About Harvard Library

The Harvard Library advances scholarship and teaching by committing itself to the creation, application, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. 

As the largest library system in the U.S., comprised of 33 libraries and numerous sub-libraries and departments, The Harvard Library is much more than volumes of books. It houses centuries of learning, history, and information, and is dedicated to its mission. Serving as an information and support hub, the Library connects users to related disciplines and to University-wide teaching resources. The Harvard Library provides the University's faculty, students, and researchers—now and in the future—with comprehensive access to these materials. 



The Harvard University campus

The Challenge

The digital landscape has changed users’ expectations of their libraries. People want to find the same delight and intrigue digitally that they once found, physically exploring shelves. After building a series of digital properties with different people through separate projects, Harvard Library felt it needed to inspire delight and intrigue again by unifying its web presence and creating a seamless experience for users where they could smoothly move between platforms.

This project addressed one of the Harvard Library’s primary goals for its website, library.harvard.edu, which was to promote a culture of use, by providing resources to technologically-savvy students and researchers. 

Harvard Library's key challenges were:

  • Determining structured information architecture for 50,000 pieces of content
  • Building a digital tool for students and researchers to explore utilize the physical library space
  • Promoting a culture of use and audience engagement

The Approach

Velir used Agile methodology from design through UX, front-end, and back-end development along with insights from workshops about High-Performance teams and the Stanford Design Feedback process to create a state-of-the-art, modern, comprehensive library experience for students, faculty, and researchers at Harvard, as well as the larger community. 

Our approach included:

  • Implementing robust search
  • Applying an iterative design and user feedback process
  • Using an Agile development mindset across disciplines


The Harvard Library homepage

Building New Search Tools

To help users easily find library space and reserve it, we created Space Finder, a tool modeled after Cambridge UK library’s version. Space Finder is an easy-to-use tool for students and researchers to find study spaces based on a wide variety of criteria like “type of seating” to “how busy.” Another unique feature built into Space Finder is being able to search the entire library system to determine which locations are open at a certain hour so that all results display side-by-side.


Harvard Library's Exhibits page

Continuously Collecting User Feedback

By using an iterative design process, we enabled the Harvard Library team to launch a beta version of the new site to collect valuable feedback from prospective users, which allowed us to create a more user-centric site. We also provided the team with our processes, workflows, and insights to enable further design changes as the site evolves.


Harvard Library's branding elements, including color and brand application for the website.

The Solution

Harvard Library's new website focuses on findability and usability by providing a more robust search experience powered by Solr, which includes search results from Hollis+ as well. Its Space Finder tool offers the ability to find study spaces based on a wide variety of criteria to further improve findability. Pages are story-driven and both information architecture and navigation are driven by the audience. There is also clear and consistent brand messaging throughout the site. 

Screenshots from Harvard Library's mobile site