The Magic of Libraries #2

“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.

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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.

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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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*If you’ve enjoyed our post please like or comment. We would love to hear your ideas! You can send your musings and feedback to theissuesdesk@yahoo.co.nz

Breaking down local government with Tammy 2

So we are talking about references to librarians in popular culture and I’ve chosen to talk about Parks and Recreation.

I personally feel like Parks and Recreation is one of the best shows ever created and as it deals with working for local government of course it has mentions and episodes dedicated to the library in the fictional town of Pawnee.

The most memorable of these for me is one from the second season called, “Ron and Tammy”. This is the episode that introduces Ron’s ex-wife Tammy 2. who works at the Pawnee library as the deputy director of library services. Due to this we are also introduced to the parks departments thoughts on the library:

Tammy and the Pawnee library team dress like typical librarians in your traditional cardigan/glasses combo but I don’t think they are like any I have ever met.

Tammy is highly sexual to an unprofessional degree. She cares little about public nudity or having sexual relations in public. I fear this behavior would be highly detrimental to her professional standing and I am surprised she still has a job. However, her co-workers seem to be equally unprofessional.

This can be witnessed here:

However, despite the above’s evidence to the contrary I do see some hints of truth buried in Parks and Recreations portrayal of local government happenings. As you can see from the first clip this episode comes to be because the library would like a piece of council land that the Parks and Recreation department feel they have claim to.

While, I can’t relate to the idea of a new library rebuild, I can understand the frustration of having to fight for council resources as unfortunately these are not unlimited and need to be spread amongst many departments. When you are part of a big organisation at times your voice can be lost especially when to some your value isn’t readily apparent.

It seems to be quite apt that the Parks and Recreation department and the libraries department would be fighting as these are the two with the most in common. They are the most isolated from the rest of the council as libraries work in the library building while parks and recreation are kept near the bottom of the building. These two teams also spend the most time directly dealing with the public and also spend the most time justifying there existence. I mean, everyone can understand why you need a rates department but are libraries and parks really needed?!?

I may be reading too much into this shows portrayal of librarians and the local governments response to them. However, I really like the non traditional route it has taken. I love that librarians are too be feared as they are smart from being so well read, I like that I don’t see any shhhing and a lack of tweed.

So what do you think? Please post your comments below or email us at theissuesdesk@yahoo.co.nz

The Magic of Libraries

Ever since I began working in libraries I’ve become hyper-aware of references to my profession in pop culture. This recognition is most often followed by cringing.

So I decided to take a look at how libraries and librarians are treated, specifically in the Harry Potter universe. I’m just skimming through my (much loved and very worn) collection, and jotting down my thoughts as I go. No other research has gone into this, it is simply the mild musings of a fan, trying to understand the way we are perceived by others.

I will begin at the beginning, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by the sublime J. K. Rowling. (N.B. I am only taking the books into account.)

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In a lot of ways Book 1 helps to affirm what I believe about libraries in pop culture: 1) Nothing good ever comes from libraries; 2) They are used mainly as plot devices;  and 3) They (often unnecessarily) reinforce the stereotypical librarian figure. You know the one.

The first two mentions of libraries occur fairly early on, but are merely descriptive devices, such as when Ollivanders’ wand shop gives Harry the feeling of stepping into “a very strict library” where “the back of his neck prickled. The very dust and silence…seemed to tingle with some secret magic”.

In Chapter 11 Snape uses library rules about books being outside as a way to assert his authority over Harry, Hermione and Ron, and deduct points from his rival house.

Things start to get juicy in chapter 12 – The Mirror of Erised – as the trio begin to use the library in their quest to discover who Nicolas Flamel is. We get our first glimpse into the majesty of the place, with “tens of thousands of books”, and a Restricted Section which is roped off and requires a signed note from a teacher to access.

This all sounds pretty promising. And then comes the first line from Madam Pince (what a name) to our dear protagonist Harry: “‘What are you looking for, boy?’” Caught off guard and with no answer, she yells at him to leave, while brandishing a feather duster at him. Um, that’s pretty rude, right? Lady needs to learn some customer service skills, quick smart. And what witch needs a feather duster? I can only assume she’s undertaking magical maintenance on it.

As the book goes on, the library is used at least twice as a major plot device. The first occurs when Harry uses his Invisibility Cloak for the first time (in the middle of the night), searching for information on Flamel. He picks up a book in the Restricted Section which begins to scream at him. Knocking over his only light source and attracting the unwanted attention of Filch, he flees the scene and seeks refuge in a classroom, where he finds the Mirror of Erised, which of course plays a massive role in his first encounter (sort of) with Voldemort, along with some pretty awesome Harry-Dumbledore bonding time.

The second instance sees the trio encounter Hagrid in the library, who of course acts like he has been caught out. The man has zero poker face. Ron discovers that he has been looking at the dragon section, which prompts the nosey children to follow this up with Hagrid. All this sets in motion some Draco Malfoy character development, our introduction to the Forbidden Forest and the centaurs, and inklings of the prophecy.

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FYI Neville cops it outside the library when Malfoy puts a Leg-Locker Curse on him, prompting advice to stick up for himself (I spy a plot device).

It makes me a little sad when I think about authors who use the library and librarians in this way. I’m sure many of them have found refuge in these institutions, discovered their love of reading and storytelling, and found all kinds of information to build up their dreamworlds.

I will write more about the Hogwarts library as I flick through the rest of the series, and I most certainly have more to say about Madam Pince!