Harvard Libraries Closed In-Person Services This Week. Here’s What You Need to Know About Doing Research This Semester.


In response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, Harvard library locations closed all print services Monday, including borrowing and scan-and-deliver, per an announcement posted to the Harvard Library website by University Librarian Martha J. Whitehead. Still, some remote services and digital resources remain online. With the spring semester starting up again this Monday, here’s what you need to know about using Harvard’s libraries.

What services have closed for now?

All of Harvard’s library locations are closed and largely unstaffed – “only essential employees are working on site,” Harvard Library spokesperson Anna Burgess wrote in an email. That change means any services that require handling physical books and manuscripts held by the libraries are suspended for the moment, including borrowing books, scan-and-deliver, BorrowDirect, and InterLibrary Loan. Research librarians Anna C. Assogba and Fred Burchsted wrote in an email to History concentrators that “this will have a significant impact” on research activities.

Burgess wrote that the libraries will “make determinations based on guidance from the University and public health experts” as to when to re-open library buildings and resume on-campus services.


Still, a small number of scan-and-deliver requests will go through. Assogba and Burchsted wrote that scan-and-deliver links remain open on the Hollis website because roughly 20 percent of requested documents are digitally available.

What services are available?

All digital resources and databases are still available. Additionally, Assogba and Burchsted wrote that “many of the publishers and vendors that provide our online resources are stepping up and offering free or expanded access during this time,” though they noted Harvard is still working out the exact details of these arrangements.

Remote library services, like Ask a Librarian, are also still in place. Burgess wrote that, compared to last spring break, emails this week to Ask a Librarian increased from 92 to 149, while chats nearly quadrupled from 46 to 166. She added that some services typically offered in person — like the Media& group, which assists with video and podcasting — have moved online.

To help researchers, Assogba and Burchsted wrote that they added two new entries to the history guides page on Hollis titled “Working Off Campus” and “Finding Sources Online.”

The University will also fulfill purchase requests for e-books in some cases, Assogba and Burchsted wrote.

“In the meantime,” they wrote, “if you don’t find what you want in HOLLIS, please let us know and we will try some other possibilities.”

What new items might become available in the coming days and weeks?

Burgess wrote that the libraries are considering how “to modify certain services, like scan-and-deliver, to be available in some capacity while staff work remotely.”

She did not clarify how remote work would affect staff’s ability to fulfill requests related to physical documents in the coming months. The University is also assembling a “Research Remotely” guide that will be posted to its dedicated coronavirus website.

Burgess added that the libraries will move in lockstep with University guidelines more broadly as they consider when to resume regular service.

“Library leadership is in regular contact with University leadership,” she wrote.

—Staff writer Oliver L. Riskin-Kutz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @OLRiskinKutz.