In Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone, Harry, Ron and Hermione have serious trouble finding some information about Nicolas Flamel in the Library:

They had indeed been searching books for Flamel's name ever since Hagrid had let it slip, because how else were they going to find out what Snape was trying to steal? The trouble was, it was very hard to know where to begin, not knowing what Flamel might have done to get himself into a book. He wasn't in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century, or Notable Magical Names of Our Time; he was missing, too, from Important Modern Magical Discoveries, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry. And then, of course, there was the sheer size of the library; tens of thousands of books; thousands of shelves; hundreds of narrow rows.

Looks like they were just picking books and hoping to find something in them.

However, libraries have various techniques to solve this problem. For example library catalogs (Library Catalogs) or classification systems (Library Classification). These systems have existed since the 18th century.

The only "sort of" catalog in there is Madam Pince but in general she cares more about keeping silence than helping the students.

So why are there no index cards or catalogs in Hogwarts Library?

Since there was a lots of discussion on the topic - here a short summary:

  • Looks like I overestimated the usefulness of library indexes - several people shared their own experience - if you don't have much information to start with, it is still a long search.
  • JKR make Madam Pince's character unpleasant and unhelpful for plot purposes. This of course can not be considered a "plot hole" since unpleasant and unhelpful librarians do exist in the real world too (I have met some :) ).
  • It is plausible to assume that actually Hogwarts library had more or less a decent index but due to the limited information that was available at the start and the unhelpful librarian, the Trio had trouble finding anything.
  • 38
    Maybe the problem was even if there was a catalog they didnt know where to look in it. they had no idea what was the topic(s) of the books NF appeared in. If he wasn't an author, or his name hasn't appeared in the title etc. then even a catalog wouldn't help. And it could be wizards use the accio spell to find books so they don't need catalogues. I guess they could've asked madam p, but they probably wanted to keep their investigation a secret.
    – user68762
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 9:19
  • 20
    @xDaizu both accio and SELECT are magic words that can be used non-verbally :)
    – user68762
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 12:37
  • 36
    In a libary, casting 'accio book' maybe a very very bad idea. I leave the rest to the imagination. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 12:58
  • 38
    @djsmiley2k the person who casts 'accio book' without specifying which one in a lib deserves his fate.
    – user68762
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 14:19
  • 13
    I think it is the monkey librarian who constantly puts books out of their place... oh, wait...
    – SJuan76
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:22

6 Answers 6


There's no evidence that the library was badly organised. In every instance when students need information on a specific, known subject, they're able to easily find the book(s) they need on that topic.

The issue in Philosopher's Stone is that the problem they're trying to solve isn't one that any system of classifying or organising books would assist in solving. Nicolas Flamel apparently wasn't an author or the specific subject of a book so his name wouldn't appear in a catalog. They would need the Hogwarts library to have details of everything mentioned in the contents of a book, in addition to the author and title, which is simply not feasible given the "tens of thousands of books" the library contains.

The nature of the problem is even explicitly stated in the passage you quoted:

The trouble was, it was very hard to know where to begin, not knowing what Flamel might have done to get himself into a book.

The problem is made worse by their (logical, but ultimately incorrect) assumption that he must have been famous for something that occurred in the last century, and limited their search accordingly. They didn't consider the possibility of an (almost) immortal wizard who may be famous for something that happened well outside the expected lifespan of a normal witch or wizard.

  • 15
    Indexes are not limited to authors and titles. Usually if a certain name is mentioned in a book then the index will show it. Also Flamel is famous enough to be on a chocolate frog card.
    – vap78
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 10:21
  • 12
    "if a certain name is mentioned in a book then the index will show it". Yes, but until you know which book he might be mentioned in you can't check the index of it. The problem is guessing which book might mention him, not checking if it does. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 10:58
  • 18
    The issue in Philosopher's Stone is that the problem they're trying to solve isn't one that any system of classifying or organising books would assist in solving. Wow wow WOOOOW, I'm gonna put up a [citation needed] for that "not any system" :P. Computers can brute force, cross-reference and algorithm-pass every book in existence if it's digitalized. That's why they need to adopt computers. ASAP. Just google book it, goddammit!
    – xDaizu
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 12:23
  • 19
    By this logic, magic (from which, after all, no sufficiently advanced technology is distinguishable) should be able to take a search phrase, and magically search all of the books to find the reference. The Hogwarts equivalent of Google Books.
    – flith
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 13:04
  • 32
    I'm torn on this. On one hand, as someone who has searched libraries using a card index on numerous occasions to find very specific books, I have to assert that efficient searching did exist pre-Google. On the other hand, that experience taught me that some things are way easier to find than others, and often you progress by finding synonyms and related topics to help narrow the field or find what you're after by other routes, and the trio were unable to do this - until Harry found the mention of the Philosopher's Stone, at which point Hermione found him easily, which fits with my experiences. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:55

For an out-of-universe answer, J.K. Rowling has said this about the role of Madam Pince, the librarian:

I thought you were going to attack me for Madam Pince and I would like to apologize for you and any other librarians (crowd laughs) present here today and my get-out clause is always if they’d had a pleasant, helpful librarian, half my plots would be gone. ’Cause the answer invariably is in a book but Hermione has to go and find it. If they’d had a good librarian, that would have been that problem solved. So, sorry.

The same reasoning applies to the library itself and any tools such as catalogues: if all information was magically easy to find, it would damage the plots.

  • 1
    You say if all information was magically easy to find, it would damage the plots but that's very subjective. It might as well improve it if the plot doesn't drag where it shouldn't and finds better (more interesting) places to create tension and struggle.
    – xDaizu
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 12:51
  • 7
    @xDaizu: I was paraphrasing JKR (“half my plots would be gone”).
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 18:23
  • 1
    I know, wasn't trying to argue, but the phrasing made it sound like generic advice. Something on the lines of "The story tha author has planned wouldn't work", or "It would damage the plot it in the eyes of the author" would make clear that the damage to the story is not objective, it is just this author's opinion. My point is "make information easy to obtain" is not something that is generally considered "bad practice" in storytelling, like "having too many pointless characters and introducing them very quickly" citation needed ^^
    – xDaizu
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 13:03

Everything in the wizarding world is poorly organized. That's part of its charm. Why should the library be different?

  • 6
    Although I agree, your answer could use some support. As it is, it's not very helpful; but it should be relatively easy to find necessary arguments. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:58
  • 2
    Voldemort, on the other side, is very efficient and well-organized :)
    – vap78
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 20:03
  • I think, given a present day setting, a nerd would figure out a google-spell to acquire information. Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 5:18
  • @vap78 Not convinced that's supported by the text. His plans do tend to involve an awful lot of theatrics that get him into trouble.
    – deworde
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 8:48
  • @deworde consider how efficiently were the rounding up the muggle-borns
    – vap78
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 9:30

Why would you expect an effecitve organisational structure?

The wizarding world is less advanced (in science, maths, economics and logic) then the 18th century muggle world.

This is a society that skipped the enlightenment, the renaissance, and the industrial revolution.

It is also a much smaller world than ours. Estimates of the total wizarding population worldwide is 50,000 people. There are less books, less authors and less librarians. Perhaps the Librarian would be more helpful if a teacher had come to her with the same request.

See the organisational system of pre-enlightenment societies.

  • 1
    If the demographics of wizards are similar to those of muggles (in particular, Flamel needs to be an exception), it would mean that the total number of wizards who ever lived is less than 1 million. It is estimated that the total number of books ever written in the muggles world is about 130 million, or 1.3 per thousand humans. The Hogwarts library alone contains at the very least 100,000 books, I guess wizards are really prolific writers.
    – T. Verron
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 11:37

The library may not be badly organized.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione being unable to find Nicolas Flamel without asking the librarian or knowing anything more than his name does not prove that the Hogwarts library is badly organized.

The trio did not ask the librarian to help.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione were attempting to find out who Flamel was without many people knowing they were looking, particularly wanting Snape not to know. They suspected she would know which books they could find Flamel in, though.

“Wishing he’d been a bit quicker at thinking up some story, Harry left the library. He, Ron and Hermione had already agreed they’d better not ask Madam Pince where they could find Flamel. They were sure she’d be able to tell them, but they couldn’t risk Snape hearing what they were up to.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 12 (The Mirror of Erised)

Because of their need for secrecy, they did not actually ask for any help searching the library.

They also had very little information.

Additionally, since Harry, Ron, and Hermione all did not know who Nicolas Flamel was or what category of book to look in, they did not know where to look for him. Hermione at least had a plan, Ron was just pulling random books off of the shelves.

“Hermione took out a list of subjects and titles she had decided to search while Ron strode off down a row of books and started pulling them off the shelves at random. Harry wandered over to the Restricted Section. He had been wondering for a while if Flamel wasn’t somewhere in there. Unfortunately, you needed a specially signed note from one of the teachers to look in any of the restricted books and he knew he’d never get one.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 12 (The Mirror of Erised)

With so little information, it would be extremely difficult to find information in any library.


The books move of their own accord, and they change with use cases and with the passage of time. All the above actually happen in the Potter series. Madame Pince's job is not easy!

It's MAGIC, remember? Even the stairways aren't statically bound.

  • 8
    I don't ever remember reading anything about the books moving around. Got any relevant quotes?
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 18:50
  • 1
    @Jayraj - they fly around in the movies. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:57

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