Widener, like all of Harvard’s libraries, is currently closed to the public as part of a University-wide effort to reduce the number of people on campus amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, there’s a new way to visit — and you don’t even need a Harvard ID.
Harvard Library has partnered with a digital production company to create a 360-degree virtual tour of Widener, using a model constructed from thousands of photographs taken inside the building. Viewers can gaze up at the skylights of the Loker Reading Room, wander through the lower-level stacks, and examine the bookshelves holding Harry Widener’s personal collection. Along the tour, markers indicate an option to read historical details.
The virtual tour was conceptualized and commissioned by Harvard Library’s digital scholarship program manager Matt Cook and head of research services Reed Lowrie. Cook said their vision was to “provide an experience of the space and its historical information for those unable to enter physically.”
This option has become even more relevant during the coronavirus outbreak and response, as the building is closed to all but essential staff. Lowrie suggested that users who would typically tour the library this time of year, like prospective students, could tour it virtually instead.
He and Cook had the tour approved and launched ahead of schedule once they saw the University’s response to coronavirus would restrict access to the library.
The virtual tour is currently in beta and includes a feedback link. It is viewable on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.