Spotlight On: In praise of librarians

28 March 2024


This article first appeared in the Queenwood Connect Portal on Friday 28 March 2024.

In the Harry Potter books, there's this place called the Room of Requirement. The way it works is you walk three times in front of this certain patch of wall at Hogwarts, thinking, like, I really need a coffee. And then suddenly in that room a coffee shop will appear. Or, I need a place to make my magic potion in secret, and then a room with all the ingredients for your magic potion will appear.
Libraries are like that. But in real life. That's what they do.

Ira Glass, This America Life

I sat behind the Senior School library desk for a few hours this week and marvelled at the conversations. A parent reflected on her relationship with her daughter after reading Trent Dalton’s Lola & The Mirror at Q Book Club. A member of the Digital Art club seeking inspiration was directed towards a whole section on contemporary illustration. A Year 9 girl wanting to explore her Korean heritage happily departed with Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko tucked under her arm. A Year 7 student overwhelmed by homework was guided to the Learning Hub where Mrs Barr was waiting to help. A teacher embarking on a trip to Greece went home to pack a copy of Gerald Durrell’s My Family & Other Animals in her suitcase. The list goes on.

The librarians in these encounters each possessed a curiously rare personal quality – the ability to listen without judgement, their sage Socratic questioning coaxing each visitor towards illuminating stories and ideas. They ensure everyone feels welcome, regardless of culture, creed or query. This makes libraries much like J. K. Rowling’s Room of Requirement – beautiful, magical places.

Having had the good fortune of working with wonderful librarians for most of my teaching career, I had somewhat taken their expertise for granted. Then I tried asking ChatGPT for some recommendations and realised how much more librarians offer than an online search. Here’s what happened when I attempted replicating some of the library-desk conversations from earlier in the week.

Question 1: What can Lola in the Mirror teach me about parenting?
Answer: As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, I don't have specific information about a book or resource titled "Lola and the Mirror."
Strike 1.

Question 2: Can you show me some images that will help me with my digital art drawing on ProCreate?
Answer: I'm sorry for any confusion, but as a text-based AI developed by OpenAI, I don't have the capability to display or show images.
Strike 2.

Question 3: I feel overwhelmed by my schoolwork; what do I do?
Answer: Feeling overwhelmed is a common experience, and it's important to take steps to address it. Take a break. Prioritise. Time Manage. Delegate. Set Realistic Expectations. Self-care. Reach out for support. Say No. Mindfulness & Relaxation. Seek professional help.
Strike 3. That list makes me feel overwhelmed. You’re out!

At least ChatGPT gave me a good recommendation for a trip to Greece – Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, albeit slightly high-brow for beach reading.

What can we take from this? ChatGPT knows ‘stuff’, but it doesn’t know people. Our librarians understand our curriculum, our girls, and our families. They know the context of the question and observe the demeanour of the person asking it, so are well-positioned to ‘read between the lines’. Librarians observe the borrowing histories of shy girls, purchasing or recommending books for those not yet confident enough to ask. Librarians notice whether girls visit regularly, alone, or in groups, and can organise the environment to support individual study preferences. Librarians continue conversations over long periods of time as stories and ideas percolate, ensuring a richness of understanding that’s just not possible via online chat.

Librarians are real people who build relationships through a shared love of learning – now that’s magical!