Houghton Library

Houghton Library, on the south side of Harvard Yard adjacent to Widener Library, is Harvard University's primary repository for rare books and manuscripts. It is part of the Harvard College Library, the library system of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Houghton Library
CountryUnited States of America
TypeUniversity library
Established28 February 1942
LocationCambridge, Massachusetts
Branch ofHarvard University Library


Harvard's first special collections library began as the Treasure Room of Gore Hall in 1908.[1] The Treasure Room moved to the newly-built Widener Library in 1915. In 1938, looking to supply Harvard's most valuable holdings with more space and improved storage conditions, Harvard College Librarian Keyes DeWitt Metcalf made a series of proposals which eventually led to the creation of Houghton Library, Lamont Library, and the New England Deposit Library. Funding for Houghton was raised privately, with the largest portion coming from Arthur A. Houghton Jr., in the form of stock in Corning Glass Works. Construction was largely completed by the fall of 1941, and the library opened on February 28, 1942.

Along with much else, Houghton holds collections of papers of Samuel Johnson, Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Margaret Fuller, John Keats, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his family, Amos Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May Alcott, along with the papers of other notable transcendentalists, Theodore Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, Henry James, William James, James Joyce, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, Gore Vidal, and many others.

Houghton also holds the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the 54th Massachusetts during the Civil War, and was killed during the assault on Fort Wagner.


Houghton has five main curatorial departments:


  • A Houghton Library Chronicle, 19421992. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard College Library. 1992. OCLC 26633110.
  • Centuries of books & manuscripts : collectors and friends, scholars and librarians build the Harvard College Library : an exhibition on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Houghton Library, 19421992. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard College Library. 1992. OCLC 26024581.

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