Research the Special Collections


The Harvard Divinity School Library website provides online access to more than 1,400 finding aids (collection guides) by keyword. You may also wish to search HOLLIS or search HOLLIS for Archival Discovery (a catalog of archival resources from many Harvard libraries, including HDS Library).

To browse Harvard Divinity School Library's finding aids by collection type, please visit the Manuscripts and Archives page of this website.

Search HOLLIS (Books and Pamphlets)

Items in the rare book collections may be searched using the HOLLIS catalog, and are designated by the prefix, “Special Collections.” It is also possible to browse or search within the Divinity Library's rare book collections exclusively.

To request an item for use in the Reading Room, select “Request to Copy or Visit” and follow the prompts that will bring you to HOLLIS Special Request.

Image of the screen with the "request scan or visit" prompt.

First-time users must fill out a form to create an account in HOLLIS Special Request.   Harvard Divinity School Library staff will contact you when your materials are ready to use, and to set the day and time of your visit.

Bookshelf of beautiful rare books

Access special collections

All special collections materials are available for research to students, faculty, visiting scholars, and others with interest in these materials. No letters of introduction are necessary, though researchers must register for a HOLLIS Special Request account and present a photo ID.   

To request a scan, use  HOLLIS Special Request.

The special collections reading room is open 10 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday with the exception of University holidays.

Because most material is stored offsite, we strongly recommend that you make an appointment at least two business days in advance of your visit. Walk-in requests may be accommodated based on staff availability and the onsite location of materials but cannot be guaranteed. To request a group visit to view special collections materials please contact Research Services at least one week in advance of your planned arrival.

Research librarians are available to help identify materials relevant to particular research interests.

Special collections materials do not circulate and may only be used within our secure reading room.

  Photograph of rare books and archival collections displayed for a class visit

Teaching with Special Collections

We support teaching and learning by hosting class visits where students encounter primary source materials relevant to the curriculum.

We encourage instructors to contact Research Services to schedule a pre-class meeting with a librarian to discuss goals for the session and finalize the list of materials needed.   We provide hands-on instruction in using and handling special collections.  If desired, we will also create a page for your course site in Canvas with a list of the materials on display, along with any additional course-related library resources your students need to complete their projects.

Students are welcome to use special collections for papers and research projects.


Reproduction requests

Researchers may take photographs (no flash) and use the onsite scanning equipment as material’s condition permits or at the discretion of the archivist.

Remote researchers may request a small number of low-resolution images to be sent by email, to be completed as library staffing allows.  For high resolution photographs suitable for publication, please place orders in HOLLIS Special Request. There is a fee for this service.

Library staff will also supply photographs of title pages (and other distinguishing features) of rare books.

Permission to publish

Harvard Divinity School Library is unable to supply permission to publish works unless the Harvard Divinity School, its library, or Harvard University is the copyright holder. We cannot supply permission to publish in any other circumstances.

If your intended use of Harvard Divinity School Library collection items falls within fair-use limitations as specified in U.S. copyright law (17 USC § 107), you do not need our permission. We cannot determine for you whether or not fair use applies to your intended use.

For permission to publish from collection material for which Harvard Divinity School, its Library, or Harvard University does hold copyright, the following terms and conditions apply:

  • For quotations that fall outside of fair use (for commercial or non-commercial uses), we will supply permission to publish. No fee is charged. This includes using materials for dissertations submitted for a degree at an academic institution.
  • You must cite to the material properly and include the following language:
    ”© President and Fellows of Harvard College [YEAR], Harvard Divinity School Library”
  • The library makes no representation that it is the owner of the copyright or literary property of any unpublished manuscript.

Permission granted by Harvard Divinity School Library or Harvard University is non-exclusive and does not remove the author’s or publisher’s responsibility to guard against infringement of rights that may be held by others (examples: the author, transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors of the author).

You agree to indemnify and hold harmless Harvard University, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting ownership of the copyright or literary property.

See also the Harvard Library Policy on Access to Digital Reproductions of Works in the Public Domain.

Preferred citation format

Rare books and pamphlets:

[Collection, call number] Harvard Divinity School Library, Harvard University.

Archives and manuscripts collections:

[Description of item]. [Collection name]. bMS xxx/x (x). Harvard Divinity School Library, Harvard University.