Nyssa Fleig, library program manager at Salt Lake County Library Services in Utah, says that across her system’s 18 branches, there have been Potions classes, release parties during which patrons could check out the new books at midnight, movie screenings and library-sponsored field trips to see the movies, and birthday parties. “This year we are hosting O.W.L. (Outstanding Wizarding Levels) Camp: one-day summer camps taking place June 10–July 15. Eleven to 18-year-olds submitted applications to attend O.W.L. Camp, and participants have received their O.W.L. acceptance letter. The summer camps are to celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday, coincide with the 20th anniversary, and to provide kids and teens with free STEM summer opportunities,” says Fleig. “For youth and families who aren’t able to make it to O.W.L. Camp, we have many branches transforming into a Diagon Alley shop. You can find all our Diagon Alley shops on our calendar by searching ‘Diagon Alley.’”
Cumberland Public Library in Rhode Island has a Harry Potter Day each year, says Kimberly Usselman, children’s services coordinator. It’s in April, and when the Fantastic Beasts movie was given a November release date, the library considered moving the event to coincide with it. However, the event has grown so big—to about 800 attendees—that it would have been difficult to make such a change, so the staffers simply added some Beasts-inspired activities. The University of Rhode Island’s Quidditch Club makes an appearance, along with Draco and the Malfoys, an “evil wizard rock” band.
Pam Carlson, children’s librarian at Long Beach Public Library in California, says, “We celebrated each new book with a release party. We played our own version of Quidditch using gold Hershey’s kisses as the Golden Snitch. At the end of the party, we would turn off the lights, pass out glow sticks, and shout Lumos! while cracking them to get them working. We also did a Dobby sock walk (like a cakewalk but with different designs of socks), Magical Creature Ring-a-Ding (Styrofoam board with suckers that kids tossed rings onto), and a Plinko tabletop game called Gringott’s Bank-O in which kids could ‘withdraw’ gold coins.”
When the books first became popular, Carlson did a 4-week afterschool program. “The first week was a welcome to wizards, the second centered around snakes and Parselmouth, the third was science magic, and the fourth Hogwarts’ Game Day. At the end of the series, each wizard received a certificate of congratulations with the hope that they might always enjoy the magic of reading.”
Tips for Muggles
Fleig says that any fandom can be a jumping-off point for programming as long as libraries are mindful of copyright and what’s fair use (for example, the Outstanding Wizarding Levels Camp is inspired by the books’ “Ordinary” Wizarding Levels). Think beyond crafts and movie screenings. “Harry Potter especially lends itself to endless program ideas. Want to teach kids chemistry? Call it Potions. Want to talk to youth about mental health and bullying? Invite youth to attend Defense Against the Dark Arts and build patronuses together.”
Usselman encourages the use of Pinterest boards to keep track of ideas. “There are so many things to find online,” she says. “You don’t have to make up something on your own. You don’t have to re-create the wheel or anything. You can borrow basically everything from online.” Visit her Harry Potter Day @ Library board here. Carlson uses Pinterest too, but says it’s also fun to come up with your own ideas.
Korn says, “The advice I have for other libraries hosting Harry Potter events is to have activities than anyone can partake in, whether or not they’ve read the books or watched the movies. You don’t want to alienate patrons (and potential Harry Potter fans) by having activities that exclude them.”
A Dip Into the Pensieve
Twenty years is a long time to be a fan of something. What experiences stand out? “My main memory is just how fun the books were and are for all ages, especially when shared,” says Carlson. “Some of my favorite memories are ordering personal copies from England and everyone being excited whenever a new one was announced. My grandniece’s dad took her to bookstore celebrations and read the books with her even though she was very young at the time. My sister-in-law also read them to my niece and nephew. Thus, a lot of my family grew up on Harry Potter. I made a robe for my nephew when he was [Harry] for Halloween.”
Phillips says, “I think for me three things stand out: staying up all night reading the seventh book, seeing [Universal Orlando’s] Diagon Alley for the first time surrounded by HPA staff and volunteers, and staying up all night again reading Cursed Child nearly a decade later.”
The communal aspect of enjoying the series is apparent in libraries. “Our favorite memories are all related to the incredible enthusiasm such a diverse group of people share for Harry Potter,” says Korn. Lanier and Stanton still get excited whenever young readers get interested in the books, and even now, they delight in seeing a child carrying all seven through the library. “You’d think interest would wane over time, but the magic of Harry Potter keeps spreading throughout generations,” they say.
Usselman agrees that there’s “something very magical about introducing Harry Potter to kids. I have a family that comes in, and they know that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. They’ve visited for the past 3 years, and they just picked it up a couple months ago, and both of the girls … one’s on book six and one’s on book seven [now]. And their mom stops in and tells me how they’re doing: ‘They’re loving it so much. I never thought they would,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes!’”
Beyond the Books
It’s obvious that the world of Harry Potter inspires a lot of devotion. But what does it all mean? The way people talk about it, it must be more than just a book series they enjoy. How does it impact the lives of the librarians who pass it on to their patrons?
“What a question. Where to start. Harry Potter manages to mean so much, which is a testament to its timelessness and reach. It’s about acceptance, about finding your place in a world. It’s about bullying, and fitting in, and standing out. It’s about courage and fear, right and wrong, good and evil. It’s about knowledge. Coming of age. Discovering yourself. Friendship. Politics. Loss. Grief. Love,” says Fleig. “What does it mean to me, personally? As a librarian? I think any good book is about connection, and learning through the pages something about yourself, something about the world, and something about someone else. It builds empathy. A really good book does all these things, differently, every time you read it, no matter how many times you read it.”
Phillips says, “Harry Potter means different things for different people, but for me the series is really about found families and the power of love in overcoming hatred. Those things are true for the books and true for my experience in the fandom and in the work we do at HPA—it’s part of my found family, and together I know that we can help shape a more loving, empathetic world in the face of enormous hatred and ignorance.”
Lanier and Stanton also tie the series to their experience with the HPA. Harry Potter “means that there is a world where you can make things better with a wave of a hand and a flick of a wand, where friends come together and share stories and ideas on how to do that in our world, and where communities meet to take these ideas and turn them into actions. The theme for the worldwide HPA is, ‘the weapon we have is love.’ The magical world of Harry Potter contains many complicated themes, but the most recurring theme is that love is powerful and will overcome hate.”
Carlson sums it up as follows: “At this time, I don’t see any series that can match the power of Harry. The messages of friendship and loyalty are just ‘magical.’ These books mean a lot to myself, my family, friends, and the Muggles that visit the library.”
Images courtesy of Bloomsbury.