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Information About Access Restrictions

To ensure that research visits to the Center for the History of Medicine meet user expectations, staff encourage both researchers and prospective donors to learn more about the policies and procedures governing access to our holdings, particularly in the case of records governed by access restrictions.  If, after reading the below information, you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Public Services.


Types of Restricted Records
While periods of restriction for different kinds of records are detailed below, commonly restricted records include:

  • Government records found in manuscript and archival collections that are currently restricted by the National Archives and Records Administration
  • Personnel records, including hiring and separation files, employee evaluations, and salary information
  • Records deposited at the Center for which permission from the owner of the records must be obtained
  • Records of non-Harvard individuals or buisnesses ("corporate entities") containing competitive intelligence less than 50 years old
  • Records containing health information about individuals, such as patient records and doctor-patient correspondence
  • Recording containing personally identifying information less than 80 years old that could facilitate fraud or identity theft, such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and other financial information
  • Records created by the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Harvard School of Public Health that are less than 50 or 80 years old, depending on the record type
  • Records that were acquired by the Center with certain access requirements (such as permission of the donor)
  • Student records


About Restricted Records
Some collections contain items that are access restricted per the Harvard University Policy outlined in the 1988 and 1989 Corporation Votes. Additionally, other types of records are closed per local (Harvard Medical School) policy. Below is a list of the types of records that are restricted by the Center. Although restrictions information is indicated in most of the Center’s finding aids, restriction information may not be comprehensive for collections processed over fifteen years ago. If you are interested in a collection that contains any of the types of records below, please contact Public Services to ensure the records you want to use do not require Access Board approval.

Records Restricted for 50 years from the date of record creation
Harvard University (which includes the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and the Harvard School of Public Health) restricts access to the records it creates as a product of routine operations (“institutional records”). There are many kinds of institutional records, but examples include  (but are not limited to) records of Deans, administrative and operational records of academic departments, and curriculum development files.

Example: Harvard School of Public Health. Department of Biostatistics. Records, 1981-2009 (inclusive), 1999-2003 (bulk). Series 00490: III. Departmental Meetings Records, 1999-2003 (http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:med00187)

Occasionally, the Center will restrict the institutional records of non-Harvard entities for 50 years if there is information that could be deemed competitive intelligence.

Records Restricted for 80 years from the date of record creation
Harvard University (which includes the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and the Harvard School of Public Health) restricts, per FERPA, access to student records, and also closes all Human Resources and evaluative records for 80 years. Examples include (but are not limited to): hiring and separation files for Harvard University employees; employee evaluations; student-faculty correspondence; and student evaluations, transcripts, or grades (unless requested by the student directly).

Example: Joanne S. Ingwall Papers, 1961-2009 (H MS c325), Series IV. Correspondence, 1978-2009. Box 16, folder 23: “Ad Hoc Committee of Evaluators to Consider the Appointment of Paul Allen, M.D., Ph.D., 20 January 1998-November 1999.” Restricted until 2079 (http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:med00129)

Local policy also dictates that any records that contain the following information be restricted for 80 years from the date of record creation:

  • Personally identifying information that could facilitate fraud or identity theft, such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and other financial information
  • Evaluative information and human resources-like files of non-Harvard employers found in manuscript collections
  • Health information about individuals, such as (but not limited to) patient correspondence with medical care providers (including Harvard faculty) about treatment or medical care; patient records; medical records, psychiatric case files; research or clinical trials records employing human subjects; research data that has not been de-identified; and clinical photography. The Center is not a HIPAA-covered entity.

Example: Erich Lindemann papers, 1885-1991 (inclusive), 1950-1974 (bulk). H MS c219. West End Research Project, 1949-1975, undated (Series II), box 39, folder 23, “West End Project - Interviews, 1957” Restricted Until 2037. (The folder contains restricted psychiatric/mental health patient records) (http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:med00191)

Variable Records Restrictions
Although less frequently encountered, there are other records restrictions that apply to Center holdings. These include:

  • Donor restrictions, which can be for any amount of time stipulated by the donor of the collection or the institution who has given the records to the Center. This includes closing the collection until the donor is deceased. Obtaining Access: People seeking access to collections restricted by donors must contact the donor for permission to use the collection via Public Services
  • Depositor restrictions, or restrictions that apply to collections that are available to researchers using the Center’s facilities, but have not been gifted to the Center, may be restricted for any amount of time, or per any condition stipulated by the depositor. Obtaining Access: People seeking access to collections restricted by depositors must contact the depositor for permission to use the collection via Public Services
  • United States government records found in manuscript collections restricted per the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)