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Does magic make it easier for a competent wizard librarian to search for information, compared to what a competent Muggle librarian can do? Can you give examples of what he can do with magic?

The main point here is looking for information. Wizards don't have computers (at least at the time of the events in the books), but they may have some magical help I haven't noticed. Magic used for other things in a library, such as books that scream when stolen, or magically reinforced buildings, aren't on topic for this question.

I can only think of one example from the books, and even that is doubtful: Hermione has somehow Summoned the books about Horcruxes from Professor Dumbledore's room in Deathly Hallows.

We don't see much of Madam Pince's work. I don't recall any time the students ask for her services. I don't know if that's because they don't trust her, or because we only see them look for information about topics they would rather keep secret (e.g. the Philosopher's Stone, Slytherin's monster, or Horcruxes). There would certainly be a good bit of use for her help, given the amount of essays and other coursework the students do, and the lots of research Hermione does.

Hermione certainly seems to do a lot of searching in books all by hand, and I don't recall her using any magic for this. But it is possible that it happens off screen, or that this just isn't a strong suit of Hermione, and other wizards are more competent. It is also possible that Arithmancy is relevant, and we know very little about that subject.

Remark about why I'm asking: Given that I work with computers, I always sort of wanted to know how wizards in Harry Potter can replace them (at least partly). Magical fantasy fiction never seems to spend much time about information processing, possibly because it's so new and the books I'm reading are old. This question asks only about a specific area of this. Part of what made me ask right now is my previous question What is Divination, as practiced by Wizards, really like?

  • Harry did tons of research for the Triwizard tournament tasks, and no reason not to ask for help from Madam Pince (other than she wasn't particularly likeable) for that if she could help. The only vaguely related example I can think of is one you've already covered: summoning a book rather than having to find it on the shelves if you know which specific one you need. Kind of raises the question of what exactly the job description for the Hogwarts librarian is, and whether it couldn't be done by a Squib. – Anthony Grist Jul 12 '15 at 13:52
  • @AnthonyGrist: She at least has to handle those screaming books, and also invisible books, so I don't think it could be a Squib, but sure, it would be great to know more about Madam Pince. – b_jonas Jul 12 '15 at 13:53
  • I'm fairly sure Hermione knew the titles. – Valorum Jul 12 '15 at 13:57
  • @Richard: I don't think so. I just assumed Hermione was right, and Dumbledore had deliberately made those books easy to access, including somehow making it easy to find which books he needs. Dumbledore knew which books were relevant from his previous research on the Dark Lord's life. – b_jonas Jul 12 '15 at 14:00
  • It's fairly clear (at least to me) that she summoned them by name ‘And once we get hold of it, how do you destroy a Horcrux?’ asked Ron. ‘Well,’ said Hermione, ‘I’ve been researching that.’ ‘How?’ asked Harry. ‘I didn’t think there were any books on Horcruxes in the library?’ ‘There weren’t,’ said Hermione, who had turned pink. ‘Dumbledore removed them all, but he – he didn’t destroy them.’ – Valorum Jul 12 '15 at 14:07
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Most likely, no - at least, Madam Pince couldn’t.

When Harry was looking for a way to stay underwater for a long time, he asked Madam Pince for help finding one, but he was unable to find one even with her help. This implies that it’s not possible for her to “search” the books like a database for a specific bit of information.

“So Harry, thinking that he would soon have had enough of the library to last him a lifetime, buried himself once more among the dusty volumes, looking for any spell that might enable a human to survive without oxygen. However, though he, Ron and Hermione searched through their lunchtimes, evenings and whole weekends – though Harry asked Professor McGonagall for a note of permission to use the Restricted Section, and even asked the irritable, vulture-like librarian, Madam Pince, for help – they found nothing whatsoever that would enable Harry to spend an hour underwater and live to tell the tale.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 26 (The Second Task)

It’s still possible that a spell like that could be invented, but it isn’t something that anyone we see searching through books for information was capable of doing.

In addition, I suspect Hermione already had an idea which books would have information on Horcruxes, and Summoned them by name. It’s never mentioned how she Summoned them - just that she did. In years of searching through the library for information about specific topics, she never was just able to Summon books with the specific information she needed. If she could, it seems highly likely she would have done it at least once before.

  • Which kind of raise the question of why neither the shark transformation, the Gillyweed or the air bubble was found; you'd think statistically speaking, they'd encounter one of those. That, or Hogwarts' library is poorer than it looks... – Jenayah Aug 8 '18 at 8:17
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As you have mentioned in the question, summoning is the most obvious ways of finding a book. But it only works if you know exactly which book you want. The reason Hermione was searching through the library was probably because she did not know which book she wanted exactly. Just the topic. Hence, she'd browse through the collection and pick the ones she wanted.

As to Madam Pince's role, she was the librarian. Her job was more than just helping students find the books they needed. She was to make sure the books' condition was maintained, as is seen in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when Harry brought the Prince's copy of the Potions book to the library:

Chapter 15: The Unbreakable Vow

They waited, and a moment later the vulturelike countenance of Madam Pince appeared around the corner, her sunken cheeks , her skin like parchment, and her long hooked nose illuminated unflatteringly by the lamp she was carrying.

“The library is now closed,” she said. “Mind you return anything you have borrowed to the correct — what have you been doing to that book, you depraved boy ?” “It isn’t the library’s, it’s mine! ” said Harry hastily, snatching his copy of Advanced Potion-Making off the table as she lunged at it with a clawlike hand.

Another of her duties was to make sure the Restricted section of the library was restricted. Students needed to show a letter of permission from a teacher to access books from the Restricted section.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Chapter 9 The Writing on the Wall

There was only one way to get out a book from the Restricted Section: you needed a signed note of permission from a teacher.

She also enforced the rules within the library, as is seen in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Chapter 29: Career Advice

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?”

“Oh damn,” whispered Ginny, jumping to her feet. “I forgot —” Madam Pince was swooping down upon them, her shriveled face contorted with rage.

“ Chocolate in the library !” she screamed. “Out — out — OUT!” And whipping out her wand, she caused Harry’s books, bag, and ink bottle to chase him and Ginny from the library, whacking them repeatedly over the head as they ran.

Apart from this Madam Pince probably did help students when they could not find the location of the books of a particular subject/topic, but Rowling felt it did not warrant any space in her books.

As for how the books were replaced in the library, there probably was a spell to cause the books to fly back to their respective racks. Considering there existed spells to perform much more complicated tasks (Transfiguration spells, Imperius Curse,etc), it is pretty obvious the library would also be maintained using magic.

  • 2
    Perhaps we should ask why teachers and librarians are allowed to physically assault students 🤔 – user46509 Jan 13 '16 at 11:29
  • @AncalagonTheBlack I think its a reference to the older times when teachers assaulting students to instil discipline was barely frowned upon. Dumbledore was more forward thinking, barring filch from using whips on students. Though when Umbridge briefly became Headmistress in OoTP, she allowed filch to use the whip for discipline. – ʀᴇᴅ_ᴅᴇᴠɪʟ226 Jan 13 '16 at 11:59
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    Ah yes, don't abuse the books, or the local librarian is likely to go Librarian on you. Happens in the Potterverse, happens on the Discworld, and happens in real life. Ook! – ivanivan Feb 26 '18 at 14:06

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