Review: This Book is Overdue

Marilyn Johnson gets it.

In This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, she manages to avoid the false generalizations:

  • Librarians are obsolete in the age of Google
  • Hip young librarians are putting everything online and leading the way to a brighter (and paperless) future

Johnson spent enough time with librarians — in real life and in cyberspace — to learn about the complexities of librarianship in the 21st century. She interviewed the New York Public Library administrators who are filling the 42nd St. research library with programming and digital offerings and a children’s room, but she also interviewed the head of the Asian collection who pointed out what was being lost when his specialist staff was reassigned to more generalist duties. She interviewed the librarian in the library of the real-life Deadwood, S.D., and her counterpart in the Deadwood of Second Life. She interviewed the bloggers and Second Lifers and zine mavens who are pioneering new services and showing the way for the rest of us, but she also interviewed the librarians in the trenches of her local public library who have to tell patrons that the catalog is down for two weeks during “migration.” (And just when I thought she would have nothing to say about special libraries, she goes to see a “dog librarian.” I thought I was specialized!)

What’s most amazing about this book is what Johnson does with her research. She weaves stories about people. Without glossing over the difficulties or complexities, she helps non-librarians understand and she makes librarians proud of what we do.

As Johnson says near the end of the book (p. 251):

Perhaps I was suffering from a touch of information sickness? If I could weed out my thoughts …

There was one reliable cure I’ve found, a bit of the hair of the dog — the release in reading. Not a manual: something with a narrative. A chute built by a writer and waxed until the reader fell into it and skittered right to the end without stopping. The relief of being in someone else’s hands. Yes, exactly: I needed to be under a spell.

This describes Johnson’s own book. Her stories make what’s going on in libraries today more clear than any ten manuals.

Update: if you’re like me, you wish this book had an index. Well, now here is the index, compiled by Chris Dodge.

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