About the John G. Wolbach Library

Collections Overview

The principal subject areas contained within the Wolbach Library collection include astrophysics and related topics in physics, chemistry, applied mathematics, geophysics, and engineering (see Wolbach Collections Development Policy).  The Wolbach Library collection is comprised of materials of all types including books, journals, maps, charts,  microforms, and audio-visual resources, which total over one hundred thousand items in all.
Most items held by Wolbach Library are discoverable via the HOLLIS catalog.
Some Wolbach Library material is also housed in the Harvard Depository.  
Special Collections:
  • Astronomical Institutions (AI) Collection: contains historical publications, papers, and objects created by observatories worldwide.
    • Along with the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC, Wolbach holds the most complete collection in the United States. Publications and artifacts representing the history of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory are also held within the AI Collection and Wolbach's non-ciculating collections. Many of these objects are unique. 
  • International Astronomy/Astrophysics Thesis Collection: a select and expanding world wide collection from the 19th century on, cataloged individually and shelved together.
  • Harvard Astronomy Department Dissertations Collection: shelved alphabetically by author.
  • Papers resulting from the Harvard Astronomy Department Research Tutorials.
  • Project PHaEDRA Collection: collection of early 19th and 20th century notebooks representing the evolution of observation methods and astronomy as a science. The material exemplifies a unique history of women in science as the collection contains over 2,500 logbooks and notebooks produced by the Harvard Computers and other astronomers.
Circulating Physical Collections:
  • Books and materials in a broad range of subjects: astronomy, physics, chemistry, engineering, computer science, mathematics, etc.
  • Ephemerides
  • Charts & Atlases
  • Journals & Proceedings
  • Video Collection
  • Magazines/News Sources
Digital Collections:  See our Search & Find menu!
Collection Highlights
Astronomy Slide Collection: Slide sets available at the Wolbach Library, including itemized slide listings.
CfA Historical Bibliography: A collection of highlighted resources about the CfA's history.
CfA Newsletters: A recently digitized and searchable online collection of CfA Newsletters, accessible through CfA IP addresses or VPN authentication. SAO NEWS (1961-1973), CenterLine (1974-1981), CfA Almanac (1982-2000).
Microfilm Project: Items microfilmed as part of a preservation project carried out at Harvard University through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Stars from the Wolbach Library Collection: Short slideshow of various historical items unique to Wolbach's holdings.
Video Collection: Videos available at the Wolbach Library, including CfA Colloquia.
Women in Astronomy Bibliography: A collection of works by and about women in astronomy.

Wolbach Library @ CfA

The John G. Wolbach Library combines the collections of the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) Library and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) Library, forming one of the world’s preeminent astronomical collections.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA)

The Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) consists of the Harvard College Observatory, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and numerous ground-based and space-based telescopes and observatories. In 1973, the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University formalized their collaboration as the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) to coordinate the related research activities of the two observatories under a single director, George B. Field. Today, the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory retain their separate identities, each responsible to its parent organization, with combined CfA staffs in six research divisions: Atomic and Molecular Physics; High Energy Astrophysics; Optical and Infrared Astronomy; Radio and Geoastronomy; Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences; and Theoretical Astrophysics.

Mission & Focus

The Wolbach Library provides shared resources to support the CfA community's continuously evolving needs. Wolbach Library staff build, organize, manage, house, and preserve collections of physical and digital research artifacts; offer reference services and consultation; provide services in online literature searches and interlibrary loan requests; and contribute to and draw from remote databases, including the NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). The Wolbach Library participates in local, national, and international networks and cooperative activities to promote scholarly advancement, the sharing of information, access to recorded knowledge, and the empowerment of the astronomy and astrophysics community.

Our current and future priorities are to:

  • Facilitate the creation and sharing of new knowledge in Astronomy
  • Lower technical and social barriers that negatively impact the CfA community's ability to achieve its goals
  • Promote and amplify both the contemporary and historic work of the CfA community
  • Develop digital projects and priorities that continually challenge Wolbach library staff to excel at an international level
  • Seek strategic collaborations to ensure the sustainability of Wolbach's programs, services, and projects
  • Promote open science through outreach and training programs

Library Staffing Structure

Wolbach Library Org Chart


  • Books can be checked out for a full semester unless recalled
  • Books can be renewed up to 5 times (online via HOLLIS, by phone, or walk-in)
  • Online access to journals and other resources requires a HarvardKey
    • See our FAQ for information on how to setup your HarvardKey and access full text articles through the ADS
  • Some Wolbach material is stored offsite at the Harvard Depository and can usually be recalled within 24-hours of requests
  • Some material from Wolbach's special collections can only be referenced on-site via request


  • 1-on-1 assistance from librarians
    • Contact Us for help with research, scholarly communication, digital preservation, and to let us know how we can best support your work. 
  • Borrow Direct and Interlibrary Loan services available to all members of the CfA
  • Onsite Resources
    • Technical training and professional development (see calendars for upcoming and past events)
    • Lounge and workspaces
    • Collaboration Space: Reserve this space for meetings and events
    • Technology & Devices: Includes laptops, cameras, headphones, accessories, etc.
    • Desktop computers (Mac, PC), microfilm reader, printers, scanners and copiers

Our Histories

The HCO collection results from the traditional exchange of scholarly works between observatories in the 1800s, and expanded further as commercially published materials became available. The SAO Library dates back to about 1959, when items were selected from the collection of astronomical material in Washington, DC and moved to Cambridge, MA. In 1975, the two libraries, which had been housed in separate parts of the Observatory, were merged into the Wolbach Library in the Perkin Building. In 1992, the administration of the HCO and SAO collections was merged under one director and staff.