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Harvard University Library

Harvard's University Library

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The world-renowned collections in the Harvard Libraries are invaluable for teaching and research. The holdings include more than 15.9 million books, as well as journals, primary source materials, images, sound recordings, and digital resources that span a vast range of subjects, languages, and dates. These holdings range across more than 80 libraries located throughout the University.

Harvard’s library holdings are arguably the University’s most valuable asset. These holdings are critical to the recruitment and retention of Harvard’s renowned faculty, which in turn lead to the stellar community of undergraduate and graduate students that is Harvard’s hallmark. More and more, it is the case that the action and the involvement of the University’s libraries form necessary links between faculty and students.

The Harvard University Library gathers all of the Harvard libraries into a single system to form the largest academic library in the world. The Harvard University Library is also a department of the University’s Central Administration that reports to the president. Known as HUL, this distinct department is headed by the senior faculty member who holds the title of Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library. In addition to serving as the head of HUL, the director interprets the technical and organizational challenges of the library system to the president and serves as chief steward of the collections for the Harvard Corporation.

HUL works on a system-wide basis to enhance the stewardship of Harvard’s traditional research collections while ensuring comprehensive access—now and in perpetuity—to newer electronic resources. In addition to the 15.9 million volumes already cited, these holdings include an estimated 7.5 million photographs, millions of manuscript pages, recordings, maps, ephemera, and an exploding number of digital objects, which, together, are under the day-to-day care and management of the 1,200 full-time-equivalent staff members in repositories across the University.

HUL develops and operates programs and services that lay the foundations for the acquisition, dissemination, and preservation of those holdings. HUL’s programs and services cover seven areas:

  • information technology;
  • high-density storage;
  • preservation;
  • archival programs, including records management;
  • open, or web accessible, collections;
  • publications and communications; and
  • human resources.

The strategic programs of the Harvard University Library are organized in two groups: Administration and Programs, which includes the Harvard Depository, the Harvard University Archives (including records management services), the Open Collections Program, and the Weissman Preservation Center (including the special collections conservation laboratory); and Systems and Planning, which, through the Office for Information Systems (OIS), manages the HOLLIS system and operates the Library Digital Initiative (LDI). Each HUL program is focused on asset and risk management while providing vital, centralized services, on a cost-effective basis, to the libraries and to the University itself.

More recently, Harvard’s provost has charged HUL with creating an Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC). The goal of the new Office for Scholarly Communication is to enable individual faculty members to distribute their scholarly writings in keeping with the University's long-standing policy that "when entering into agreements for the publication and distribution of copyrighted materials individuals will make arrangements that best serve the public interest."