01 March 2005

Issue Intro: A Note From Your Editors

Welcome to the new issue of BiblioTech! This issue truly shows the variety of topics covered by our SIRLS community. Articles for this issue address such diverse issues as library anxiety, censorship, cataloguing resources, as well as fun book and movie reviews. We want to thank all the contributors for their great articles. We couldn't put out BiblioTech without them- keep them coming!

This issue also brings us the happy news of Erica Hanke's impending graduation! She is sad to be going, but looks forward to many interesting library adventures in the future. [Look for her in the library world at large and don't forget her when it's time to network! -Monica]

Hope you all enjoy this issue of BiblioTech. If you have any problems with the site or any suggestions to make it better, please let us know.


Erica Hanke and Monica Bafetti
Editors, BiblioTech

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"Did You Say Library Anxiety?" - Part One

by Marquita Harnett

Most people are familiar with the terms test anxiety, math anxiety, performance anxiety, computer anxiety, or even social anxiety. But mention "library anxiety" and you'll likely get a response similar to, "Library what?" Library anxiety is not a well-known phenomenon, even among librarians. The bulk of research on library anxiety has concentrated on the problem as it applies to university students, but it’s not hard to imagine that it manifests itself in library patrons across the board. Where did this idea come from, how can librarians identify it, what steps can be taken to reduce it and what can the library community learn from it?

Although it has been cited in the literature as far back as 1972 , the term library anxiety was first identified in 1986 by Constance A. Mellon. Virtually every article or study on the subject since then has referenced Mellon’s work in this area. Her studies showed that most students felt that other students knew more about library searching than they did and that to ask for help would be to reveal their stupidity. She also found that contact with reference librarians was more effective in alleviating library anxiety than the bibliographic instruction sessions conducted by their teachers.

There are other names in the field such as Carol C. Kuhlthau, who found that students’ ability to process information from the aspects of mental, creative and physical locating operations is hampered by their feelings, thoughts, and actions. In 1992, Sharon L. Bostick devised a valid and reliable instrument to measure Mellon’s theory of library anxiety. The basis of her doctoral dissertation, she developed a 43 item, 5 point Likert-format test instrument that defines levels of library anxiety. Her instrument showed that it is possible to identify library anxiety and to measure it quantitatively. She identified five factors that contribute to library anxiety: 1) Affective Barriers; 2) Mechanical Barriers; 3) Comfort with the Library; 4) Knowledge of the Library; and 5) Barriers with staff.

"Affective barriers" measures the feelings of adequacy when using the library. As we will see, affective barriers come in to play with all of the other factors, each of which will be described in greater detail.

Mechanical Barriers:
The ability to locate and use library equipment is hampered by the physical barriers libraries present. Students search for copy machines and upon locating them they learn that they need specific change to use them, or must purchase a copy card. Overuse of these machines results in the instructions being worn and unreadable, or simply prone to breaking down. Printing documents from a computer in the lab means having to know how and where to retrieve the output, and how to pay for it. Microforms present problems in that many new college students don’t understand what microforms are, how to use them, or which of the different types of machines should be used to access the microform. Consider that microfilm can be viewed by several different types of machine and the differences in how to load them. Instructions for using these machines may or may not be posted on or near the machine, and again overuse makes them prone to breaking down. Library equipment should be monitored by library staff to provide assistance to patrons who may feel uncomfortable asking for help.

Comfort with the Library:
Library anxiety shows up as feelings such as fear or phobia, confusion, anger or frustration, having a sense of inadequacy or incompetence, overwhelm, isolation, ignorance, shame and feeling lost are all reported symptoms. Students get frustrated trying to locate the reserve desk, the circulation desk, where the government information department is, or how to find newspapers, or periodicals. Appropriately placed and easily viewed signs would allay many of these frustrations. An orientation panel containing a floor plan of the library and a map key for specific areas would also help orient patrons.

Library jargon is also responsible for causing discomfort with the library. It appears in signage, on informational handouts, on the library’s webpage and in the catalog. Librarians understand that reference means “ask us a question about anything”, but few students do. In fact, less than half of all students in a fifty-minute bibliographic instruction session held over three years knew what the term “reference” meant. University students often confuse "reference" with "reserve". Further, they don't realize there are print reserves and electronic reserves and don’t know where or how to access either. Another area of confusion is the phrase “in library use” as found in the catalog. Patrons may believe that someone else is already using it in the library so they can’t get it; or they try to check it out and find that it is non-circulating. Few students understand the difference between magazines and journals or that the term “periodical” encompasses both. Students have been seen walking past the circulation sign searching for the place to check out books. Databases offer “remote usage” for those patrons who wish to have access from home, however there is no explanation for what remote usage means, nor is there a detailed explanation of what is required in order to use a database remotely. Acronyms such as MLA, APA, ILL, etc. should be explained to students since it is unlikely that they will ask and risk feeling that they are asking a stupid question. Several universities, recognizing the confusion library terminology can cause, have published web pages of library glossaries, in order to avoid negative perceptions of the library.

Knowledge of the Library: The physical layout of the library can cause intimidation and confusion, and in a university library, the sheer size can be overwhelming. At the University of New Mexico the reference collection is located behind the reference desk, just inside the main doors. A common misconception of new students is that the reference collection is everything the library owns, not realizing that there are two additional upper floors and two floors below the main floor. This is understandable when you consider that a typical high school library is of similar size to a university reference collection. Seldom are incoming freshmen given a formal tour of the main university library, or advised that other, more specialized libraries might exist on campus.

Library classification systems can also contribute to patron confusion and feelings of helplessness. Many incoming freshmen have never used the Library of Congress classification system. From kindergarten through high school their school libraries as well as their public libraries are generally organized according to the Dewey Decimal classification system. They don’t understand the LC system or recognize that the call numbers begin with letters rather than numbers. Mellon relates an account of an incoming freshman who came to her for reference assistance asking her where she could find room 231. Mellon explained to the girl that the university library didn’t have a room 231. The girl, visibly upset and frustrated declared that there must be a room 231 because the book she was looking for was in that room according to the catalog. Mellon asked the girl to show her where she got her information and realized that the girl was talking about the call number RM 231. When you throw into the mix the Su-Docs classification system for government information, students may attempt to reconcile the agency letter with an LC number, but frustration soon takes over and they give up.

Although most college students have grown up with some type of computerized catalog system, this is not necessarily the case of older patrons. Many are not familiar with the computerized catalogs that populate the majority of all libraries these days. OPAC’s often have different interfaces, and the quantity and specificity of information varies greatly. The best OPAC’s are clearly labeled, simple to use and provide detailed information as to how to find the requested item. Online databases also contribute to library anxiety. Like online catalogs, many databases have different interfaces making it necessary for patrons to be trained in how to use them. The strategies of broadening and narrowing searches, keyword searching versus subject searching, Boolean logic requires training. When a student is required to do research for perhaps one significant paper a year, it does not give them the time to develop proficiency in utilizing databases effectively. Although most databases offer help pages, the terminology is often ambiguous to new college students and can be confusing for young and older adults in public libraries. When an article is found in a database, few realize that it is merely an abstract of the article and will not provide the full-text of the article. In those cases, they must find out if their library carries the journal the article is in. Reference librarians experience students arriving at the reference desk with the name of the article and the journal title, feeling quite pleased that they understand the process, only to be told they also need the date, the volume number and the page numbers to find the article they need.

Staff Barriers: The library user’s first impression upon entering any library should be welcoming, and reference librarians can have the biggest impact on library patrons, as they are usually the first point of contact upon entering the library. It can be argued that the brunt of the responsibility for a patron’s positive or negative library experience falls to us. Approachability issues include both verbal and non-verbal communication. Verbal communication includes the use of library jargon and the degree of skill with the reference interview. Positive, non-verbal communication exhibits itself through certain behaviors such as raised eyebrows, eye contact, nodding, and smiling. These have been found to attract a large number of patrons. Indeed the literature is rife with recommendations that reference personnel employ approachable body language in order to attract patron’s questions, especially eye contact and smiling. Further, as Mellon’s research indicated, there is a fear that any question for reference staff may be considered stupid, or the patron is simply reluctant to bother the librarian. Although few librarians would want their patrons to feel this way, it has been argued that this message must be getting through to users, either through wording or action. Librarians should have the ability to read both nonverbal and verbal cues of the student, and they should also be aware of the cues they are sending. Reference librarians may feel they don’t have the time to answer questions adequately due to other patrons waiting in line. Staff rotation on the reference desk creates inconsistency when the patron returns for further questions, only to find the librarian they had consulted with earlier has now gone. Skilled reference interview techniques are required because patrons not only have difficulty specifying the information they want, they often can not explain what they don't know. Although one desired outcome of a reference interaction is to enable the user to transfer what is learned from the interaction into a new situation, an equally important outcome is for the user to read librarian’s signals as “I’m here to help you” rather than “I’m too busy”.

These are just a few cited examples of the myriad ways patrons feel intimidated by the library as place. In the second part of this article we will see what we as librarians can learn from the study of library anxiety.

  • Swope, M.J. and Katzer, J. (Winter 1972). Why Don’t They Ask Questions? The Silent Majority.. RQ, 12(2), 161-166.
  • Hernon, P. and Pastine, M. (March 1977). Student Perceptions of Academic Librarians. College & Research Libraries, 38(2), 129-139.
  • Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user’s perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 42(5) 361-371.
  • Bostick, S.L. (1992). The development and validation of the Library Anxiety Scale. In Marjorie E. Murfin (Ed.), Research in reference effectiveness: proceedings of a preconference sponsored by the Research and Statistics Committee, Management and Operation of Public Services Section, Reference and Adult Services Division. (pp. 1-7). San Francisco: American Library Association.
  • Jiao, Q. G. and Onwuegbuzie, A.J. ( 1997). Antecedents of library anxiety. Library Quarterly p. 385
  • Kupersmith, J. (Winter 1987). Library Anxiety and Library Graphics The Graphic Approach, Research Strategies 5. pg. 37.
  • Mellon, C.A. (1987). Bibliographic instruction, the second generation. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. p.75.
  • http://www.asu.edu/lib/help/liblingo.htm
  • http://www.lib.utsa.edu/Research/Subject/lingo.html
  • http://www.lib.utk.edu/~instruct/fys/lingo.html
  • Mellon, C.A. (1989). Library anxiety and the non-traditional student. In Teresa B. Mensching (Ed.), Reaching and teaching diverse library user groups (p. 81). Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press
  • Kazlauskas, E. (1976). An exploratory study: A kinesic analysis of academic library public service points. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 2(3), 133.
  • Mellon, C.A. (Mar. 1986). Library anxiety: a grounded theory and its development. College and Research Libraries 47, 164.
  • Grassian, E. S. and Kaplowitz, J. R. (2001) Information literacy instruction: theory and practice. New York: Neal-Schuman. P. 93.
  • Radford, M. (Spring 1998). Approach or avoidance? The role of nonverbal communication in the academic library user’s decision to initiate a reference encounter. Library Trends v. 46, no.4, p.711
  • Swope, M.J. and Katzer, J. (Winter 1972). Why Don’t They Ask Questions? The Silent Majority.. RQ, 12(2), p. 164.Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user’s perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 42(5) p. 361.

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"Did You Say Library Anxiety?" - Part Two

by Marquita Harnett

The discussion thus far has centered on some of the barriers that contribute to library anxiety. What are librarians learning from the study of this pervasive problem? The literature suggests that library anxiety impacts academic success or failure through learning styles and behavior anomalies. In addition, studies are showing how library anxiety is teaching librarians that best practices exist for areas such as bibliographic instruction.

Graduate students and undergraduates alike experience library anxiety. Qun G. Jiao and Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie have conducted numerous studies on this subject and found that certain behavior anomalies are linked to library anxiety, such as perfectionism and academic procrastination. It has been concluded that for socially prescribed perfectionists, the library is a threat for them and there exists a relationship between perfectionism and library anxiety . This is also consistent with the results of Mellon’s study which reported that library anxious students feel that only they are inept at using the library while other students do not experience the same problems, and that this ineptness is a source of embarrassment and should be kept secret. These feelings result in a reluctance to seek help from librarians fearing that their ignorance will be exposed. In turn this anxiety, in all likelihood, leads to library avoidance.

Library avoidance behavior has also been found in the phenomena of academic procrastination. Fear of failure and task aversion resulting in procrastination has been found to be related to barriers with staff, affective barriers, comfort with the library, and knowledge of the library. Although it is unclear whether this is a causal relationship, it provides evidence that there are more than just time management and study skill issues involved, but includes cognitive-affective components.

These are only two examples of behavior anomalies shown to be linked to library anxiety. The broader perspective here is that library anxiety can lead to scholastic underachievement in students who are nervous about seeking help from a librarian and therefore tend to produce lower quality work. Constance Mellon’s groundbreaking work in 1986 was the first to not only identify library anxiety, but to discover how it affects the learning process. While designing an instruction program, she discovered that anxiety students felt about the research process was considerably lessened after contact with a librarian. She then developed exercises to be done in the library and added information into these sessions about the phenomena of library anxiety assuring students that is was a common occurrence. She realized that if anxiety is present, steps must be taken to allay it before instruction can take place. Although computer based tutorials are helpful, it appears that they are best utilized in conjunction with a librarian led bibliographic instruction. These sessions allow the student to make contact with librarians and require them to be in the library and become more familiar with the library surroundings. Online tutorials can be completed from any computer making it easy for students to completely avoid the library, which is counter-productive. The obvious conclusion is that the role of the librarian in relieving library anxiety is crucial and should not be overlooked.

There are countless articles on best practices for how to allay this problem in patrons as well as considerable literature on outreach. It seems clear that outreach must be consciously practiced from the most simple and mundane interactions to broad library programs in order to help patrons overcome their fear. During bibliographic instruction sessions which generally last anywhere from fifty minutes to an hour, the first five minutes are crucial to set a positive tone of interaction between student and librarian. Presentations should be well organized, interesting and should not attempt to cover too much ground in too short a time. Most researchers agree that it is important to acknowledge the fear, confusion or sense of dread students experience, and to talk about it openly, assuring students they are not alone in their feelings. Recommendations are bountiful with regard to reference interview situations. Initially the reference librarian should make eye contact and smile. Put aside any work in order for the patron to see that you are ready and willing to help. The librarian should ask open-ended questions. Making assumptions indicates to the patron that you are rushing the interview and are not listening patiently. Always engage the patron in conversation by explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it during the search process. This establishes a rapport with the patron, helps them understand that you are concentrating your efforts on the question at hand, and also may help them learn more about how to conduct their own searches. It is also important to check back later with the patron, again indicating your willingness to help, and not leaving them in a potentially confused state.

The problem of library anxiety reaches into every aspect of the library, can affect individual learning styles, can exacerbate certain behavior anomalies, and is known to result in underachievement. It has been shown that contact with reference librarians can significantly decrease the levels of library anxiety in students. Library anxiety manifests itself through a variety of fears, feelings of overwhelm and avoidance. It is up to the reference librarian staff to address students’ anxiety in the library through multivariate outreach methods. The primary opportunity for this to happen is during the reference interview and through bibliographic instruction sessions.

Although Mellon, Kuhlthau and Bostick have provided benchmark studies from which to study library anxiety, probably no one has studied this topic as extensively or from so many perspectives as Qun G. Jiao and Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie. They have contributed no less than thirteen articles consisting of quantitative studies, and they have recently co-authored a book with Sharon Bostick on the subject .

The phenomenon of library anxiety often produces giggles in non-library circles, and bewilderment in our own profession. Yet it is an important topic and we, as librarians, should know what signs to look for and should be prepared to aggressively combat it. Library avoidance, academic underachievement and procrastination will undermine the work we do, and is in opposition to our ideals of information literacy, promoting library use, and producing life long learners.


  • Jiao, Q.G. and Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (Sept. 1998). Perfectionism and library anxiety among graduate students. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 24 no5 p. 365-71.
  • Jiao, Q. G. and Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (Jan. 2000). I'll go to the library later the relationship between academic procrastination and library anxiety. College & Research Libraries v. 61 no1 p. 45-54.
  • Jiao, Q. G. and Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (Apr. 1999). Identifying library anxiety through students' learning-modality preferences. The Library Quarterly v. 69 no2 p. 204.
  • Mellon, C.A. (Sept. 1988). Attitudes: the forgotten dimension in library instruction. Library Journal p. 139.
  • Oswald, T. A. and Turnage, M. (2000). First five minutes. Research Strategies v. 17. p. 347-351.
  • Bushing, M. (2003). Improving our reference skills, New Mexico State Library Workshop.
  • Jiao, Q. G. , Onwuegbuzie, A.J., Bostick, S. L. (2004). Library Anxiety: Theory, Research and Applications. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

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Music Cataloging Resources: A Bibliographic Essay

by Dorothy Hemmo

If cataloging is a specialty, then music cataloging is a singular field within that specialty. For the general cataloger who catalogs the occasional score or sound recording and for the experienced music cataloger there are many useful resources to be found. Most music cataloging resources assume that the user will have some previous knowledge of general cataloging rules.

The foundation for all cataloging rules in the United States is the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Edition (1986), or AACR2. Chapter 5 contains the rules for the description of published (printed) music. Information on sound recordings and video recordings can be found in chapters 6 and 7, respectively. Chapter 21, “Choice of Access Points”, offers advice regarding music in rules 21.18-21.23. And the all-important rules for uniform titles for music appear in Chapter 25, rules 25.25-25.35. Anyone interested in the field of music cataloging should first become familiar with the general cataloging rules for monographs, and then learn the rules for music cataloging.

Music Cataloging by Richard P. Smiraglia (1989) is an excellent resource for the student of music cataloging or music librarianship. It offers the reader an introduction to the concept of bibliographic control, and an historical overview of such subjects as authority control, subject analysis, classification, and MARC, both generally and as these subjects relate to music cataloging. Each chapter has a list of suggested reading for the student who wants to investigate a topic further. Though this is a great introduction to the descriptive cataloging of music, it is not an up-to-date resource for cataloging rules. Also, the author assumes the reader will have a knowledge of the history, theory, and performance practices of Western art music. The work includes a glossary of music related terms, a selected bibliography, and an index.

A second book by Smiraglia, Describing Music Materials (1997) is a more up-to-date resource for rules governing the cataloging of music. This book is an exhaustive, detailed, step-by-step how-to for the beginning music cataloger. (Knowledge of basic cataloging rules is assumed.) Smiraglia covers printed music, sound recordings, video recordings, multi-media packages, and archival collections of musical documents. He includes discussions of access points in music bibliographical records, and uniform titles.

One notable feature of this book is Chapter 8, “A Music Cataloger’s Reference Collection”. It gives the reader lists of print resources for the following subjects: general cataloging, archival description, general music reference, sound recordings, biobibliography, popular music, and thematic indexes. The author also includes a list of useful web sites for finding publisher information, composers’ dates, general music reference, and music cataloging rules. The book includes a glossary and an index.

Music Score Cataloging Basics is the text version of a presentation given at the OLAC/MOUG 2000 Conference in Seattle, Washington in October 2000 by Ralph Papakhian. This document is a primer for the general cataloger already familiar with AACR2 and MARC, who finds she must catalog music. The focus is definitely on practical applications such as, when to input a new record, and what MARC codes are used where. There are many examples given and the author includes a list of definitions to help the non-musician.

Another useful and practical document is “The Core Bibliographic Record for Music and Sound Recordings”, a report from a Working Group of the IAML Council (1998). The document takes on the problem of a lack of standardization for minimal-level cataloging for music materials. It defines what a core bibliographic record should be, and spells out which fields are needed to generate usable records without the time and expense of full cataloging. This document will keep the cataloger conversant with current standards for the core bibliographic record in music.

Sheet music is often found in a music library’s collection and can be difficult to catalog due to a lack of standard publishing information on the item. Cataloging Sheet Music (Schultz, 2003) is an excellent resource for the experienced cataloger. It contains many examples and explains certain conventions unique to sheet music publishing. Special attention is given to title pages, and determining the chief source of information. This book is meant to be used in conjunction with AACR2, and can be seen as an expansion of those rules.

The next book, Cataloger’s Judgment: Music Cataloging Questions and Answers from the Music OCLC Group Newsletter by Jay Weitz (2004), is a resource for the working music cataloger. Prior knowledge of AACR2 and MARC is necessary to make heads or tails of the questions and answers in this compilation. The book is organized by subject; for example, sound recordings, titles, subject analysis, fixed fields, and so forth. Each question deals with a very specific problem encountered by a cataloger, but the author’s answers and explanations are very thorough and often include rules that can be applied generally.

There is a Topical Index, but this book is also indexed by the rules discussed in the questions, and also by OCLC-MARC field. For instance, if you have a question about AACR2 rule 25.25, or a particular MARC field, you can consult the respective index to find questions and answers that deal with that rule or field. Library of Congress Rule Interpretations (LCRI) and Music Cataloging Decisions (MCD) rules are included in the AACR2 index.

Stephan Luttman’s short article “Good Enough for Jazz” (1999) offers suggestions for print and web resources for the non-musician cataloger who must catalog music. In discussing print resources he specifically mentions as essential Smiraglia’s Describing Music Materials. Luttman also recommends joining MLA-L, the Music Library Association’s list serv, saying that questions from beginning music catalogers are welcome. If music cataloging is likely to remain a large part of your workload, Luttman offers suggestions for continuing education opportunities such as a music bibliography course at a local university, or Indiana University’s one-week summer workshop on music cataloging for the non-musician.

The Music Library Association’s journal, Notes, is an excellent resource for articles and information on the current state of music cataloging thought and processes. In “Cataloging”, Ralph Papakhian (2000) summarizes the history of cooperative cataloging as it relates to music. He discusses current difficulties in the field such as, the disappearance of graduate programs in music librarianship; the lack of personnel due to budget constraints; the fact that cataloging music is often seen by administrators as too difficult and time-consuming, and therefore many materials are left without adequate records; the need for enhanced descriptions to provide adequate access; and the cataloging of special collections such as sheet music.

It is never explicitly stated, but the author is certainly advocating for more resources to be applied to the field of cataloging, especially in music. On the future of cataloging Papakhian says, “The costs of human activity in cataloging…are unlikely to disappear.” (p. 589) He also sees the lack of standardization of OPAC and cataloging software as problematic. A future goal should be an easier-to-use catalog.

Smiraglia, in “Musical Works and Information Retrieval” (2000) discusses the difficulty, in cataloging music, of distinguishing among different instances of a musical work; for example, a full score, a miniature score, a reduction, a sound recording, and so forth, of the same work. The author discusses what a musical work is and what it is not. He discusses the historical and current use of uniform titles, and the limitations of the same. Smiraglia wants the future of music information storage and retrieval to be shaped through the use of empirical studies, epistemological studies, and taxonomic definition.

Closely related to the article above, “Beyond the Score”, co-written by Smiraglia and David H. Thomas (1998), discusses the limitations of current cataloging rules when cataloging scores, sound recordings, and video recordings. The main point of this very interesting article is that a musical work as an abstract concept constitutes the entity, and that its instantiations (different forms or instances) should be cataloged as manifestations of the musical work. Bibliographical families built around the abstract work are used to create greater access to musical works by guaranteeing collocation within the catalog.

The final article from the MLA journal Notes is “On Degressive Music Bibliography” by D. W. Krummel (2000). The author begins with a definition of the degressive principle in cataloging: the more important or interesting the item, the more complete its description in the catalog should be. Krummel gives an historical perspective on the use of the degressive principle in music bibliography, and more importantly, presents an in depth discussion on what makes some works more important than others. The author advocates the use of the degressive principle in music cataloging to make more important works easier to access.

Our final print resource is Bibliographic Relationships in Music Catalogs by Sherry L. Velluci (1997). This book contains an empirical study analyzing existing relationships among bibliographic entities in a music catalog for the ultimate purpose of creating a better catalog. In the introduction, the author discusses the functions of a catalog, and the nature of musical bibliographic entities. Examining this study is a good way for the cataloger to begin to understand some of the complexities inherent to the cataloging of music.

Let us now turn to two Web resources, Music Cataloging at Yale (www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/musicat.htm) and Indiana University Music Library Technical Services (www.music.indiana.edu/tech_s/manuals/ts.htm). Both sites are great resources for the practical “nuts and bolts” of music cataloging. IU’s site contains tables of MARC codes, guides to thematic catalogs, a necrology file, LC’s Cyrillic transliteration table, and a link to OCLC’s Cataloging Internet Resources. Yale’s site contains so much information it is almost overwhelming. There is information on AACR2 rules (both general and music specific), cataloging sound recordings, MARC tagging, subject cataloging, authority control, uniform titles, and much more. The site also has a lot of general music reference help especially useful to the non-musician. For example, there is information on vocal ranges, song cycles, parts of the Mass, definitions of musical terms, and the names of keys and instruments in five different languages. This site also has links to OCLC, Library of Congress, U. S. academic libraries on the web, and National library catalogs worldwide.

The difficulties inherent in the cataloging of all formats of music are manifest. In a perfect world, the music cataloger would have a firm grasp of the principles and rules of cataloging, and a background in the history, theory, and performance practices of Western art music. The world is not perfect, and thankfully, there are many resources out there to help the beginning music cataloger, and even the non-musician who gets stuck cataloging music. The resources presented here are just a small sample of the authoritative information being provided by the music library community to further the goals of ease-of-use and accessibility of information for our users.


  • Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR2. (1986). Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Ed. Revision 1985. Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Krummel, D. W. (2000). On degressive music bibliography. [Electronic version]. Notes, 56(4), 867. Retrieved September 4, 2004, from the InfoTrac Web General Reference Center Gold database.
  • Luttman, S. F. (1999). Good enough for jazz; or, successful music cataloging for non-musicians. [Electronic version]. Colorado Libraries, 25(2), 48-49. Retrieved September 24, 2004, from the Wilson Select Plus database.
  • Papakhian, A. R. (2000). Cataloging. [Electronic version]. Notes, 56(3), 581. Retrieved September 4, 2004, from the InfoTrac Web General Reference Center Gold database.
  • Papakhian, A. R. (2000). Music score cataloging basics. Retrieved October 2, 2004 from http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/units/cts/olac/conferences/2000/scores.doc
  • Schultz, L., & Shaw, S. (Eds.). (2003). Cataloging sheet music: Guidelines for use with AACR2 and the MARC format. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  • Smiraglia, R. P. (2000). Musical works and information retrieval. [Electronic version]. Notes, 58(4), 747. Retrieved September 11, 2004, from the InfoTrac OneFile database.
  • Smiraglia, R. P. (1997). Describing music materials: A manual for descriptive cataloging of printed and recorded music, music videos, and archival music collections: For use with AACR2 and APPM (3rd ed.). Lake Crystal, MN: Soldier Creek Press.
  • Smiraglia, R. P. (1989). Music cataloging: The bibliographic control of printed and recorded music in libraries. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  • Thomas, D. H., & Smiraglia, R. P. (1998). Beyond the score. [Electronic version]. Notes, 54(3), 649. Retrieved September 4, 2004, from the InfoTrac General Reference Center Gold database.
  • Velluci, S. L. (1997). Bibliographic relationships in music catalogs. Lanhan, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  • Weitz, J. (2004). Sheehy M. (Ed.), Cataloger's judgment: Music cataloging questions and answers from the music OCLC users group newsletter. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Working Group on the Core Bibliographic Record for Music and Sound Recordings. (1998). The core bibliographic record for music and sound recordings. [Electronic version]. Fontes Artis Musicae, 45(2), 139-151. Retrieved September 24, 2004, from the Academic Search Premier database.

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Big Fun in BookWorld: Jasper Fforde’s The Well of Lost Plots

by Dorothy Hemmo

The Well of Lost Plots is a highly entertaining romp through the strange, yet mostly familiar world from the imagination (and extensive reading list) of Jasper Fforde. This is the third book in a series that continues to grow. In the first two books, The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, our heroine Thursday Next is a literary detective for the Special Operations Network (or SpecOps) of the British Police Force. She verifies the authenticity of rare books and manuscripts, investigates thefts and other criminal behavior, and looks into anything out of the ordinary related to the literary world.

Thursday Next’s world is our world – with a few twists. Due to the invention of time travel, and subsequent disruptions of the time line, things have turned out a little different in Thursday’s mid-1980’s England. For instance, when the series begins England is still fighting the Crimean War. This world is a strange mixture of high-tech and no-tech. The airplane was never invented, nor apparently needed. But mega-corporations such as the sinister and omnipresent Goliath Corporation engage in genetic experiments that, among other things, reintroduce from extinction both the Dodo bird and Neanderthal man.

In The Eyre Affair Thursday discovers that she has an unexpected talent – she can read herself into books. She discovers BookWorld, the world behind the world of fiction, where characters from literature have lives beyond the pages of their books. In Lost in a Good Book Thursday becomes an agent for Jurisfiction, the agency that keeps order in BookWorld. She is recruited by Miss Havisham (yes, from Dickens’ Great Expectations) and, in addition to retrieving a former enemy from Poe’s The Raven, she manages to save all life on earth from turning into a gooey pink sludge.

In The Well of Lost Plots, the third book of the series, Thursday is living in BookWorld hiding out from the Goliath Corporation and hoping to find some peace and quiet. What she finds instead is bureaucracy, politics, intrigue, and a messy underworld; all of which fuel the creative process of fiction writing. When Jurisfiction agents start dying in freak accidents, Thursday begins an investigation that leads her to uncover corruption at the highest levels in BookWorld.

This series is the embodiment of metafiction, which The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition (http://www.dictionary.com) defines as “fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its conventions.” A major plot point in The Well of Lost Plots is UltraWord™, a “book operating system” that accomplishes “the smooth transfer of the written word into the reader’s imagination…” (p.113). The previous operating system, BOOK, had in its day replaced SCROLL…you get the idea.

Books are constructed in the Well of Lost Plots, which is the subbasement of the Great Library. The upper floors of the Great Library contain every work ever published (in English), and the floors beneath contain the unpublished works, and works in progress. BookWorld contains Grammasites, creatures that infest works of fiction and parasitically feed off grammar, damaging the text. In the Well plot devises, parts of speech, even punctuation, are commodities to be bought and sold on the black market. Thursday confiscates a stolen freeze-dried plot device labeled Suddenly a Shot Rang Out! “Crack it open and pow! – the story goes off at a tangent” (p.59). One of my favorite devices in the book is the Footnoterphone, which allows characters to communicate with each other anywhere in BookWorld. These communications appear in the book as footnotes, while the main action continues in the body of the text.

Many characters in the series come from the pages of well-known and classic literature. Dickens’ Miss Havisham is Thursday’s mentor and supervisor. Other literary characters make peripheral appearances, always with telling lines or circumstances. Miss Havisham takes Thursday into Wuthering Heights to observe a rage counseling session with the main characters of that book. This is only one example of the author having fun with characters and plots from well-known fiction. The Well of Lost Plots contains scene after scene of amusing (and often laugh-out-loud funny) satire, send-up or inside joke about literature or writing. Anyone with a love of fiction will delight in the constant literary allusions. This book, the entire series, in fact, pays homage to classic literature. The book exudes such an enthusiasm for literature and reading, it seems hard to imagine that everyone does not share it. A reader feels she must read all the referenced books, just to be in on the jokes.

Fforde imagines the ultimate library: not only does it contain every book ever written, published and unpublished, but these books function as literal portals into their respective worlds. What avid reader hasn’t wished for that a time or two! The librarian of the Great Library is none other than the Cheshire Cat. Enigmatic, but helpful, his main interests seem to be scholarly writing and research. (Is this stereotyping?)

The author seems to be making the case for the richness and depth of literature, saying that the reading of it (and the writing of it) is sometimes difficult and complicated, but that it is worth the effort. The book is mostly a light-hearted fantasy/adventure story. But it has inspired me to read some of the classics that I missed in my younger days, and is a truly delightful book.

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The Real Magic and Mystery of Harry: Reading and Censorship of the Harry Potter Novels

by Jana Olsen

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which have reached worldwide popularity have an effect on children has not been matched by any other book. The novels have encouraged children to read for entertainment instead of turning to television or video games. When a piece of literature inspires children as the Harry Potter novels do, limiting a child’s access to the novels seems ridiculous. Unfortunately, this is what is happening with Harry Potter. The books are challenged and banned in schools and libraries all over the world because parents contend that the content is unsuitable. The content, which revolves around a world full of wizardry and witchcraft, has some parents actively lobbying against the books. These parents believe the books encourage children to practice witchcraft. Additionally, some parents do not believe that the novels are an asset to the learning development of their children. For most children, Rowling’s Harry Potter novels encourage reading. Not only do children read the massive novels in the series, but also they use the Harry Potter series as conduits to other types of literature because their minds are opened to the wonder of the written word. The novels do not advocate witchcraft or evil, which are often the grounds for censoring the novels from children.

Different features of the Harry Potter series can influence children with both good and bad consequences. The most popular reasons for censoring Harry Potter is that the books are centered around a magical community. The plot revolves around Harry and his friends as they learn how to become wizards and witches at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Through Harry’s adventures, there are allusions to the real world that may help children in their learning process, but there are those who do not want to expose their children to the large amount of witchcraft portrayed in the books. The question of censoring the Harry Potter books is a great debate among parents, children, teachers, and librarians. Parents always have the final decision of whether or not their own children will read the books, but when parents try to censor the books from all children, as in taking action to get it banned from a library or school, they step over the line and infringe upon the rights of other children and their parents. A mother and father know their own child best; they should be able to predict how their child will react to the contents of the story. They need to make sure that their children are at an age where they can handle all that is contained in the tale. This is how it should be with all literature. If parents do not want to have their own children read the book, then censoring the book is what they should attempt to do. However, they do not have the right to censor it for anyone else’s children. In addition to the parents’ decision, children should also be able to have some say in what they read. If they wish to read the books against the will of their parents, then that is an issue they need to work out with their parents. Parents can only guide a child so far, and eventually at some point they will have to learn to trust their children’s decisions.

Teachers can also help to guide children. They are trained professionals who have acquired the knowledge necessary to teach students. Unfortunately, their judgment is continually questioned when they choose to read Harry Potter in their classrooms and use it as a teaching tool for their students. Since 1999, the Harry Potter books have been the most frequently challenged book around (Rosen). Last year's ALA most challenged book list (2004) is the first year since the novels gained world wide popularity that the books are not on the list at all ("The Chocolate War"). As trained professionals, teachers must be able to pick which books they think will help their kids develop in reading skills and should be able to include those books in their lesson plans without the risk of banning.

The issue of banning Harry Potter is argued in school boards and in courts, with both sides of the issue having victories. Controversies popped up all over the nation, many of them echoing the experience in a school in Arkansas. The Cedarville, Arkansas School Board overrode a unanimous vote of the local Library Committee. The school board decided that Harry Potter books cannot be publicly displayed and that children who wished to check them out had to have their parent's permission. One particular couple, with help from the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and other like groups, successfully sued the Cedarville School Board for an ongoing violation of the First Amendment rights of their daughter, whose right to read whatever she wanted was violated when she had to have her parents permission in order to read Harry Potter. In the notes of the supporting groups, it states, "Cases like this one, involving the censorship of a critically acclaimed book credited with motivating thousands of children to read, are particularly egregious" (Rosen). The initial restrictions that were placed on the books violated the rights of the child who did not wish the books to be censored.

Libraries, like schools, have also had the Harry Potter books challenged. Not only are they being challenged, but activities surrounding the books are questioned, as well. In Payson, Arizona, a local public library held an event called "Harry Potter, a Kid's Night Out." Children came to the library where they participated in activities, such as pumpkin painting, prize drawings, and listening to a local Forest Service ranger give a presentation on owls, a bird frequently mentioned in the Harry Potter books. Several protestors stood outside with signs and yelled through bullhorns at the children who were entering the library to attend the event. Pat Helmick, the circulation clerk, believed they crossed the line by yelling at the children. Describing the situation, Helmick said:
[The protestors] were screaming, 'Don't go in there, it's evil. Don't read Harry Potter.' It was amazing and pathetic […] A person came in and gave me a copy of the paper they were handing the children. It had scriptures on it talking about abominations and adultery--stuff that I never got from reading Harry Potter. I mean, my goodness. (Haddad)

Some of the children were scared and felt like they were doing something horrible by attending an event at their public library. The pastor who organized the protest, Gary Basham, believes that the scare tactic used on the children was justified. He said, "Yes we scared them, but I'd rather scare them to heaven than just let them go to hell--because hell's kind of scary […] We believe that this Harry Potter thing is wicked. All we were trying to do is open the people's eyes to reality—it’s not just a little story book" (Haddad). Basham believes that the author, J. K. Rowling, is a witch herself and is trying to encourage witchcraft through her books. Of course, a major problem with Mr. Basham's objections is that he has admitted to never actually reading the Harry Potter books.
When the controversy developed over the Harry Potter films, which were targeted towards children, several religious leaders issued statements that either supported or rejected the movies and books. Leaders of the Catholic Church examined the matter. Father Peter Fleetwood represented the Vatican when he responded to reporters about the controversy. He said, “No one in this room grew up without images of magicians, witches, spirits, and angels. These are not bad things, and I certainly don’t think Harry Potter is flying some kind of anti-Christian banner” (qtd. in Allen). Magic is represented in all sorts of forms to children in an effort to help them to understand good values.

The attempt to censor these stories, based on the sole criteria of magical content is unrealistic because witchcraft, magic, and fantasy are ingrained in children from the earliest stages. Magic is an essential part of traditional storytelling. Books with some form of magic include Mary Poppins, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wrinkle in Time series, Matilda, and The Wizard of Oz. Movies include “Star Wars”, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, “Pete’s Dragon”, and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The largest genre, which seems mostly aimed toward children, is fairytales. All sorts of fairytales have magic in them: Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Aladdin’s Lamp, and Cinderella, to name a few. None of these categories include video games or the Saturday morning television shows filled with superheroes and magical ponies, whose target audience is, in fact, children.

Christian leaders as well as regular fans have praised the books as a good moralistic story with many Christian allegories. The series is full of Biblical images. Defenders of the books praise them as powerful, moral tools. Ministers have preached sermons that liken Harry’s running through a solid wall onto Platform 9 ¾ as a leap of faith (Gibbs). In the climax of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, book two, Christian allegory is particularly noticeable. Harry battles a serpent, a common symbol of the devil, and is almost defeated. He is unable to win by himself and eventually needs help. The help comes from above in the form of a phoenix, a Christ figure that dies and rises again. In the end, the phoenix weeps on Harry to heal his wounds, a symbol of Christ’s passion, as Christ is the one who heals us and makes us whole. While the serpent is an obvious representation of evil, Harry is a representation of virtue that fights wicked. Other Christian elements included in the story are a godfather for Harry, a Friar, and the celebration of Christmas and Easter. The story is about good versus evil, with good prevailing. Whether or not the Christian allegories were intentional by J. K. Rowling is unclear. According to Father Fleetwood, “As far as I can tell, the chief concern of the author is to help children to understand the conflict between good and evil. This seems very clear” (Allen). One of the main themes of the books is the fight between good and evil, hero versus the villain. The magical world is simply the setting for this particular fight.

Not all Catholics, however, share the same view or take note of the Christian allegories. Michael O’Brien, Canadian author and a Catholic, argues the Potter series “has the potential of lowering a child’s guard to the actual occult activity in the world around us, which is everywhere and growing” (qtd. in Allen). O'Brien believes that reading Harry Potter causes a child to become susceptible to cultish activity. This is true in rare cases, but the purpose of the magic is for entertainment. As stated before, the methods of storytelling that the media uses saturate a child’s learning development with the concepts of magic and wizardry. Magic is an element that keeps a child’s interest in a story with didactic purposes.

Berit Kjos, a minister who runs a website called Kjos Ministries, believes the purpose of the magic in the Harry Potter books is to lure children to witchcraft, away from God. After meticulously reading the Harry Potter books, he traces the witchcraft elements mentioned in the books to their actual Wicca roots. Through his findings, he believes that the novels encourage the practice of witchcraft among children and leads them away from religion. He quotes Ephesians 6 and admonishes people to put on the armor of God and listen to His word. Though well researched, not all of his arguments are logical. In reference to the growing amount of magic that Harry uses in his adventures, Kjos says, “The readers are all rooting for him. They want to see him win—and the stronger the magic the better! No wonder witchcraft is on the rise these days. The world is learning that magical training brings virtual success. It feels good. So why not go for the real thing!” Kjos is not correct in his assumption that magic is what makes the story “feel good” to the reader. The spells are a remarkable element, which serve to enhance the storyline, but this is not what entices the readers. Harry’s decisions and the consequences of those choices are what fascinate the readers, not the spells, as Kjos suggests.

Another Christian leader who is opposed to the Potter books, Pastor Jack Brock from New Mexico, quotes Deuteronomy, saying that witchcraft is an abomination. Brock made national headlines when he staged a “Holy Bonfire” where, among others, Harry Potter books were burned. This action fuel the popularity of the books and the popularity of the banning of the books. When speaking about witchcraft, Brock says, “Anyone who thinks that’s healthy, I don’t understand. God says in Deuteronomy that witchcraft is an abomination. Whatever God hates, I hate. [ . . . ] The books are totally, completely, entirely about witchcraft” (qtd. in Gibbs). Robert McGee, a Baptist pastor, made a one-hour video available to the public that alleges to reveal that the wildly popular series is “really a secret plot to make Wiccans of its young fans” (Goldberg). Kjos, Brock, and McGee, whose beliefs about Harry Potter are in the minority, seem to believe that all children will turn to occult action by reading the series. They automatically assume that children do not have a grasp of what is fantasy and what is reality. The magic is only the backdrop for the story, while the books are concentrated almost wholly on noble, conventional virtues (love, honesty, bravery, loyalty), which are developed in the natural human way.

Like the majority of the readers, J. K. Rowling knows that the magic is a fictional element and is present in the books to entertain, not to pull people away from God. Rowling has made it clear that she does not believe in magic. When some children asked her if she believed in magic in a June 2003 interview, she replied:
I'm sorry to say this, because often when I answer this question I get a groan but I don't believe in magic. I don't believe in it as it appears in the books. I could be slightly corny and say I believe in other kinds of magic. The magic of imagination for example and love, but magic as in waving a magic wand and making things happen…no I don't. I'd love to, but I'm afraid I can't. (qtd. in Fry) Incredibly, disgruntled individuals have come to Rowling, pointing out that they have tried the spells in the books and cannot get them to work. Rowling simply tells them that the spells are not real and that is why they are not working. She makes it very clear that she does not believe in magic.

The realization that Harry Potter is fantasy is an important part of the reading process. Though readers are involved in the story, the separation between real life and fantasy is noted. Innocently, a child may say to a parent, “I wish I was a wizard,” “Can I have a light saber?,” “I want to play quidditch,” “I’m an X-man,” or “I want to be a teenage mutant ninja turtle.” However, through the teaching of parents (and, in the case of the turtle and the X-man, a good lesson in genetics), children should be able to grow up with the knowledge of what is real life and what is fantasy. Teresa Osorio Boncalves, a worker for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, commented on the Harry Potter films. She said, “Parents concerned about the film’s sorcery elements should know that it is unlikely to pose any threat to Catholic Beliefs. Harry Potter is so obviously innocuous fantasy that its fiction is easily distinguishable from real life. Harry uses his ‘magical powers’ for good to fight evil” (qtd. in Allen). Websites set up and run entirely by fans make it clear that the readers know what is real and what is not. Though some of the webmasters have admitted to abnormal obsessions with Harry Potter, they know the difference between what is real and what is fantasy. When fans get a little overzealous in their belief of the realness of the books, it is common for other Harry Potter fans to poke fun at those believing the magic is real enough to test.

Usually, a child can only read Harry Potter so many times before he or she will want to branch out. Eventually, children will move onto other authors to satisfy a newly developed liking for fantasy literature. Sharyn November, a fantasy publisher and editor, says, “Harry Potter has been an enormous help to a lot of people. It’s brought attention to wonderful authors such as Tammy (Pierce), Diana Wynne Jones, and Lloyd Alexander. They’ve always sold well—but now they’re selling better” (Keller). As evidenced, Harry Potter often serves as a kid’s break-out novel.

Fan sites provide "After Harry Potter" lists with recommended reading for their users because so many fans want to continue to read. On one popular fan site called Mugglenet.com, there is a section called "The Book Trolley." In this section, site managers, who are young people themselves, provide a list of authors and books suggested and compiled by the editors, webmasters, and site users. Some of the authors include Lloyd Alexander, Eoin Colfer, Roald Dahl, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Another list on a children's book website has suggested C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, and P. L. Travers. All of these authors are suggested as additional reading to Harry Potter. Children will pick up these author's books and read, leaving behind the monotonous sitcom, the violent video games, and the demoralizing movies that plague the theater. With all of these mind-numbing activities surrounding the lives of children, there is no wonder that the popularity of Harry Potter is at its current height. Children seemed to have been waiting for something like Harry Potter to come along.

Harry Potter fans devour literature. Besides fantasy, readers also move on to read other genres of literature that pique their interest. In one particular case in a Southern Illinois middle school, a group of youngsters and a teacher began a Harry Potter book club with the permission from the school board. The program was entirely voluntary and the result of such a club was astounding. The 7th and 8th grade students studied Greek, Celtic, and Norse myths that may have influenced J. K. Rowling’s writings. The club grew in numbers, even attracting high school students. Besides the Harry Potter novels, the students compiled a “Recommended Reading for Potterheads” list, a list that included Gothic authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and original creator of fantasy worlds, J. R. R. Tolkien (Donnell). Not only have these students expanded their literature repertoire, they have also explored literary theory, art psychology, film theory, and mythology. They have also learned the importance of standing for one’s beliefs, as the existence of the club was challenged for the familiar witchcraft reasons. Members of the club conquered these challenges through research, which was presented by representatives of the club to the school board. This group of young students is an example of what the Harry Potter books can do for children. The books inspire learning and lend children to other genres outside of Harry Potter including psychology and mythology.

Some literary critics who have read the books don't have a problem with the magic, but claim that the Harry Potter novels are empty. Harold Bloom, a “keeper of the keys” type figure of the literary world, dismissed the first Harry Potter book as thin and derivative in a 2000 article in the Wall Street journal. He has since refused to look at any of the sequels. He says, “I would think in another generation or so, Harry Potter will be in the dustbins everywhere. It will be period-piece rubbish because it is so atrociously written” (qtd. in Gibbs). Bloom, however, is in the minority. Even if Harry Potter is not great literature, as Bloom says, the novels speak very powerfully to people, especially children. Instead of deciphering one painful word after another, children gulp down paragraphs and chapters whole, learning the joy of reading and the meaning behind the story (Block). A large number of readers, both child and adult, find the story saturated with archetypes and folklore. Rowling, with no intention to promote “real-life” magic, definitely uses details from the history of the occult, such as names, paraphernalia, and figures of speech. Readers like to trace the roots of the archetypes and compare Harry to figures like King Arthur, an ordinary person endowed with magical powers, and Luke Skywalker, whose chronicle is the epitome of an archetypal story. Readers research the history of the figures, the magic in Harry Potter, and consume the literature in the process.

Because J. K. Rowling uses such details from the history of witchcraft, parents and religious leaders object to the novels, but there are other reasons, though none as popular as magic, which cause the Harry Potter series to be censored. Harry has good attributes—love, loyalty, courage—that influence the way he deals with his problems. Harry fights against Lord Voldemort, the story’s villain, because the problem fell in Harry’s hands and he feels fighting Lord Voldemort is right. Harry is also loyal to his friends whom he loves and would do anything for, even if he is called to risk his life. However, Harry’s bad personality traits cause parents to censor the books from their children. Harry is a rule-breaker and, often through narrow escapes, he gets away with his delinquency without punishment. He often chooses to break a rule with the justification that the rule must be broken in order to save the world from certain peril. He does this for what he believes are good reasons. Parents, however, argue that he is still breaking a rule.

In one case in The Chamber of Secrets, book two, Harry and his friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasely are curious as to who has been attacking students in the school. Hermione hatches a plan to catch the culprit and suggests the plan to her friends. She says, “Of course, it would be difficult. And dangerous, very dangerous. We’d be breaking about fifty school rules, I expect” (Rowling 159). In this plan, the trio manipulates a teacher, light fireworks in class to create a distraction, steal from another teacher, use a hidden potion to knock out two fellow students, and mix and brew an illegal potion for over a month in a girls’ non-working bathroom. They knowingly break several school rules, for what they believe, is a justified reason. Parents have cause to be concerned about this because, as Harry is the hero, children may be inclined to mimic his and his friends’ actions. Children may find reasons to break rules and then attempt to justify their actions by saying it was for a good cause. Though kids may not always understand what a good cause is, they can be good judges of what is right and what is wrong. As Harry and his friends make choices, children must also make choices in the real world that may include breaking a rule in order to bring a positive outcome. If kids followed every rule given to them, the creativity of the younger generation would suffer. They would become little androids, following orders all the time. Though some parents would be happy to have their children follow every order, kids need, at some point, to learn to think for themselves. Instead of living a life filled with regulations, children should be able to make their own choices in directing their lives when they reach an appropriate age.

Many children’s books have main characters as rule breakers or delinquents. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are considered delinquents by their fellow townsfolk. Ender Wiggin, from Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novel Ender’s Game, kills two fellow students in excessive self defense and gets away with the crime. Other non-perfect characters include Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, and the Hardy Boys. What makes these characters attractive is that readers can relate to them. They see that their heroes in their books are not perfect and they do make mistakes. Of the Harry Potter characters, Nancy Gibbs, a journalist, says [They are] inspirational, but mercifully not perfect. Wizards have troubles and egos and envy and ratty robes they are embarrassed to wear. Harry is capable of jealousy and insensitivity. He breaks rules and doesn’t tell grownups things it would plainly be in his interest to reveal. He gets into trouble. Hermione may be smart, but she can be rigid […] Ron is loyal but insecure. Rowling loves her characters and invites readers to love them, not just despite their flaws but because of them. Since one’s flaws loom large in adolescence, that is quite a healing potion.

Kids are able to relate to the emotions that Harry feels and can connect them to their own lives. They can learn from his mistakes and make better choices, just as they learn from boys like Huckleberry Finn, Frodo Baggins, and Luke Skywalker whose choices sometimes bring grief and unhappiness. In Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore, the Hogwarts school headmaster, explains to Harry that “it is our choices […] that show what we truly are” (333). J. K. Rowling is very adamant in her books that choices are what determine how our life will be, whether we will be happy or sad, good or bad.

When this connection is made by readers between the fantasy world and the real world, the real-life situations surrounding Harry are an intriguing part of the story that attracts readers to the books. Ligia Mizhquiri, a 12-year-old from Chicago, says, “[J. K. Rowling] gets everything right. What happens (at Harry’s school) happens to us. Some of us are popular. Some of us are not. Some of us get bullied. Some of us are bullies” (qtd. in Gibbs). As Ligia points out, human nature is present in all sorts of characters in the books. Though set mostly in a wizard’s world, the story of Harry Potter promotes—through their characters—friendship, love, bravery, self-reliance, the importance of family, and tolerance toward those different from us. They depict the quest for knowledge, wisdom and right action—the universal journey every human takes. The books condemn bullies, falsity, rudeness, greed, and Nazi-like tendencies to denigrate and hurt those who aren’t like us (Monk).

Harry learns who good people with good values are, who bad people with bad values are, and how to tell the difference. Through his interaction with good and bad, the readers will connect with Harry and his dilemmas. They recognize that Harry’s world is much like their own with good and terrible virtues represented in people. While the books do have evil characters, in no way are children encouraged to have sympathy for those characters. The villain is always looked upon as evil, and his characterization is such that he cannot be loved by readers. Voldemort is someone readers do not want to emulate because he is miserable, a liar, and a murderer. He is clearly the villain of the story, and is not the person to which children listen. They do not put any value into what he says or does. Voldemort is solely a representation of evil, not a glorification of evil.

Harry learns through Voldemort and his school rival, Draco Malfoy, that racism exists in the wizard world as it does in the real world. The Malfoy family, like Voldemort, are classic villains, with hate as their drive. J. K. Rowling says, “We all grow up with those sorts of people and certainly as adults we’ve all met Lucius Malfoy and some of the other characters. [Harry] found out that Wizards are racist and slowly but surely he’s found out that many people in power in the wizarding world are just as corrupt and nasty as they are in our world” (Fry). The Malfoy family and Voldemort, among others in the novel, harbor prejudices against anyone who does not have pure wizard blood in their genealogy, meaning no ancestor can be a non-magic person, or a muggle. The snobbery of the purebloods against the mudbloods (the derogatory term for magic people with mixed ancestry) is all a mirror image of racism and intolerance in the real world. The word "mudblood" is comparable to the racially prejudiced term, "nigger," that is used in the real world. This racism is the primary cause of conflict in the novel. However, the characters who are intolerant of others are not the heroes of the story; they are the villains and it is up to Harry to choose the kind of people, good or bad, moral or immoral, that he wants for his friends.

How Harry deals with the problems that face him, such as the racism, and the mystery in the books are what draw the audience to Harry's story. Fan based websites of the books (over 20 major sites on a Yahoo! Search alone) are overwhelmingly not centered on witchcraft, but about the mystery and situations surrounding Harry and his friends. The story of Harry Potter is for today’s younger age group what Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys were for previous generations, each having its own allure (Maliszewski). The magic is the imaginative center element of the book, but not the hook into the story. The major attraction that pulls people into the story line is the detective work involved. Christopher Routledge, an English professor and critic, argues that, “while the magic, witchcraft, and the supernatural are all central to the Harry Potter novels, it is the detective story elements that provide the main form of mystery in the series. [ . . . ] It is finding justice for the wrongly accused [ . . . ] that is the main aim of detection in the novels” (202). Readers do not countdown until the day when, filled with anticipation, they can try the next spell created by Ms. Rowling. Readers countdown the days to find out how Harry will escape, how he will survive his classes, who will be the next Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and whether or not Ron and Hermione will ever hook up.

The story is filled with mystery and is there for children and adults alike to enjoy. Because the Harry Potter novels are fantasy, the magic held within its covers is meant to entertain the reader, not to advocate the practice of witchcraft. J. K. Rowling does not advocate witchcraft because the novels themselves are fiction. She is adamant in her belief that magic is not real. She makes it clear in her novels that it is not Harry’s magical ability that can make him great but it is the choices that he makes that will determine how his life will be led. Because of Harry’s mind and how he handles the problems in his life, people are drawn to the novels. The books cannot be blamed for the spread of witchcraft. The fantasy element is an enjoyable way for the reader to see reality. The books have encouraged children around the world to read. Censoring these books from children is a ridiculous course of action that would only deny children of the real magic of Harry Potter. Any book that encourages children around the world to embark on a reading feast, as the Harry Potter novels have done, should be praised for its ability to cause a stir in children, which opens them up to a world bursting with great literature.

(Originally composed December 2003, revised March 2005)

Works Cited

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  • Block, Marylaine. “Afraid of Harry Potter.” Library Talk. Mar/Apr 2001.14. Ebsco Host. 23 Sept 2003. .
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