The last book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, turns 10 on July 21, 2017. (The series celebrated its 20th anniversary on June 26.) For the 10 years Bloomsbury Publishing in the U.K.—and Scholastic in the U.S.—published the series, millions of readers participated in a worldwide fandom that consisted of midnight book release parties, pretend Quidditch matches, sorting family and friends into Hogwarts Houses, perfecting homemade butterbeer recipes, and speculating about even the most peripheral plot points in future books. To date, the series has sold more than 450 million copies and been translated into nearly 80 languages.
Harry Potter is everywhere. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of it and has some familiarity with the story, even if they haven’t read any of the books. Public libraries have been putting on Harry Potter-themed programming over the past 20 years, and they have no intention of stopping, although new and related content is few and far between (currently, it’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and its forthcoming sequels). They introduce today’s children to the series for the first time. And there are other organizations keeping the love alive too. That’s the power of Potter.
Bloomsbury dedicated a webpage to Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary to keep track of all of its celebrations, including releasing House-specific editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with new illustrations and bonus content. There’s also a contest for readers to win a free trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, the chance for teachers and librarians to compete for a library makeover inspired by Hogwarts’ colors, a timeline of Harry Potter history with key moments and fun facts, and a party pack that offers tips and printouts for hosting a Harry Potter-themed event.
Bloomsbury also helped create Harry Potter: A History of Magic, an exhibition at the British Library that will run from Oct. 20, 2017 to Feb. 28, 2018. It will feature rare books, manuscripts, and “magical objects” from the library’s collection to capture “the traditions of folklore and magic which are at the heart of the Harry Potter stories. Marvel at original drafts and drawings by J.K. Rowling and illustrator Jim Kay, both on display for the first time.” Other artifacts will include a 16th-century resource on how to create a Philosopher’s Stone, medieval astronomy sources about the Sirius star, and hand-colored pictures of dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures. Sign up for the mailing list to get information on tickets, events, and more.
The Harry Potter Alliance
In 2005 (the year the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was published), activists founded The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA). It’s an organization that uses “the power of story” to engage volunteers in the areas of equality, human rights, and literacy. Its campaigns have included Accio Books (which has provided 315,000 titles to communities in need since 2009) and #NevilleFightsBack (which encourages people to get involved in issues surrounding climate change). Another campaign, Not in Harry’s Name, successfully petitioned Warner Bros. to switch its Harry Potter-branded chocolate to 100% fair trade.
“The Harry Potter Alliance was founded on the idea that if we could tap into the same energy that made fandom so successful and inspiring for people—that unironic enthusiasm, the creativity, the permission to be playful—we could mobilize a whole new group of people for social change. We call it fan activism, and it’s a method that’s been extremely successful at engaging first-time activists in particular over the last 12 years,” says Janae Phillips, the HPA’s director of leadership and education. “Part of the great power of using popular stories is that they provide a means by which people of vastly different backgrounds and experiences can connect with common ground, and that leads to a wealth of possibilities. In the last couple years, we’ve begun to work on expanding our reach into new spaces and connect with those who may not be as directly active in fandom circles but are certainly fans, and connecting with libraries has certainly been part of that evolution. We want to make activism accessible and sustainable, and by doing that, we turn fans into heroes.”
Libraries can get involved in the campaigns or join an existing chapter in their area. Those looking to create their own chapter can simply fill out the online form. Phillips says an HPA team member will respond within a few days to explain more about the program and confirm that the library wants to move forward. “We’ve built our program to be as accessible as possible and believe strongly in the importance of a community-driven approach, so our process is designed to support libraries in implementing it in a way that works best for their specific situation. Besides myself, I have a staff of 35 volunteers all dedicated to making sure our chapters are successful,” says Phillips.
In Tennessee, Heather Lanier and Claire Stanton are two of the leaders of the Brentwood Library’s HPA chapter, Chamber of Knowledge. Their library throws Harry Potter-themed parties with an emphasis on community service. “For example, we collected donations for an animal rehabilitation facility as part of our holiday Yule Ball. Lots of fun and lots of helping the animals! We celebrate the spirit of kindness and social activism found in the Harry Potter books quarterly,” they say. Their library’s events draw patrons of all ages.
This month, Chamber of Knowledge is throwing a birthday party for Neville Longbottom. They’ll collect “presents” for him—i.e., donations of blankets, towels, and other items to give to an animal welfare facility. “We especially love to donate to animals because Tennessee has such varied wildlife, and animals play a huge role in the Harry Potter series,” they say.
Lanier and Stanton maintain that these events always need a touch of magic, whether that takes the form of snacks with wizarding world names or fun activities. They listen to patrons’ suggestions, and children usually have great ideas. They also stress the importance of adding a service component to the events, “because the overall theme of Harry Potter is love, and loving our world means making it a better place, whether that is through recycling programs, working with charities, or anything else! The Brentwood Library’s Harry Potter Alliance chapter has not only raised money and supplies for animal charities, but we have recycled plastic bottles and old CDs into artwork, worked on cleaning up the environment either through stream cleanups or asking restaurants to consider environmentally friendly takeout containers, or collected seeds to create a seed library where everyone’s hard work can be shared.”
Entering the Wizarding World
There are as many ways to celebrate Harry Potter as there are libraries. Individual locations of the 41-branch Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County system in Ohio “have hosted numerous book and film release parties throughout the life of Harry Potter. These programs include crafts, trivia, Harry Potter food, art, costume contests, magic trick classes, and more,” says Jennifer Korn, manager of the library’s TeenSpot. This year, she’s hosting programs such as “Fantastic Beasts of Harry Potter (presented by a local wildlife sanctuary), DIY Book of Monsters, Escape from Azkaban (an escape room-type event), a Lego Harry Potter building event, and an event celebrating Dumbledore’s birthday.”