International Women’s Day 2023 – Librarians in literature

In Australia, around 84% of librarians are female[1], despite the expectations of this lowly fellow, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1909:

“‘It is not likely that many women will become the heads of libraries; they are handicapped by various limitations; limitations perhaps of physical strength, perhaps of temperament. Still, there are only these limitations to prevent them from aspiring to the highest positions in the state, and no doubt one or two women will eventually hold such positions. ‘Nine out of every ten women are unfitted [sic] to be at the head of a library,’ remarked Mr Anderson, the Government Librarian, ‘but sometimes a tenth is discovered, and she is beyond price.'”2]

If we’re making up statistics, I’d hazard a guess that slightly more than a tenth of women librarians are ‘beyond price’. They’ve endlessly inspired and helped people throughout history, both in real life and in the media.

Every now and then, we find a cool article on social media about the awesome librarians in films – those tweed-and-cardigan-wearing, mild-mannered, rule-abiding superheroes who hold the key to solving the mystery.

So, in celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, we’d like to pay homage [give a shout-out] to the well-known – and lesser-known – librarians in literature, paragons of the art of librarianship – some of our favourite literary characters who are not only ambassadors for the profession, but for all women.

Mrs Phelps, in Matilda, by Roald Dahl

SCIS no. 425299

Notwithstanding the current Dahl controversy, Matilda remains a perennial favourite with children and adults alike. And everyone remembers Miss Honey, right? That teacher every teacher wants to be, and every child wishes they had? But really, we should be remembering the librarian from Matilda – the woman who guided, curated and supplied Matilda’s fundamental education! Mrs Phelps is the one who equipped Matilda for the challenges ahead.

Sylvia Blackwell, in The Librarian, by Salley Vickers

SCIS no. 1868507

Sylvia Blackwell is the unfussy, calm and efficient – yet burningly passionate – children’s librarian in a small town in 1950’s England. She’s an inspiration to the townspeople and indeed to all those who aspire to cardigans, efficiency and imparting a love of reading. Sylvia Blackwell (named by the author after her own favourite librarian) is flawed, human and inspirational, and her legacy long outlasts her lifetime.

Reine-Marie Gamache, in the Inspector Gamache series, by Louise Penny

SCIS no. 5439280

Have you heard of Three Pines? Ostensibly a cosy murder mystery series set in Québec and starring the indefatigable Inspector Gamache. However, the heart and soul of this story rests with his wife, Reine-Marie. Reine-Marie is librarian goals: the epitome of calm, intelligence, wit and good sense.

Irene Winters, in The Invisible Library series, by Genevieve Cogman

SCIS no 1704030

Irene Winters is a steampunk heroine – part spy, part thief, and wholly capable. She represents the tough, intelligent, librarian-as-all-rounder trope. Irene resides in a realm where parallel worlds exist, librarians represent order, fairies represent chaos, and books are very powerful. If I lived there, I’d want Irene on my side, that’s for sure.

Batgirl (aka Dr Barbara Gordon), in the Batgirl series

‘In the Gotham City Library….’ Detective Comics no. 359, (January 1967)

SCIS no. 1958796

Not only does she fight crime, the daughter of Inspector Gordon also has a PhD in Library Science and runs the Gotham City Public Library. The comics do embrace the library cliché though – imagine calling the world of the library ‘mundane’! – but Batgirl teaches us that women are resourceful and that appearances can be deceiving.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these fantastic female librarians in literature. You can find Catalogue Records for all the titles mentioned on our database.

By Ceinwen Jones, Cataloguing Team Leader, Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS)

[1] data from 2021

[2] “WOMEN LIBRARIANS.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 20 February 1907: 5. Web. 7 Feb 2023 <>.

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SCIS (Schools Catalogue Information Service) was created with the aim of providing schools with access to a database of consistent catalogue records created according to agreed national standards, in order to reduce the cost and duplication of effort of cataloguing resources in schools. Since its inception, SCIS has been responsible for improving the quality and consistency of cataloguing materials for schools.

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