Recalls: when you're asked to return an item to the library

I was supposed to have this item for the semester, but I've suddenly been asked to return it. What's going on?

This FAQ answer has several sections. Scroll down to see headers.

What are recalls? Materials lent by Harvard Library are occasionally subject to recall (that is, they must be returned).

 While we understand that this can be a frustrating occurrence, recalls are an important tool for ensuring fair access to shared resources for all members of the Harvard community. The practice was originally established at Harvard Library by the University Faculty Committee.

When does Harvard Library issue recalls? We try not to issue them, as a rule, and they are no longer an automated process. If another patron needs the item, we first try to locate a copy for them through another avenue. If there are no other options, the patron may request a special recall.

Ok, but I had an item recalled and I still need it. Since overdue recalled materials are rare but subject to fines, it is important to return recalled items promptly. If you still need the material, there are several options available to you:

  • Scan or copy the portions of the book you need (free scanners in the library- bring your USB stick).
  • If another copy exists in the Harvard Library collection you can borrow that one.
  • Use one of the recall alternatives listed below. This is recommended over recalling. It's usually faster.
  • You can recall the book by clicking on "Pickup" in HOLLIS. 


I had a book recalled but I'm out of town. Borrowers are responsible for the return of recalled materials regardless of circumstance. If you have the book with you, you can mail it back to the library. If not, perhaps there is someone who could retrieve it and return it for you. If neither of these is an option, you can discuss the situation with the Library Billing Office once you’ve returned the material (note that situations deemed exceptional usually involve more than travel).

Fines will not be charged at libraries closed during Winter Recess, but they do accrue between terms (including J-Term and during the summer). 

I had a book recalled. Can someone get it from my carrel? You can contact the Widener Stacks Division at 617-495-2458 to inquire.


I didn’t get a notice of a new effective due date. Auto-generated courtesy emails are sent for notification of recalls and upcoming renewal times. Unfortunately, emails sometimes go astray. Patrons are responsible for monitoring their library borrowing and you can always see when your books are due using the "my account" feature in HOLLIS

It’s probably a good idea to check with Library Access and Borrowing to see if we have the correct email address for you.

  • For Harvard ID holders, we'll have the email address in the central Harvard University identity database. To change this address, call the ID Office phone number on the back of your ID card.
  • For special borrowers, we have the email address you gave in your application form and you can change it with the Access and Borrowing Office.

Service Alert:
  • Ask a Librarian, including chat and email, will be suspended from Saturday, May 26 through Monday May 28, in observance of Memorial Day. Questions received during this period will be answered beginning Tuesday, May 28, 2023.
  • If you're experiencing an ongoing technical issue when you attempt to access library materials with your HarvardKey during these times, please report it to Library Technology Services.


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