Focus on: The Library

What could more thrill the heart of either a librarian or one’s inner Hermione than this tale of a gem found in a dusty rare book room?   This NY Times story is about more than finding a rarity in Brown University’s Library dungeons.  The author knows how to write about someone who loves books, and captures the texture and imagination of “life in the stacks.”

On more Library-related notes, how did you feel when you entered the Library on Pottermore?  What more do you wish you could do there?  I for one would love to be able to pull down books from the shelves–say, Hogwarts: A History–and be able to leaf through a few pages to find out some magical details that Prof. Binns didn’t tell us….

And what are your favorite “Library moments” in any of the Harry Potter novels?


24 thoughts on “Focus on: The Library

  1. Sadly my paper on Madam Pince (and my expansion for a local library association on why we should be concerned about such stereotypical portrayals) tends to make me view the library scenes from the point of view of what should have happened, and makes me go “really, this is a magical school and they don’t have spells that work better than library catalogs and databases?” (let’s not even get me started on Madam Pince herself – if anyone is curious the not-quite-as-librarian-y original version will be published in the Replacing Wands With Quills proceedings)

    Favorite library moment in the movies however is the hilarious scene between Harry and Hermione in HBP – “but I am the chosen one” lol

  2. I loved Harry’s midnight trip to the library in his father’s invisibility cloak in Sorcerers Stone. It was so perfectly spooky in the Restricted Section: “Maybe he was imagining it….a faint whispering coming from the books, as though they knew someone was there who shouldn’t be.” And then when the book started screaming! Wonderful.

    Alison, I agree on your favorite movie library moment. I loved the way Herminone moves briskly through the stacks as her books re-shelve themselves (at least that part if more efficient with magic!).

    I’ve always found the inefficiencies of Rowling’s magical world quite charming. Wizards are such a conservative bunch — still using messy quills, ink and parchment when ball point pens and paper work so much better!

    Which reminds me of another favorite library moment: Harry falling asleep on his pile of books searching for a way to stay alive under water — think how much easier it would have been if he could just have Googled his query 😉 Amazing all those ingenious ways muggles have for getting by without magic!

  3. You sure so know your audience cbiondi, all these librarians and academics on the site are bound to have an opinion!

    I agree about the library moment in HBP (movie)- Hermione re-shelving the books was a great touch. Makes you wonder if she did that for fun, or as a study break all the times she was in the library during the books.

    In HPB (book) Ginny studies for her OWLS in the library, Harry misses her, and it was one of my first “oh other students use the library” moment. I know there are other references throughout the books, but it does seem like the library is the common (only) study area at Hogwarts.

    I also love how Hermione’s beaded bag contains books from Dumbledore’s personal library- she’s a clever one, that Hermione.

    I wonder so many things about the Hogwarts library- how the books are organized, how students find books, how “check outs” work- like, when the book is “due” does it just magically fly out of your bag, or your dorm and go back to the library? Because that would be a great system. Do the books have personalities (which is, IMO, the only redeeming description of the book ‘The Magicians’. Hilarious description of the school library), and how does Madame Pince “control” them? I wonder if JKR ever thought about this subculture that would be so intrigued by this one aspect of Hogwarts.

  4. As all of your great examples point to, I should have asked what your favorite Library moments are in the novels and the films!

    Alison, triple-ditto on the HBP Library scene. That’s totally okay to view the Library scenes through “what should have happened,” so please comment away about that. And I’m really looking forward to your essay coming out in the Replacing Wands with Quills proceedings!

    I also really loved Harry’s midnight trip to the Library in SS, Mary Ellen! That scene combines so many things: the seeking of knowledge for the good, the proper use of the Invisibility Cloak, a meaningful connection to his father, etc. I laughed out loud at your comment about how much easier it would have been for Harry to have Googled the info that would have yielded the gillyweed solution–a modern-day “Accio” for info.

    Yes, PotterMom05, I thought this post would bring out the wonderful Librarians and bibliophiles that inhabit this site. 🙂 Hermione’s mega-awesome beaded bag–how I wish I had one of those, Dumbledore’s books and all…. *sigh* There is a rather large sub-culture surrounding the Library and books in the saga, now that you mention it. Whether Rowling realized that such a phenomenon would spring up, I don’t know. With her classical and linguistic training and keen awareness of the power of books, I figure that she’s couldn’t be really surprised about it, even if she didn’t foresee it.

  5. random interesting point that ended up being a bit too off topic in my paper, but the following is the actual first mention of the word library in Sorcerer’s Stone:

    “…- he didn’t belong to the library, so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back…. (SS 34, ch. 3)”

    I’m still trying to ponder exactly the significance of this. (I copied it down in my notes when I originally wasn’t sure if my paper was going to focus on Madam Pince, or on information and libraries and books in general in the series). Maybe if I can ever determine what I think the significance of the first mention being so negative, I’ll have me another paper topic there! (Seriously though I think the real “excuse” for it is that the Dursleys would have considered any fine notices to be “rude” even if they weren’t, and that’s the only way Harry would have known anything about fine notices anyway.)

  6. When I was very little (and even now), libraries seemed to be intensely magical, mysterious places — plus there was a little bit of excitement over the possibility of peeking into a grown-up book that my mother probably wouldn’t have let me read. I guess that’s why Harry’s midnight foray resonates so much with me.

    Have you noticed that every library has it’s own special scent? I’m sure I would pick up up that special fragrance if I were to properly brew an Amortensia potion.

    Thanks Alison for reminding me about Harry not having a library card. It struck me as part of the whole horrible Dursley pattern of abuse: no birthdays, no trips to the zoo, ugly hand-me down clothes and worst of all — no books! Also no library card fits with the Dursley policy of never answering questions about Harry’s past; books and libraries hold our collective cultural memories and therefore they are dangerous places for people as fearful and close-minded as the Dursleys. What if Harry had stumbled on a book with the M-word in it? Would he have realized that he was magical? In Diane Duane’s wonderful “So You Want to be A Wizard”, Nita discovers a magical how-to book tucked into an out-of-the way shelf in the children’s section of her library. No wonder Harry didn’t have a library card!

    BTW there was clearly some sort of cataloging by topic in the Hogwart’s library: remember how Ron spotted Hagrid coming out of the library’s section on dragons? My guess is that Hogwarts did not use the Dewey Decimal system, though!

  7. Regarding the Dursleys – Sorcerer’s Stone is full of these tidbits – there were books that Dudley had clearly never read, etc – but what also stood out to me was Harry’s actual interest in reading the books in Sorcerer’s Stone prior to going to Hogwarts – not only is he interested in all the books other than his textbooks when in Diagon Alley, but he’s clearly reading the textbooks themselves prior to going to Hogwarts. Yet once he’s there, he and Ron are always falling asleep over books while studying. And it makes me wonder – is it all the influence of Ron and the other boys? is it the fact that he’s finally in the magical world so reading about it isn’t as facinating as before? Why doesn’t Harry retain that interest in books more than he does??

  8. So… Eric, I had to look up the referent. I think this means that you’ve risen a couple of notches on the geek-o-meter and I have shamefully gotten a demerit. I owe you much for leading me to discover what looks to be a great deal of fun! For those who didn’t get the referent either, you can find out here:

    Alison, that’s fascinating about the first mention of the word ‘library’ in SS! Mary Ellen’s thoughts on this sound spot-on. Keeping Harry away from a library kept him away from realizing his power. I, too, was annoyed that Harry didn’t pay more attention to books once at Hogwarts, but if Harry is spirit influenced by both Ron as body and Hermione as mind, then I guess it fits.

    When I first read that sentence about no library card in SS, what had struck me were some of the parallels and differences between Harry and Jane Eyre. We also meet Jane as a half-starved, abused, terrified orphan housed by nasty relatives. However, what she does have that Harry didn’t is access to at least a few books. At the end of the first chapter of Jane Eyre, when her cousin John Reed cracks her in the head with a book causing her head to strike a doorway, she fights back for the first time. Here is the bit that I love:

    “”Wicked and cruel boy,” I said. “You are like a murderer–you are like a slave-driver–you are like the Roman emperors!” I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome, and had formed my opinion on Nero, Caligula, &c. Also I had drawn parallels in silence, which I had never thought thus to have declared out loud.”

    Jane is kind of like Harry and Hermione rolled into one.

    And absolutely “Yes!” Mary Ellen on the smell of libraries. That would also be one of my Amortensia potion scents….

  9. Just noticed that something I wrote @9 is inaccurate: “However, what she does have that Harry didn’t is access to at least a few books.” Since Harry does go to school, he must have access to books. What he doesn’t have is a library card. Harry’s time at school, though, is plagued by avoiding Dudley and his gang, so there seems to be not much time for anything beyond assigned schoolwork–certainly nothing he’s had to read seems to have been especially informative or interesting. Basically, nothing mentally stimulating comes along until his letter from Hogwarts, which leads to a whole new world. Jane had at least been able to escape her dreary time and space with books about history, nature, and the fantastical, which was augmented by the housemaid’s vivid storytelling and singing.

  10. I am just going to post this now, as I can see this could turn into a very long dissertation. It is not complete, but I have become so involved with it, completing it could take weeks. Please forgive any errors.
    I just love how there are so many aspects of the HP books that can be explored. I never gave the library a single thought until your posted Focus on: The Library, Cbiondi. It seems there are so many little things within the books, when explored, turn into something wonderfully new and exciting.

    I went through the first few books and found all of the Madam Pince and library references. When separating them by character, I am able to see how differently each person felt about the library and librarians. I will start with


    Harry came to Hogwarts with an uneasy feeling about libraries and librarians.
    At his surprise upon receiving his first Letters From No One, Harry’s thoughts were that
    (PS-3) “ No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives — he didn’t belong to the library, so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back.”

    Although he had almost no personal experience with a library or librarians, Harry had developed negative feelings about about librarians before arriving at Hogwarts. This may have stemmed from his experiences with the Dursleys. There must have been several letters sent through the mail to the Dursleys from the library about overdue books. Of course, the overdue books would never had been the fault of any of the Dursley family members. Hearing their comments, complaints and displeasure, aimed at the librarians, due to their own negligence in not returning the books plus the resulting fines they would have to pay, would have made an impact on Harry, even though he, himself had been the unwarranted target of their displeasure and cruel comments all of his life.

    When Harry was in Diagon Alley, he entered Ollivander’s little shop to get his wand, his library anxiety resurfaced. This means it was not just librarians who gave him the feeling of dread. It was everything about the library itself that caused his dread.

    (PS-5 Diagon Alley)
    “A tinkling bell rang somewhere in the depths of the shop as they stepped
    inside. It was a tiny place, empty except for a single, spindly chair that Hagrid sat on to wait. Harry felt strangely as though he had entered a very strict library”

    The shear size of the Hogwarts library was especially intimidating for Harry.

    (PS-12 The Mirror of Erised)
    “then, of course, there was the sheer size of the library; tens of thousands of books; thousands of shelves; hundreds of narrow rows.”

    It did not help that Madam Pince, like Filtch, was always keeping a close eye on everyone to make sure neither the library nor the books within were ever taken for granted or misused. The library was for reading or studying. Discussing what was read or studied was not on her list of acceptable library behavior. The library and its all its contents were her domain. She protected them as their guardian. She regarded anyone who entered as an intruder to banish at the slightest infraction.

    (PS-12 The Mirror of Erised)
    “What are you looking for, boy?”
    “Nothing,” said Harry.
    Madam Pince the librarian brandished a feather duster at him.
    “You’d better get out, then. Go on — out!”
    Wishing he’d been a bit quicker at thinking up some story, Harry left
    the library.

    It seemed every time Harry entered the library he was always either being reprimanded or looked at in a disapproving manner by Madam Pince.

    “He turned on his heel and stormed out of the library, earning himself
    a reproving glare from Madam Pince, who was polishing the gilded
    cover of a large spellbook.”

    Although Madam Pince cared for the books well, no where in any of the HP books did I find a single sentence that Madam Pince actually read any of the books. If anyone finds an incident where it shows she actually read them I would be very interested to know.

    No time was more intimidating to Harry then when he went there, at night, to do something that he knew would get him into trouble with not only Madam Pince, but with almost every professor at the school.

    (PS-12 The Mirror of Erised)
    “The library was pitch-black and very eerie. Harry lit a lamp to see his
    way along the rows of books. The lamp looked as if it was floating along
    in midair, and even though Harry could feel his arm supporting it, the
    sight gave him the creeps.

    The Restricted Section was right at the back of the library. Stepping
    carefully over the rope that separated these books from the rest of the
    library, he held up his lamp to read the titles.”

    Harry did find the library a useful excuse to get him out of situations he did not like or people whose company he did not want. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it did not.

    (PA-8 Flight of the Fat Lady)
    “”Er — no, thanks, Colin,” said Harry, who wasn’t in the mood to have a
    lot of people staring avidly at the scar on his forehead. “I — I’ve got
    to go to the library, got to get some work done.

    “After that, he had no choice but to turn right around and head back out
    of the portrait hole again.

    “What was the point waking me up?” the Fat Lady called grumpily after
    him as he walked away.

    “Harry wandered dispiritedly toward the library, but halfway there he
    changed his mind; he didn’t feel like working”

    By Harry’s third year at Hogwarts, he not only began to get used to the library he also saw the library could be useful for him.

    (PA-10 The Marauders’ Map)
    “He, Ron, and Hermione went to the library the next day and returned to the empty common room laden with books that might help prepare a defense for Buckbeak. The three of them sat in front of the roaring fire, slowly turning the pages of dusty volumes about famous cases If marauding beasts, speaking occasionally when they ran across something relevant.”

    “Harry managed to shake Neville off at the Fat Lady by telling him the password, then pretending he’d left his vampire essay in the library and doubling back.

  11. Dudley perhaps shares characteristics with Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who had read all the wrong sorts of books. Except that Eustace actually read books & learned things from them. He just didn’t read the other sorts of books, the books that sparked the imagination.

    Dudley except for schoolwork never cracked a book at all. And I’m not so sure even about schoolwork. 🙂

    Anyway, one wonders why Harry might not have spent time in the school library. One can’t imagine Dudley & his gang willingly going in there & the librarian is usually always close to hand. Oh well, one of those great unanswered questions. And I’m not even sure Moe W’s lengthy dissertation answers that question. 🙂 For one can read all the books one wants in the library without ever needing to check one out.

  12. I am sorry for the length of my ‘dissertation’. My excitement and time got away from me. In fact, this is much shorter than it was going to be. You see, I have outlined many of the characters’ attitudes toward the library and the librarian. I limited my excitement to Harry and the first 4 books. I can now see I should have more control.

    “I have made this letter (dissertation) longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Blaise Pascal (1623-62)

  13. C’mon, I wasn’t complaining about the length, just making a joke. I apologize if it came off the wrong way.

    I actually enjoy your “lengthy dissertations.” Gives us a lot of material to work with.

  14. I’m glad to see that I’m in such good company, Steve Morrison! 🙂 We’ll earn back our nerd cards in due time.

    And Moe W, I wholeheartedly second revgeorge’s point that you can keep the comments coming. You’ve got a lot of good stuff that takes some time to process, so I cannot do your thoughtful comment justice in just one follow-up comment–I’d need to break it up into a few different comments. It looks like you and Alison (who has a paper forthcoming on Madam Pince) could really get into a great debate/discussion about the Library and librarians! Your hypothesis about why Harry has negative or positive associations with libraries is very interesting (as is the textual evidence you point us to), and has significant real-world implications. It makes me think more carefully about what sorts of incentives I can provide for my students to help foster a sense of excitement and discovery surrounding “going to the library to do research,” so that they have more positive associations with libraries than they may already have.

  15. @revgeorge
    You misunderstand my comment, #13. I knew my post, #11, was getting to long, was not organized the way I would have liked, and needed to have more thought put into it before posting it. I also knew if I did not explore this topic it would fill my mind until I did. I should have waited a few weeks, until it was more presentable, to post it.

    The problem was, as I was gathering information, I found more and more I wanted to include. There are so many characters who each had their own attitudes about the library who needed to be explored. I quickly found my research could turn from a comment on cbiondi’s post to a book. My options were to write a book, something I really do not have the time to do 🙂 or only work on what aspects seemed the most important. This is why I restricted it to Harry and only books 1-4. Because of the restrictions I set the evidence about some of the points I was trying to make were excluded. This meant what I was trying to prove lacked proof and, especially toward the end of the post, seemed disjointed.

    I wish I had more time to work on the post. In fact, would love to spend my life researching and writing about these and other books. Alas, real life gets in the way.

  16. Trust me Moe, I know how much there is there (for my notes on the seven books – taken before there were ebook versions, I was trying to write down every reference to libraries, books, periodicals, etc – my paper eventually went in the direction of focusing on Madam Pince, but there’s so much in there to be gleaned) Luckily, I do have to present/publish for my job as a librarian (well at least if I want to get tenure and keep it, lol) so I get to follow some of these things and have them benefit my career as well. (Actually my proposal for this coming conference at JMU utilizes some of the notes I’ve already taken- I’m so ecstatic to have my tendency to take too many notes on related subjects that end up off topic to my project actually come in handy for once!)

  17. I wrote a comment on this, thought I posted it, but apparently not! I’m with those who’s favorite library moment, from the books, is Harry’s first trip under the cloak. What a great scene.

    I have a very strange reaction to libraries. It’s a combination of awe, excitement, and anxiety. Awe, because of how much amazing writing is contained in the thousands of volumes. Excitement, because I have access to it all. Anxiety, because I don’t know how I’ll ever get through everything I want to read, and I end up staring and options for hours and not being able to settle on one.

    That last part probable says more about me than it does about libraries.

  18. Travis, I love your version of “library anxiety” because in the library world that is actually the terminology used when discussing how many people (and specifically students) are afraid or intimidated by the library, or afraid to ask reference questions. If only we could get everyone to trade that version of library anxiety for Travis’s version!

  19. Although I am not in the business I am evidently on the same mailing lists for professionals: I received an offer today for a discounted subscription to “Library Journal”.

    Another of my favorite (movie) library scenes is in Sorcerer’s Stone where Hermione plunks down an enormous tome saying she’d checked it out weeks ago for a bit of light reading.

  20. Yes, Snuzin, that’s another great scene–and one that’s even funnier on film than in the novel.

    Alison, I’m glad to hear that we can look forward to another paper of yours on the Library at an upcoming conference! And you’re quite right about Travis’s version of library anxiety being far preferable to the typical student versions. I wish that more of them were interested enough in books and journals to wonder about how they could possibly read even a fraction of them in a lifetime. Always searching for new ways to spark the interest of those not already interested….

  21. I can sympathize with Moe wanting to cover it all and life gets in the way. I am impressed with what you came up with so far. I am working on how socks figure in the stories. Seriously! But I don’t have much time to devote to it between life and reading all the other wonderful stuff people put out there about HP.

  22. @Kathleen, Thanks.
    I cannot wait to see your essay on socks. 😀
    These books are amazing! All one needs to do is follow something simple and soon they find they are led down a path to another adventure.

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