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Not All Librarians are Like Madam Pince from Harry Potter

April 20, 2020

During this time of social distancing, isolation and solitude, I find myself fantasizing about magical creatures and far off places. So, I’ve returned to watch the Harry Potter series for what is probably the millionth time. My means of escape continues to bring me to my work with researching everyday people, the wealth of information that libraries have, and the dedicated experts who guide you on your adventure into the past. After spending some time experiencing the magic in a new way, I want to take a minute to talk about using libraries as depicted in the magical world of Harry Potter.

If you’re a huge Harry Potter nerd like myself, you jumped to Hermione Granger spending hours in the library and restricted section searching for answers to the mysterious Nicolas Flamel. You might also remember a few other frustrating scenes with the famous trio in the library. Why didn’t they just ask the school librarian, Madam Pince, for help? A quick lesson on the Hogwarts Library card catalog would have saved a lot of time in this series. Well, she wasn’t very well liked and probably wouldn’t have helped; the opposite of what you want from the school librarian, or any librarian. She was quite unpleasant and ridiculously possessive of the material in her care.

“A warning: If you rip, tear, shred, bend, fold, deface, disfigure, smear, smudge, throw, drop, or in any other manner damage, mistreat, or show lack of respect towards this book, the consequences will be as awful as it is within my power to make them.” – Pince’s note in a library book (harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Irma_Pince)

In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald we met another cold and stern librarian at the French Ministry Archives desk. Why are the wizarding librarians depicted as stern guardians of material? Librarians get a hard time about enforcing strict rules of protecting the items in their care and enforcing procedures to keep their items safe and creating the best learning environment.

The library is part of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Martin Collection, Indiana Historical Society

On multiple occasions in the wizarding world, we are met with characters who conceal their identities to access libraries and archives for a handful of different reasons; censorship, privacy, and accessibility, all things librarians work with every day. I promise you, you do not need to don your Invisibility Cloak, brew your own batch of Polyjuice Potion or cast a summoning charm to access our library. We won’t send Mrs. Norris or the French Ministry Matagots after you. We simply ask for the same information you fill out on your public library card for basically the exact same reason. While our conservation team is top notch, we don’t have the reparo spell to fall back on.

At the Indiana Historical Society, we do want to protect the collections, and we will be sad if you “rip, tear, shred, bend, fold, deface” pieces of Indiana history. Contrary to Madam Pince, the IHS reference staff are more than happy to help you find any of your research questions. While we don’t have a “restricted section” our items are restricted in that we don’t loan them out for you to read while gorging on pumpkin pasties in the Great Hall. We ask you to carefully study the pieces from our collection in our reading room. These are one-of-a-kind artifacts full of information that cannot be replaced. We want to make sure they’re around in another 200 years.

The next time you’re in need of an adventure to the IHS archives to help with your journey into the past, keep the cauldron and Invisibility Cloak at home and ask any one of our fabulous and friendly front desk librarians for assistance. They won’t stick the guard cats on you.

An interior view of the old Spiceland Academy library shows a room lined with bookshelves. A young woman and man are studying at separate tables and there is a stove in the middle of the room. M. Huddleston Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Photo of Lauren Peightel

Lauren K. Peightel is manager of Genealogy and Cultural Programs at the Indiana Historical Society

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