Houghton Library

Handling Special Collections


Guidelines for Handling Manuscript Material
(letters, journals, drawings, photographs, clippings, and ephemera)

Manuscripts are by definition unique and irreplaceable and must be handled with great care so as to remain available for future scholarship.

  • Do not rest anything on top of manuscript material with the exception of special weights provided at the Reading Room desk. Acid-free marking slips are also available at the desk; no other material should come into contact with the manuscripts.
  • Manuscript folders must remain flat on the table at all times. Contents should remain flat and in order in their opened folder while being read. No item should be removed from the folder for any reason.
  • Manuscript leaves should be handled as little as possible and turned gently one at a time, with fingers in non-text areas of the sheet whenever possible.
  • No marks should be added or erased from library material. Cataloging correction forms are available at the Reading Room desk to notify the Manuscript Department of the need to modify a description.
  • Staff may present bound manuscripts in foam, plexiglass, or cardboard cradles, with or without cloth liners, which are designed to prevent stress to all parts of the bound item. Please keep the manuscript in the cradle which should stay squarely on the table at all times.
  • Gloves will be provided with material that is especially sensitive to damage from direct handling such as photographs, negatives, and metal bindings.
  • Staff members are glad to provide magnifying glasses and to help with other special handling as requested.
  • All material in cartons or boxes should be kept in order received. Please remove one item at a time using place markers provided by a staff member.

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Guidelines for Handling Printed Material
(books, broadsides, maps, pamphlets, and ephemera)

All the parts of a book—the binding, paper, and text—afford evidence of its past. Your cooperation and care in handling ensure the preservation of their physical as well as textual integrity. Please note that certain individual items or kinds of material may require advance notice and additional staff time in order to be prepared for safe use in the Reading Room.

  • Staff will present books in foam, plexiglass, or cardboard cradles, with or without liners, designed to prevent stress to all parts of the book. Please keep books in the cradle, which should sit squarely on the table. Cradles are designed for use by one book at a time.
  • Do not rest anything on top of books. Special weights are available at the Reading Room desk to hold books and pamphlets open safely and securely. Never put anything in a book; acid-free markers will be provided when needed. Books should be closed if left for any period of time.
  • Gloves may be provided with material that is especially sensitive to damage from direct handling such as photographs, negatives, and metal bindings.
  • Please notify a member of the Reading Room staff if you find damage to paper or bindings which prevents safe handling. A staff member, with a few minutes' notice, can usually cut unopened pages. All pieces of bindings or paper that break off should be kept with the original material and shown to a staff member.
  • Illustrations, letters, and other sheets that fold out or are tipped into books may require special handling procedures or materials; please consult a staff member.
  • Materials housed in boxes or cartons should be kept in the order received; please remove one item at a time using place markers provided by a staff member.

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Requesting Restricted Materials in the Reading Room
- plan ahead!

The majority of our materials can be seen without special arrangement; however, items designated as "Restricted" in the catalog require permission for access. Usually an item is restricted because it is very fragile or in a special format that requires staff assistance for its use. In most cases we offer readers the use of a surrogate (microfilm, facsimile, or digital copy) of the restricted item with the goal of prolonging the life of the original. Occasionally a donor or the family of an author whose papers we hold has requested that an item be restricted because of privacy concerns. In both cases, you must apply for permission from Houghton staff to view restricted material.

To request permission to access restricted materials, add a note to your request in the Special Collections Request account. Please indicate the specific reasons that you would like access to the restricted materials and include a prospective scheduled date for your visit.

Note:  Readers who request to see/copy restricted materials will receive a reply to their request as soon as possible, generally within two business days.

Viewing Restricted Digital Images

Although the majority of our digital images are in the public domain, there are a few collections that may be restricted to the Harvard community for reasons of copyright or donor request (all restricted images prompt the user for a Harvard ID). If you don’t have a Harvard ID, and would like to request copies of restricted images, please fill out the Photoduplication Request Form.  If you would like temporary online access to restricted images, please contact houghton_library@harvard.edu where the appropriate curator can review your request.

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