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).
Skylab Film ReelsAn ongoing project to digitize film-captured data taken onboard the Skylab Space Station.
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. Wolbach Library is the library for the Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Library Mission

The staff of Wolbach Library work to provide resources that respond to and anticipate challenges that impact the astrophysics community— to do this library staff participate in local, national, and international collaborations that support scholarly advancement and enable the creation and sharing of new knowledge.

Guiding Principles

  • Conversation: The Wolbach Library will work to foster conversation among members of the community and actively engage in those conversations to provide resources that meet the community’s continually changing and diverse needs.
  • Ownership: The Wolbach Library is a shared resource for all members of the astrophysics community. Community members are invited to contribute their ideas about how the Library can develop collections that help meet their scholarly and personal goals. 
  • Adaptability: The Wolbach Library will maintain a willingness to adapt to the community’s needs and to enable discovery, sharing, and publication of all research artifacts.
  • Support: The Wolbach Library will support the community by providing resources that lower technical and social barriers that impact the future of astronomy research.
  • Humanity: Astronomy is a human endeavor, and the Wolbach Library sees people as the most valuable resource at the CfA. The Library therefore prioritizes people and astronomers’ human needs when making decisions about our collections, services, and projects.

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 scientific advancement through outreach and training programs

These principles and priorities shape the Library's efforts 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). The Wolbach Library also acknowledges the historical and on-going influence that racism, sexism, and colonialism have on astronomers and their research. The Library therefore commits to continually evaluating how the Library’s collections, projects, and services can be useful in combating these forms of oppression and violence.

Library Staffing Structure

Organizational chart for the Wolbach Library. The Smithsonian staff are shades of blue, the Harvard staff are shades of red



Services and Resources

    • Assistance from Librarians
      • Contact Us for help with research, scholarly communication, as well as digital curation and preservation of all kinds (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.