John G. Wolbach Library: Details

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 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.
  • The 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.
Please see our Collections Access Policy for comprehensive information about accessing archival materials.
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 and 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, also accessible through the CfA Intranet. 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 

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

The Center for Astrophysics

Wolbach Library is the library for the Center for Astrophysics (CfA). The CfA consists of the HCO, the SAO, 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" to coordinate the related research activities of the two observatories under a single director. Today, the HCO and the SAO retain their separate identities, each responsible to its parent organization, with combined staff in six scientific divisions and the Library (CfA org chart). This partnership between the Smithsonian and Harvard is now known as the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.

Library Mission

The Wolbach Library must provide shared resources that respond to the astronomy community's continuously evolving needs— to do this Wolbach staff participate in local, national, and international collaborations that support scholarly advancement and enable the creation and sharing of new knowledge in astronomy.

Library Priorities

  • Facilitate research about the Universe
  • Lower technical and social barriers that negatively impact the astronomy community
  • Promote and amplify the astronomy community’s contemporary and historic work
  • Develop projects and priorities that challenge Library staff to excel at an international level
  • Seek strategic collaborations that sustain Library programs, services, and projects
  • Enable open science through outreach and training programs

These priorities shape the Library's services and guide how staff build, organize, manage, house, and preserve collections of physical and digital artifacts. At Wolbach this work is often done in collaboration with the Astrophysics Data System (ADS). 

Library Staffing Structure

Library org chart 2020


Services and Resources

    • Assistance from Librarians
      • Contact Us for help with research, scholarly communication, and digital preservation questions (or to just tell us how we can best support your work). 
    • Collections and Borrowing
      • Borrow Direct and Interlibrary Loan services are available to all members of the CfA community
      • Book renewal 
        • Books can be renewed up to five times online via HOLLIS, by phone, or walk-in
          • Books can be checked out for a full semester unless recalled
      • 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
      • Please see our Collections Access Policy for information about accessing archival materials
    • Onsite Resources
      • Technical training and professional development support (see calendars for upcoming and past events)
      • Lounge and workspace
      • Collaboration Space: Members of the CfA community can reserve this space by writing
      • Technology loans: Includes laptops, cameras, and many other devices
      • Other essentials: desktop computers (Mac, PC), printers, scanners and copiers, microfilm reader

    Library History

    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 one library. In 1992, the administration of the HCO and SAO collections was merged under one director and staff.