Obstructive libraries and librarians in children’s and young adult literature

I’d like to share some information with you about my Master of Arts (Writing and literature) thesis. I was very pleased with the mark and comments I received from the examiners. The texts I included for the research are:

  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling,
  • Lirael by Garth Nix,
  • The legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer,
  • The boy who was raised by librarians written by Carla Morris and illustrated by Brad Sneed

Libraries in children’s and young adult literature can be hegemonic institutions that control young people’s access to knowledge. Using Foucault’s Discipline and punish: the birth of a prison (1979), a critique of Bentham’s Panoptic prison design as the theoretical framework, libraries and librarians in literature are investigated in terms of obstructing young people’s access to information, and thus knowledge and power. However, heroic protagonists not only require information to assist them with their journey, but challenges that hone their skills before their quest. Thus, challenging the pitfalls of obstructive libraries that employ Panoptic surveillance can actually be beneficial for the protagonists, by issuing them with (mostly) non-life threatening tests that can enable them to procure their desired information, while concurrently developing problem-solving and higher order thinking skills, and agency.

A textual and visual analysis has been conducted on a number of titles for young people and these were selected as representative of the depiction of libraries and librarians in literature for this implied audience. The majority of the titles provide an observation that, perhaps ironically, obstructive libraries and librarians play vital roles in the acquisition of agency for young people, and that knowledge should not be limited to and by adults.

The benefits of failure

For some reason, I only came across the 2008 Harvard Commencement Speech by J.K. Rowling a short time ago. While watching it yesterday (I had read the transcript earlier this year, but had not watched the video until yesterday) I found many ideas resonated with me and with my educational philosophy. Lately as a profession, we have been promoting the idea that failure is okay and even worthwhile. J.K. Rowling builds on this idea explaining that failure actually enabled her to write the Harry Potter stories and become the successful person she is today. If you haven’t seen the video, I encourage you to view it. It’s 20 minutes well spent.

A love of reading, shared

A few days ago I bumped into a former student of mine. Now in her twenties and studying a Masters degree, we exchanged pleasantries for a short period when she turned the conversation to her excitement about attending the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 next week.

How cool that this studious and hard working young lady remembered upon seeing me not only my interest in the Harry Potter stories, but her attendance at one of the several Harry Potter parties that I staged during her time at one of my previous schools.

How lovely that we were able to share our love of reading then and now. How sweet that it didn’t matter how many years ago she graduated from that school, she still remembers my contribution to her love of stories.

Encounters like this remind us what an important job teacher librarians do and why we wanted to pursue this career path in the first place. Reading. What a nice thing to share.

Thanks to J.K Rowling and Emma Watson for a great role model

Thanks to J.K. Rowling’s creation and Emma Watson’s interpretation, the character of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series has made it not only okay but quite cool for young girls (and those not so young and boys too) to like and to be good at school.

Recently just before I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I asked my 8 year old niece what she would like me to bring back. Immediately she announced that a “Hermione wand” would be wonderful as Hermione is “good at school and spells and is a true friend.”

When I returned home with said wand, she was so delighted she disappeared into her room for a few minutes and returned with frizzy “Hermione hair” and a belt to hold her wand. Delighted cries of “expelliarmus”, “stupefy” and “pertrificus totalus” were heard around the house.

Hermione Granger's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" dress

Hermione Granger's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" dress

When I think of all of the undesirable influences on young people today, I am so pleased that my clever and talented niece and her friends have an excellent role model to look to when growing up.

When I was her age (and a bit older) it was seriously uncool to be good at school, let alone like school. Teachers and parents have half their battle won in terms of attendance and engagement if students enjoy school. Of course, we still need to challenge our students every day, but having positive children to work with makes learning so much fun and so much more fruitful for everyone involved. Thanks Jo and Emma.