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HLS library pass from 1868 with both printed and manuscript writing.
Credit: Harvard Law School library pass, 1868, HOLLIS 990020808460203941, Harvard Law School Library

Reading Room Use

Materials in Historical & Special Collections are open to all researchers regardless of academic affiliation. In order to gain access to materials researchers:

  • Read our Reading Room Policies

    1. All researchers must be registered in HOLLIS Special Request. Photo ID is required for account clearance.

    2. Historical & Special Collections materials do not circulate and may only be consulted in the Root Room, Historical & Special Collections’ reading room.

    3. Researchers must store loose articles of clothing, briefcases, book bags, laptop computer cases, pens, and any other personal property not essential to their work in the lockers provided for this purpose. All books, papers, etc. are subject to examination upon leaving the reading room.

    4. Pencils, laptop computers, and tablets may be used in the reading room. Flatbed scanners and tape recorders are not permitted. Limited use of digital cameras is permitted on a case-by-case basis. Researchers may request pencils and paper.

    5. Cell phones conversations, food, beverages, and chewing gum are prohibited.

    6. When a digital copy, microform copy, or a facsimile edition of a manuscript or book is available, researchers are required to consult the copy rather than the original.

    7. Unless otherwise authorized, researchers may consult only one book or one box of manuscripts at a time. A researcher requesting both book and manuscript materials must consult them separately, unless otherwise authorized.

    8. All materials consulted must be handled with great care. Staff is available to answer questions about proper handling. Researchers handling materials carelessly will be denied further access to the collections.

    • Materials must remain on the table during use. They are not to be placed in the lap or propped against the table edge.
    • No papers, books, or other objects may be laid on materials in use, except for book weights provided by the staff.
    • No marks are to be added to or erased from materials consulted.
    • No tracings or rubbings are permitted.
    • The order and arrangement of unbound materials must be preserved. Apparent irregularities should be brought to the attention of the staff.
    • Only staff members may cut unopened pages.
    • When consulting some types of material, researchers will be required to wear gloves supplied by the department.

    9. Magnifiers, an ultraviolet light, and a transilluminator are available upon request.

    10. Historical & Special Collections materials may be held on reserve upon request.

    11. Researchers are held responsible for all materials charged to them. Materials may not be transferred from one researcher to another.

    12. Requests for digital images,  digital prints, high resolution file retrieval, and audio-visual reformatting are considered by the staff on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the department’s reproduction policies. Please see Reproduction Policies for more information.

Digital Images

Researchers are permitted to take digital images with their own cameras or cell phones to assist with note-taking. Approval is based on the condition of the item, copyright, and various other restrictions that may apply to specific items or collections.

  • Read our Digital Image Policies
    1. Researchers must obtain permission from reading room staff prior to taking any photographs or scans. Historical & Special Collections reserves the right to deny requests or revoke permission for any reason, including the condition of the material, copyright restrictions, or disruption to other researchers.
    2. Camera flashes, scanner lighting, and audio features must be turned off. Extra equipment and camera stands are permitted on a case by case basis following staff review. Flatbed scanners are not permitted, but researchers may use scanning apps on their phones. Please be aware it is not always possible to provide optimum lighting for photography, and Historical & Special Collections is unable to supply additional lighting.
    3. It is the researcher’s responsibility to record proper citation information for each item photographed/scanned. Requests for permission to publish and orders for high resolution images cannot be processed without this information.
    4. Items from certain modern manuscript collections, including Harvard Law School faculty papers, must be flagged for review by staff prior to photography/scanning.
    5. Historical & Special Collections will provide a template that must be prominently displayed in each digital image of visual material.
    6. Researchers must follow standard rules for care and handling of materials. Bound volumes must be supported in a book cradle and may not be flattened to attain better images. Documents and visual materials must be kept flat on the table and in their original order. Please consult reading room staff if staples, paperclips, or other fasteners need to be removed.
    7. Digital images are for research purposes only. Permission to photograph/scan material does not include permission to reproduce, transfer, publish, or distribute images. Researchers must contact Historical & Special Collections for permission to publish images.
    8. The Law School Library is the physical rights holder of this material, some of which may be in the public domain. The Law School Library makes no representation that it is the owner of any copyright or literary property rights in unpublished materials. Researchers must obtain permission to publish from any existing copyright owner.

    NOTICE: Researchers should note that in many cases, the Library does not own the copyright to content in its collections. The United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. The reproduction or distribution of copyrighted content is copyright infringement, unless the user has obtained consent from the copyright owner or can otherwise establish a “fair use” or other statutory defense. The user agrees to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless the Harvard Law School Library and the President & Fellows of Harvard College against all claims, demands, costs, and expenses arising from his or her use of the Library’s materials.


Requests for reproductions including digital scans, digital prints, high resolution file retrieval, and audio-visual reformatting are considered on a case-by-case basis. Permission depends upon the physical condition of the material in question, and ability to reproduce should not be assumed in advance. If a fee is involved, all orders must be paid in full before requests will be processed. Receipt of reproductions does not include permission to publish the reproduction.

All reproduction requests are processed through HOLLIS Special Request (HSR). Use this link to register for a HOLLIS Special Request account. Here is a HOLLIS Special Request tutorial if you have questions.

  • How Long Will it Take?
    • Most Harvard Library Imaging Services requests will be completed within 15-17 business days following receipt of payment. Requests for audiovisual material are generally processed within six months.
    • Reproduction requests are processed by HSC and delivered to Harvard Library Imaging Services weekly, weather permitting.
    • Rush requests are not available.
  • Exisiting Digital Images & Files

    Whenever possible, researchers  should download the file themselves. In the Harvard Library Viewer and HOLLIS Images, this can be done by selecting the icon in the upper right corner of the image with the down arrow.


    Researchers and non-profit organizations that need files larger than what is available for download may request up to 5 files per calendar year at no cost.

  • Digital Imaging Services

    Please see our Digital Images Policies for information regarding personal use of digital cameras in our reading room.

    Digital imaging policies vary by collection and material type. Please consult the format-specific policies for format-specific considerations and cost information.

    All reproduction requests, whether processed in Historical & Special Collections or at Harvard Library Imaging Services must be submitted via HOLLIS Special Request.

  • Modern Manuscripts

    Requests up to 20 images

    All researchers may request up to 20 reference quality (not publication quality) scans per calendar year at no cost. Scans will be delivered in PDF form.

    Exceptions to this policy:

    If the request equals more than 50% of the contents of a folder, then the entire folder must be digitized at Harvard Library Imaging Services as part of their Reference copy workflow.

    Requests over 20 images

    All requests are sent to Harvard Library Imaging Services and subject to the following conditions:

    • The entire folder(s) must be digitized at the researcher’s expense.
    • Folders containing restricted material are not eligible to go to Imaging Services.
  • Visual Materials

    Researchers may request up to 2 high resolution scans per calendar year at no cost. Color correction is not included and originals must be 12 x 17 inches or less.

    Items larger than 12 x 17 inches or that require professional quality service, including color and tone matching, will be processed by Harvard Library Imaging Services starting at $20 per scan. For additional information see the Publication-quality-copy workflow.

  • Rare Books, Bound Material, and Student Papers

    Reference Quality Images

    Researchers may request up to 10 images per volume at no cost. Images will be delivered in PDF form.

    Publication Quality Images

    Pricing for publication quality images starts at $30 per image through the Harvard Library Imaging Services Publication-quality copy workflow.

    Entire Titles/Works

    Entire titles not subject to copyright or condition restrictions are sent through the Harvard Library Imaging Services Reference copy workflow. Images may be accessed and downloaded from a link in the HOLLIS record.

    Student Papers/Theses

    Most student papers in the collection are under copyright (see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States – Unpublished works). Requests for copies of entire papers will only be processed under the following conditions:

    1. A circulating copy does not exist
    2. Permission has been granted by the author or the author’s estate
  • Audio Visual Material

    Researchers may request to have one audio or video item reformatted per calendar year; requests are generally processed in 6 months.

    Researchers should be aware that following reformatting and a rights review conducted by library staff, copyright and privacy concerns may prohibit the audio or video from being made publicly accessible. Access methods for audiovisual items vary based on this review and are usually mediated by HSC staff.

Permission to Publish

Researchers are not required to request permission from Historical & Special Collections (HSC) at the Harvard Law School Library to quote from or publish images, commercially or non-commercially, of the types of material listed below, nor does it charge fees for such activities.

  • Published material in the public domain (books, broadsides, woodcuts, engravings, etc.)
  • Medieval manuscripts, deeds, and manor rolls
  • Paintings and drawings in the public domain
  • Photographs in the public domain
  • Modern manuscripts in the public domain (See Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States – Cornell Copyright Information Center to determine if the material is under copyright or in the public domain)

The vast majority of material in HSC is either in the public domain or under copyrights not controlled by HSC. If researchers wish to quote, publish, perform, reproduce or otherwise make any use of an item in HSC’s collections that requires permission from the copyright holder(s) of the item, it is the researcher’s responsibility to obtain all such permissions.

For further information about the use of public domain digital reproductions, see the Harvard Library Policy on Access to Digital Reproductions on Works in the Public Domain adopted September 30, 2014.

  • Copyright and Permission Restrictions


    Permission to quote, publish, perform, reproduce, or otherwise make any use of manuscripts not in the public domain must be obtained from the Curator of Modern Manuscripts, Harvard Law School Library, 1545 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Appropriate forms and advice about citation may be obtained from:

    Historical & Special Collections

    Researchers are reminded that, except in the cases of the collections for which the Library holds copyright (formerly called literary property rights), permission must also be obtained from the holder(s) of this right.


    The following photographers maintain copyright of their images. Please contact them directly to request permission. HSC will not provide reproduction services for publication of images by these photographers without advance permission from the copyright holder. For all other photographs in the collection, it is the researcher’s responsibility to determine copyright and obtain the necessary permissions.

    Atlantic Photo Service
    Fabian Bachrach
    Fay Foto Service
    Pach Bros.
    Martin Paul

  • Citation-Credit Information

    As a courtesy to HSC and to enable others to identify and locate information about its collections, researchers should include a full citation and the following credit when quoting or using images from the collection:

    Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections

    Citation Examples:


    • Agarde, Arthur, Extracts from the plea rolls, HLS MS 1184, p. 298, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.
    • Aspinwall, John, Treatise on Forest Law, HLS MS 102, fols. 14-21, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.
    • Magna carta cum statutis, HLS MS 10, fol. 25r, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.


    • Quitclaim by John Lenew, Colchester, Essex, 10 May 1408, Deed 125, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.


    • Fenestella, Lucius, De Romanorum magistratibus [Florence: Libri, ca. 1492] fol. a2v, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.
    • Decio, Filippo, Subtilis et utilis lectura domini Philippi Decii sive de Dexio Mediolanensis super secunda codicis(Lyon: Myt, 1514), fol. xiir, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.
    • Du Pin, Louis Ellies, Memoires historiques pour servir a l’histoire des Inquisitions (Cologne: Slebus, 1716) v. 1, p. 15, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.


    When known, please include the HOLLIS number, which often begins with “olvwork”

    • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., by Charles Sydney Hopkinson, 1929, HOLLIS olvwork395493, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.
    • Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and Justice Robert H. Jackson, by United States Army Signal Corps, 12 November 1945, HOLLIS olvwork373963, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections.


    Publishers, professional journals, and graduate faculties may prescribe their own style. We ask at a minimum that identification consist of the date and title of the item, name of the collection, location in the collection (if applicable), and the name of the repository.

    • Roscoe Pound to Louis Brandeis, December 28, 1936, The Papers of Louis Brandeis, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections, Box 10, Folder 12.
    • Report to the Law School Faculty, May 1954, The Papers of Erwin Griswold, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections, Box 54, Folder 4.

If you have further questions about publishing material or need help with your citation please contact us.

If you are a copyright owner who is not properly identified, please let us know so that we may provide appropriate information to researchers in the future.