Friday, July 2, 2010
This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
By Marilyn Johnson
New York, Harper Collins, 2010
Week 27 Non-fiction
The American Library Association met last week at a convention center across the street from NPR’s Washington headquarters. Twice they did stories about the convention that I happened to catch on the All Things Considered afternoon news show. The first one concerned the journalist’s guilt over a book overdue from the DC library for three years. The second concerned an event at the convention where book cart drill teams from various libraries competed for honors.
Johnson wrote this book in response to another book she wrote called The Dead Beat, which was a discussion of obituaries and those who write them. Johnson, herself, used to be an obituary journalist. As she wrote and read, she discovered that some of the most interesting obituaries belonged to librarians. Who were these people? Why had they led such interesting lives?
I have long maintained that if you wanted to know a person committed to civil liberties, meet a librarian. Johnson confirms this in a chapter in which she discusses four Connecticut librarians who refused to turn over usage records to the FBI and challenged the Patriot Act in court. “So here was the case in a nutshell: quiet librarians who wanted to keep quiet about their patrons’ records were told to give up those records and to remain quiet about it. The librarians fought to be heard, and finally they were. Now for the rest of their lives, they would be noisy, in defense of keeping quiet."
It is kind of a meandering journey through the new world of libraries, but I learned quite a lot about what I have been missing since I retired—like accessing DIIGO, a great resource for highlighting and making notes on websites (for research projects). Above all, it made me remember why I became a librarian in the first place, and why I love helping clients find the information they need.
Would the average reader like this book? I think so. It is an interesting journey into an area that most people know only one aspect and have only one stereotypical opinion. And oh, what a different world this book presents! It certainly makes you look at the reference librarian at your public library in a totally different light. If the journalist worrying about his overdue book had just read This Book is Overdue before he filed his story, he would have been asking the librarians he interviewed totally different questions than how to avoid the huge fine he had encumbered.
Here is a review of the book from the New York Times:
and an interview with the author on The New Yorker blog:
Here is Marilyn Johnson’s website: