“When in doubt, go to the library.”
One of the more important pearls of wisdom Hermione imparts on Ron and Harry by Book 2. Hermione proceeds to rip a page out of a very old book and scribble on it. Cue gasps. (Basically, knowledge found in the library helps saves the day, hoorah!)
Actually, I don’t care too much about not taking perfect care of books. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from working at an academic library, it is that the collection will be used and abused, because there will always be another edition coming with updated information, or the course will be dropped and the relevant texts weeded out or…you get the idea.
Does this make me a bad librarian? I don’t think so. It just means I don’t fit that particular stereotype.
And you know what? I don’t think Madam Pince is what she’s made out to be either, and actually she is a pretty realistic representation of today’s library struggles. That’s what I’ll be talking about in this Library Pop-Culture post. (Once again: “No other research has gone into this, it is simply the mild musings of a fan, trying to understand the way we [library folk] are perceived by others.”)
You see, I feel sorry for Pince. For a start, this is her description in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – “Madam Pince, the librarian, was a thin, irritable woman who looked like an underfed vulture”. If this is to be believed, it is probably the result of being the ONLY person working in the Hogwarts library. In my first post about this, I pointed out that it is home to “tens of thousands of books”. Really? Really?! How unfair is that?! Hogwarts is also home to approximately 280 students, and a horde of staff. No wonder she’s shrivelled into a tiny ball of rage.
This stinks of limited funding. Lucius Malfoy is one of the school governors, and I can’t see him agreeing to allocate a reasonable amount of funding to the library. He’d be the kind of dad who would bully everyone else into funding whatever his kid’s latest niche interest is (*cough* new-racing-brooms-for-Slytherin *cough*).
More proof is the number of times that books within the library are described as being really old, or mouldy, etc.
1) Where is the funding for new books? Did witches and wizards learn everything there was to know a few hundred years ago, mitigating the need for revised editions?
2) Not only is Pince the sole librarian, she is also, apparently, acting as an archivist. Classic upper-management decision making. Librarians and archivists are not the same. They both do very important, and very different jobs which require specialised study and training. All these old texts require specialised care, which I doubt she has the time for. I have faith in her abilities, because she’s clearly managing to keep this giant of a library together despite the limited resources, but I think to some extent she’s just given up. She can’t be expected to do everything. Her joy and enthusiasm for the job has been beaten out of her (#reallifeproblems).
3) If so many of these books are old, in terrible condition, and probably out of date, I guess she’s not allowed to weed anything out, either. It sounds like she’s being dictated to by some very old-fashioned thinking, and her days are probably spent trying to cast spells that create more room for books in a fixed space, and trying to keep nosey teens out of the Restricted Section.
The worst thing I realised while looking through Book 2, is that in the magical world librarians have the same muggle-struggle (heh) when it comes to being professionals. At Hogwarts, Madam Pince is less than the teaching staff, who receive the title ‘Professor’. The school nurse, Madam Pomfrey, also somehow misses out on having her ‘professional’ status acknowledged, despite being able to grow back bones. This is a reality that I have personally encountered, and it sadly creates tension within our profession and its strange (and damaging) hierarchies.
I’ll try to remember this the next time I see a librarian’s negative attitude in pop-culture being exploited. I’ll read between the lines and consider the lack of respect, funding or staffing that might be going on behind the scenes.
And remember, vultures ain’t so bad either.
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