The ID Card: What Happens When You Swipe?

Without your Harvard identification card, you could go to class, but that's about it.

Without an ID card, there would be no access to dormitories, dining halls or libraries; no Crimson Cash or BoardPlus.

So how did this wonderful innovation come about? The saga of the ID card begins eight years ago, in the nether region of the Yard known as "the Union dorms."

In the Beginning...

Director of Physical Resources Michael N. Lichten, who was involved in the keycard implementation process "from the very start," says only Greenough, Hurlbut, Pennypacker and one of the chemistry buildings featured card readers in 1991.

"We wanted to see how it was going to work and what kinds of problems it was going to cause," he says.

Luckily, Lichten says the keycard experiment proved to be a success.

"People were already getting used to card access at bank ATMs," he explains. "And by 1992, we got the whole Yard going."

After that, Lichten says keycard readers were added to two or three Houses and several academic buildings each summer.

The system met with approval from both students and parents, Lichten says, because it increased their sense of campus safety.

Prior to the advent of ID cards, incoming College students were issued a room key, a mailbox key and an entryway or dorm key, Lichten says. If an entryway key was lost, the locks had to be changed and every student in the entryway issued a new key.

However, the ID card changed all that.

Lichten says the keycard system also made administrators' lives easier by allowing them to expand or restrict access to different buildings at different times of the year, depending on the need.

"When the term is over, we can change the access, get cleaning done quickly, prepare for reunions and summer school," he says. "Then we can change it back in September for incoming freshmen."

Don't Leave Home Without It