Saying goodbye to the Harvard Library

by Kate Brodock on 27 May 2008

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It’s the 27th of May, and I’ve just realized that I have four days left until my Harvard Library system ID will expire for an indeterminate length of time. Some of you may think this is no big deal, but this will end a five and a half year relationship that I’ve had with that library, which is more than a lot of people. I haven’t been in about a month, so I hadn’t thought too much about this cutoff date, but now that it’s just hit me, I’m feeling sad.

I first gained access to the Harvard libraries in January 2003, after I had landed a research assistant position for a Harvard professor. I had emailed her (and a few other professors) from France the Fall prior, hoping to get a job in Boston, and wanting to pursue my interest in History. She was a History of Science professor, specifically History of the Book and of the recorded word (how awesome is that?). Luckily my resume ended up being enough, and I was further attractive to her because I had the skills necessary, but wasn’t a current student, which means that come midterm time, I’d still be around and not “off studying”. Fine by me, that was all I needed to hear. Did I mention that it was only ten hours a week, but I still felt like I should move to Boston for it? Enter supplementary, but full-time job…..

Over the next two and a half years, I worked my research position, which meant most of my research time was spent in the library, in the stacks, reading books and gathering and synthesizing data. And this means I can still name off the exact location of most LC call numbers. It also meant the perhaps illegal copying of sheet music from the Dana music library (I was young, forgive me).

If you’ve never been to the Harvard Library…. well, I’d say to go but they won’t let you very far in the door (one of the few pities that I bestow on them is that they’re darn strict on their entrance policy… show some love!). If you can get in, get in. If you can’t, just imagine any book you could possibly think of at your finger tips. And yes, that means a lot more than popping open your browser to Amazon and it’s Long Tail offerings.

A few photos for your viewing pleasure:

Front of the library

Second floor main “lobby”

Main reading room

Map of the stacks system

I left my research position (sadly) when I entered graduate school at Fletcher (Tufts University). Much to my delight, Fletcher is about the only school in the Boston area that is allowed into the Harvard libraries. So I was able to get three more years of the system, and boy was it great. Actually, the best part during these three years was using the library to study…. the halls are beautiful and get you focused before you even walk in.

So what am I going to go in the next four days? Well, I’m going to try and get myself down to Harvard (wish I had realized this last week when I had some major down time!), and walk through the big corridors and the study rooms. But really, I just want to go down into the stacks. I want to go to level C and feel chilly and smell the books. Maybe I’ll play a little game and force myself to remember where LC-HC is located (Pusey 2!). I’ll definitely have to hit up Dana once more…. (sorry!).

Either way, I’ve always known I was a little bit lucky to have that collection available. I still get excited by real, physical books, and flipping through them in a big room, finding information, working a little hard to get it. Ask my boyfriend, my at-home collection gets really annoying when it’s time to move. I’m not sure I’ll ever have access to a library system that…. well…complete.

And so I say goodbye, with a little sunken heart.

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