Libraries in children’s literature: Part II

Continuing on from the post about libraries in children’s literature, here are the final three books in which libraries play an important role in the story.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Written by J. K. Rowling and illustrated by Jim Kay

The Chamber Of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.

When the shabby little house-elf Dobby pops up in Privet Drive insisting Harry Potter must not return to Hogwarts, Harry suspects his arch-rival, Draco Malfoy, may be behind it. Rescued from the dire Dursleys by Ron Weasley-in an enchanted flying car-Harry spends the rest of the summer at The Burrow. Life with the Weasleys is so full of magical distractions, Harry soon forgets Dobby’s frantic warnings.

But back at school a sinister message found daubed in a dark corridor echoes Dobby’s predictions that terrible things are about to happen…

In the second book in the Harry Potter series, someone is turning students from non-magical families to stone and suspicion falls on Harry after he is heard speaking in Parseltongue. Harry and his friends must discover who has opened the Chamber of Secrets and who is the heir of Slytherin.

The Hogwarts Library features in most of the Harry Potter books. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry uses his invisibility cloak to search the Restricted Section for information about Nicolas Flamel. A year later, when the Chamber of Secrets has been opened, Hermione is able to borrow a potions book from the Restricted Section by presenting a signed note from Gilderoy Lockhart. She uses this to make polyjuice potion. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the three friends try to find material in the Legal Section that will help in Buckbeak’s hearing, while the following year, Harry looks in the Restricted Section for ways of breathing underwater in order to complete one of the tri-wizard challenges in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Hermione once again returns to the library to search through the Restricted Section to find information about horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

In the first book in the series, there is a brief description that gives an indication of the magnitude of the Hogwarts Library:

And then, of course, there was the sheer size of the library; tens of thousands of books; thousands of shelves; hundreds of narrow rows.

Within the library, there are a number of different sections: Restricted, Legal, Invisibility, Dragon and Reference. Books can only be borrowed with permission from the librarian and those in the Restricted Section required a signed note from a teacher. Spells have been placed on books to prevent students from defacing or stealing them. The librarian, Madam Pince, is very strict and enforces a number of rules, including no eating in the library. She is described as being “a thin, irritable woman who looked like an under-fed vulture”.

The books in the Hogwarts Library provide Harry and his friends with information that is helpful during their adventures. Remember, as Ron says (in reference to what Hermione would do), “When in doubt, go to the library”.

Information in this section taken from the Hogwarts Library page of the Harry Potter Wiki.

Ink and Bone
Written by Rachel Caine and illustrated by Christina Griffiths (cover)

Ink And Bone

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar… but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life-and soon both heretics and books will burn…

Ink and Bone is the first book in the Great Library series, followed by Paper and Fire, and Ash and Quill (to be released in July 2017). The premise behind the three books is that the Great Library of Alexandria, which was destroyed in ancient times, has been saved, along with the information it contained. The year is 2031 and the Great Library now controls all knowledge, functioning as a nation-state connected to daughter libraries or Serapeum throughout the world. Jess Brightwell, a Londoner from a family dealing in stolen books, is accepted as an apprentice by the Great Library. Once he arrives in Alexandria, he discovers secrets about the organisation, which put his life and his friends in danger.

Physically, the Great Library of Alexandria is “more of a sprawling, vast complex than any single building”. Guarded by automata in the form of lions and other creatures, it houses all the original books and scrolls ever written. Politically, it controls access to information through a process called mirroring. Any item within the Library’s collection or Codex can be written into a blank, allowing “protection of knowledge while also giving free access to all”. This is reinforced by the Doctrine of Ownership, which makes the possession of an original document illegal. The Library owns all knowledge in order to protect and preserve it. Throughout this alternate history, there have been threats to the existence of the Library, notably in the development of the printing press by Gutenberg. These ideas have all been quashed in order to maintain the Library’s power and its control of knowledge.

Each daughter library is staffed by librarians and scholars, who are specialists in particular areas. These include Medica, Artifex, Historica and Lingua. The Library also has its own army, the High Garda, who protect both the Great Library and its Serapeum. The process of mirroring is carried out by the Obscurists, who are born with the ability to perform alchemy. They also provide the spark of life in the automata.

This is a fascinating page-turner of a book, exploring issues relevant to our times: the desire for power, the control of information, corruption within institutions and the suppression of knowledge. It could almost be a primer for America under Donald Trump! It’s going to be interesting to see how the story unfolds across the next two books.

The Grimm Legacy
Written by Polly Shulman and illustrated by Zdenko Bašić (cover)

The Grimm Legacy

Lonely at her new school, Elizabeth takes a job at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, hoping to make new friends as well as some cash. The repository is no ordinary library. It lends out objects rather than books-everything from tea sets and hockey sticks to Marie Antoinette’s everyday wig.

It’s also home to the Grimm Collection, a secret room in the basement. That’s where powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are locked away: seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles and has a will of its own.

When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth and her new friends embark on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before they’re accused of the crime themselves-or the thief captures them.

This book introduces readers to the New-York Circulating Material Repository, which was established in 1745 and has been in its current location in Manhattan since 1921. Despite a fairly ordinary exterior, the Repository has an impressive main examination room (MER) with “tall ceilings, massive imposing tables, and an elaborately carved staging area”. Its centrepiece is the Tiffany windows:

All four sides of the MER were paneled with forest scenes. To the north was winter, with frost-rimed rocks and black branches against a bright sky. To the west, spring: crocuses, the barest glimmer of green, blossoming trees dropping petals that seemed to twist and float. To the south, summer: layer upon layer of green, with birds peeking out here and there and a pair of deer stooping to drink from the mossy stream. And to the west, fall in all its blazing yellows and reds. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

The New-York Circulating Material Repository loans objects rather than books. These include “musical instruments, sports equipment and specialized cooking tools”. It also has several Special Collections, the most important of which is the Grimm Collection. This houses items bequeathed to the Repository in 1892 by a grandniece of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. These were collected by the brothers along with their folk tales and include a glass coffin, a golden egg, spindles and dancing shoes. There are a number of other Special Collections in the Repository. The Wells Bequest contains items related to science fiction, such as shrink rays and a time machine, while artificial intelligence, computer viruses, software and technology are found in the Gibson Chrestomathy.

As well as librarians, there are library pages working in the Repository. They are responsible for fetching items requested by patrons. These are stored in stacks on different levels and call slips are sent to the relevant sections using a system of pipes. Once an item has been picked, it is placed in a lift and sent down to the MER where the patron can inspect and borrow it. Items that have been returned are re-shelved by the pages.

There are two other books, which feature the New-York Circulating Material Repository: The Wells Bequest and The Poe Estate. More books to add to my reading list!

All these brilliant books have adventure running through them. Who would think that the library could be such an exciting and dangerous place!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb or contents of the book.

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One thought on “Libraries in children’s literature: Part II

  1. Pingback: My reading philosophy | Tales From The Children's Library

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