This reference question can be filed under "just one more thing a librarian may be asked to do sometime." A patron came in one day this week and asked if I could write him a letter so he could get into the library at Harvard.
He said he had found two books in WorldCat that he wanted to use, but he needed a letter to be allowed to use them in their reading room. I've never been in Harvard's Widener Library myself, and have heard that anyone who isn't affiliated with Harvard needed special (and hard to get) permission to use their collection.
I'd never been asked to assist a patron in gaining access, so while he got to work on his laptop, I went to work figuring out what I could do to help.
A quick search turned up a webpage for Harvard's Library Privileges Office (the existence of which amused me but someone's got to do it), on which I found the criteria for Independent Researchers not Affiliated with Harvard:
Necessary Documentation: A valid photo ID card AND a letter from the reference librarian of your university or public library stating that the specific library materials needed are not available elsewhere.
Free of charge:
- A Visiting Researcher Card valid for a 3 month period from the date of issue.
Application for a Visiting Researcher Card should be made in person at the Library Privileges Office.
Before writing the letter, I looked up in WorldCat the two book titles the patron had given me. Both were indeed at Harvard, however: one was also available at Boston University (just across the Charles River from Harvard), and the other was at Amherst College (about 70 miles away).
I don't know how strict the Library Privileges Office is about "materials needed are not available elsewhere." Although, even though each book was available in another MA college, only Harvard had both, so gaining this access would save time for the patron - who did tell me he had a deadline.
So I typed up a letter [pdf], which I hope is good enough to help the patron. I wasn't sure if there was a proper format or anything, but I really do hope this works. The patron thanked me, took the letter, and I think immediately left to go present it in person at Harvard. I hope the he lets me know how he makes out.