the literature, art, history, music, philosophy, and theology of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Western Europe.
  • Papyri at Houghton Library Works by Homer, Plato, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Menander, and the Gospels, as well as documentary texts for the study of the political, administrative and social history of the Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt.
  • Harvard Theatre Collection Founded in 1901, the Harvard Theatre Collection stands as one of the oldest and largest performing arts collections in the world.
  • Angus McBean Photographic Archive Angus McBean's iconic portraits of actors and entertainers made him almost as famous as his subjects. His archive is among the most complete visual records of the British stage from the 1930s through the 1960s.
  • Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography Documenting the history of photographic processes and the social history of photography from the time of its invention in the 1830s through 1900.
  • Writing Books A significant collection of works devoted to the practice of handwriting.
  • Woodberry Poetry Room Audio-Visual Collection The Woodberry Poetry Room's audio-visual collection is, according to Seamus Heaney, "indispensable: it contains not only the voices—from different times of their lives—of the greatest poets, but constitutes a living history of modern poetry."
  • Woodberry Poetry Room Blue Star Collection The Woodberry Poetry Room's collection of rare or limited-edition monographs, chapbooks, serials, typescripts, mimeographs, broadsides, portraits, photographs, and related correspondence.
  • Harry Elkins Widener Collection Collected prior to his death on the Titanic in 1912, the Harry Elkins Widener Collection consists of approximately 3,300 volumes housed in the Memorial Room of Widener Library.
  • Staff Services

    • Houghton Library Research Guide
    • Assistance with presentation of materials in class
    • Assistance with selection of materials
    • Bibliography of materials used in class
    • Tour
    • Pre-class appointment for instructor (required for first time requester, recommended for everyone)
    • Introduction to Archives and Special Collections Research

    Technology Available

    • Document Camera
    • VHS video player
    • CD audio player
    • Wifi
    • Touchscreen monitor

    Administrative Information

      Class limit: 15

    The Houghton Library does not have a publicly available calendar. When making a request, please submit with your preferred times and a staff member will get back to you.