The Power of Books

Today I read a story that made me stop and think about the power of a book. Not their potential to garner a love for reading, or give companionship to the lonely (I’m not denying these either), though. It made me think about how a book can spark a conversation, about a number of things besides the context, and bring groups of people together in strange ways.

The article, Mission impossible: German libraries try to return Nazi-looted books (by Polina Garaev, 1/8/2015), talks about German libraries that are exploring the sketchy past of books once ‘donated’, or otherwise, during that notorious era of Adolf Hitler. It describes donations made by the Gestapo, where books (and other items) were forcibly removed from the Jewish people of Germany.

Funding to find the original owners of these books, through surviving ledgers and handwritten notes within the texts themselves, is minimal. Garaev quotes librarian Sebastian Finsterwalder who laments that of the people working on the project “99% of them are volunteers, temp workers, or library workers doing this part time, and that affects the work they can do”.

It is a powerful thought, though. A group of people coming together, out of a sense of social responsibility I suppose.* It is acknowledged in the article that most of the books aren’t worth anything in isolation, but it’s what they represent to the person or relatives from whom the book, belongings, and lives were taken, that is tremendously important. It’s a way of not forgetting the past, not letting the bitter memories and the guilt fade, a way of showing survivors that what happened is recognised.

These unassuming books have had the power of bringing people back to their pasts, of connecting people with the truth about their families, have enabled these conversations to occur, where otherwise they may never have surfaced.

It also demonstrates an interesting intersection between three professions that, in New Zealand at least, currently fall under the ‘Information Studies’ umbrella: the librarian, the archivist, and the records manager. When working in one of these positions it is easy to believe that they exist apart, but this demonstrates the connections that exist. The libraries in Germany housed these books for many years, before exploring and recognising what they were, undertaking this monumental project. They could not have discovered so much without those who created meticulous records of the events, and the people who have archived similar information since, often linking books with people now living overseas.

Much like you can’t fully experience happiness without sadness, you can’t understand the world you live in without having memory and understanding of the past. Whatever conflicting information ideologies exist between the librarian, the archivist, and the records manager, they all work together and need each other. And hopefully value their unique connections.

*Reading this story made me think of a book I recently read, Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall, by Anna Funder, that covers similar subject matter in relation to volunteers trying to piece together the past (literally). I’ll say no more, other than to encourage everyone to check it out.


Library Career Outlook in NZ (well, according to the government)

Sometimes I wonder how the NZ Library and Information Association in 2010 and Careers NZ gathered their statistics to describe library careers.

I have more faith in their data than my own observations, but the latter is perception of fact rather than reported data – and perception can easily have more power and sway over one’s reactions and decisions.

I present to you with a screenshot of the webpage describing the job of a Library Assistant:

library assistantMana rapuara Aotearoa, Careers NZ. (4 June 2015). Careers NZ – Library Assistant. Retrieved 23rd July 2015.

Now although there is always a lot of interest in these positions, I wouldn’t say that your chances of getting a job were exactly poor – but your chances of receiving the salary they’ve recorded certainly are.

Have a look – and someone please comment to tell me I’m undeniably, irrefutably wrong, and this data is correct (and also what library you work at!!)

This website is designed predominantly for college students, I believe, and this might be somewhat disheartening to a young person tossing up the idea of pursuing a career in libraries.

However, that is only at assistant level, so let’s take a look at what it says about being a Librarian:

librarianMana rapuara Aotearoa, Careers NZ. (4 June 2015). Careers NZ – Librarian. Retrieved 23rd July 2015.

Well that’s more promising… yet so vague. What kind of librarian? Who is considered a ‘librarian’? I am assuming this is an average across a large field, but depending on your position and experience, you could easily knock 10k off the lower estimate, or add 100k to the upper one. I realise that sounds extreme, but if one counts the Library Manager as a ‘librarian’, it might well reach these heights.

That takes me back to my original question. Who is a librarian? I so seldom come across anyone whose job title is simply ‘librarian’. At what point is the cut off?

I hope one day someone shall say to me, “Sorry, we realise you work in a library and are qualified, but you just earn too much to call yourself a Librarian now.”

I am also distracted by the sparkly: Archivist, Historian, Curator… all these related jobs – wow! Have I ever thought too deeply into what kind of library or librarian I would like to be? Wouldn’t it be simply amazing to work in a museum library or archive?

Further exploration reveals that the economic recession and subsequent cuts to funding are responsible for the poor outlook in library assistant jobs. But there’s a bright side! The pay is also poor, so there is a steady turnover as people move on to more affluent positions.

Wait… that didn’t quite sound right…

Let’s try again:

Being a Library Assistant is a good stepping stone to develop your skills, discover what you love in a library, where your passion lies, and the specific career path you’d like to follow. And, yes, it is even possible to both live comfortably on the salary received and still save money if you are wise.

The question becomes: just how easy is it to move up?

Watching my colleagues who have more ambition than I, I would say that:

  •  having a relevant library qualification
  •  developing language skills in Te Reo
  •  having a knowledge and understanding for many cultures
  •  developing skills in information technology
  •  teaching experience
  •  making it your professional development career goal
  •  motivation
  •  determination
  •  dedication
  •  commitment
  •  tunnel-vision
  •  resolve
  •  enthusiasm
  •  near-scary-zealousness

…all help.

crane and frog

I rather love this website, and would recommend looking at the tabs beyond the summary of library jobs – and also checking out the other listed careers:

Also, please excuse my lazy citations and enjoy this meme instead:


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.


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.



*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

“There are typical librarians, but not all librarians are typical”

“There are typical librarians, but not all librarians are typical.”  ~  Excerpt From: Peters, Elizabeth. “The Seventh Sinner”

Jacqueline (or ‘Jake’ as she is often known by) isn’t the librarian one usually encounters in fiction.  Throughout her book series, she tries her hand at other professions – amateur detective (she already has the enquiring mind), sometimes historian (posing as a Richard III enthusiast), and romance writer (because she knows all the tropes and how to write them).

She’s also smart and independent.  Sometimes she dresses as librarians are imagined to dress, but she wears it almost like a disguise or a who-do-I-want-to-be-today? outfit.

I wonder how many other librarians get the same response when confessing their profession?  This is how a conversation at a social gathering usually progresses:

So what do you do?
I’m a librarian.
Whoa, no way!  That’s cool.  You don’t look like a typical librarian.
What does a typical librarian look like?
You know – twinset…bun…glasses (gestures)
Oh I only dress like that if they force me to be in a promotional photo. 
Ah, do they like you to dress librarian…ish?
They like it about as much as I like being in photoshoots. 
If you should come across a photo of a librarian looking like Wednesday Addams with her hair in a bun and cat eye glasses, it is probably me.

Yeeeaaah… much like that.

I read the Jacqueline Kirby series before I became a librarian.  The books sided with me on my counter-assumption that librarianship was more interesting and librarians less typical than most portrayals allowed them to be.

I have since come across many different librarians in fiction that begin to traverse from what was once the norm.  Not all of them are brilliant or remarkable, but it’s nevertheless a step outside what has been a fairly rigid square.

John Simm as “Frank” in Miranda

The sarcastic teen librarian that Lisa Simpson has a crush on in Bart’s Girlfriend

The Orang-utan librarian in the Discworld

I could do more of a list, but the thing I begin to notice is that many of the librarians who get to step outside of the norm are male, whereas female librarians are often still constricted to being the “Scary Librarian” or “Hot Librarian” (you will find both of these as tropes on the infamous TV Tropes website.

I trust I am mistaken in this – and that there are plenty more unique, female, fictional librarians out there too.  But this is perhaps why I hold Jacqueline Kirby up as the quintessential example of a well-characterised fictional librarian.

Moreover, as fascinating as it is to find librarians in pop-culture, what I find most entertaining and ground-breaking are the other librarians I meet in my line of work.

It makes me think you could never easily pick in real life who a librarian might be.  Sadly, in fictionalised media, it is often almost too easy.

“Quanto in aeternum”
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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

NZ Sign Language & Libraries

I find when I am enjoying the gentle warm rain of the shower at night, the steaminess enveloping me in a foggy cloud from the world, my mind drifts back to random episodes out of the past.

For whatever reason, my train of thought wandered back to the day I was on desk and helping a woman who was Deaf.  She was able to communicate what she needed me to do, but I remember feeling my own failure in not being able to make the exchange easier for her; expressly, my lack of knowledge in NZ Sign Language.

Once I was nicely warm in my pyjamas, I set to researching courses in NZ Sign Language on the internet.  In particular, I wanted to ascertain if there were courses tailored for libraries and the kinds of conversations one is likely to have with patrons.

It takes time to become proficient in any new language – but what if there was a course that would teach library staff the signs to say such things as:

·         Kia ora, how are you?

·         Would you like help finding something?

·         Would you like me to renew this book?

·         We need to update your address details

…And so forth.

I remember at the public library we did have a lady come in and teach us how to sign a few simple phrases, but what I had in mind was a slightly more intensive course – perhaps six sessions – which would be of specific and practical use.

 Are there such courses available?  Is this a feasible idea?  I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts and comments on this.

 At the moment I am trying to self-learn a little from this website:

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.)


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.


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!