Tuesday, July 05, 2011

This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

The “best of times, worst of times” cliché certainly applies to today’s librarians and to the modern libraries in which they work.  Patrons have learned to expect and to demand services from their libraries that were all but unheard of not more than a decade ago.  Today, libraries are expected to give precious shelf space not only to books, magazines, and newspapers, but also to audio books, CDs, and DVDs.  Much precious floor space is given over to computers so that patrons can (supposedly) do research and (even more supposedly) access what used to be called the library’s card catalogue system.

Old-school librarians must feel as if the rug has been pulled from beneath their feet.  Freshly minted librarians will be better prepared, but even they are having to scramble to keep up with the freight train bearing down on them.  Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All is probably aimed more at librarians themselves than it is at their customers, but heavy-duty library patrons should also take a look.

Johnson focuses on the changing roll of the librarian – and how librarians everywhere are directly involved in rewriting their job descriptions.  Interestingly, despite the rapid fire changes that librarians are dealing with, what is perhaps their most important role is not really changing all that much: they are still the gatekeepers of the information being sought by library patrons.  Librarians still, if they are good at what they do, know the best way to find the information being sought by their customers.  They know not only how to find it fastest, but whether to trust what they find.

Author Marilyn Johnson
This Book Is Overdue takes a look at librarians themselves, not just at their job duties.  What Johnson has to say about them might surprise readers whose only impression of librarians comes from what they see at the library.  Johnson, while she does seem to agree that librarians are a bit of a “type,” wants her readers to know that there are some real characters in the ranks.  There is a chapter on librarians who hit the streets during protests, offering information, via smartphones, that will be useful to protesters and those being protested, alike.  Another highlights the efforts of a small group of librarians who set a national precedent by protesting the intrusion of The Patriot Act into the privacy of their patrons.

One of my favorite chapters is the one in which Johnson looks closely at the efforts of a group of professional and amateur librarians who have created working libraries within the popular Second Life software.  What these men and women have accomplished is amazing – especially since what they do in Second Life is every bit as time consuming and difficult as what they do in their day jobs. 

My other favorite is the chapter on librarians who blog – I’ve run across more than a few of these myself and have enjoyed both the irreverent ones and the more serious ones.  Johnson’s point is that the blogging world is where librarians can be themselves (even to the point of sometimes having to hide their true identities) and can have real fun with their fellow readers.

This Book Is Overdue is for dedicated readers and the people we depend on to keep us supplied with the book-fix we need to make it through our week.  It is not the easiest thing to read (I did find the author’s style to be a little dry, at times) but it is well worth the effort.

Rated at: 3.0


  1. I think I enjoyed this book a little more than you did, but I share your response to it. By the end, I was very hopeful for the future of the librarian profession.

  2. I may have to read this, if it leaves one with a hopeful impression of librarianship. It's a bit hard sometimes, when even other librarians seem to be arguing that we are being buried by our "competition" (Amazon, Google, etc.).

    Speaking of Second Life, the number of presences a single library can try to have is mind boggling. My own library is stretched pretty thin, in terms of the amount of time everyone on staff has, and yet we somehow manage to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, email reference, 2 mini-libraries at satellite campuses, and the main library, and, if the university continues to go forward with its Second Life plans, we'll have to try to figure out how we can be most useful there, as well. When the juggling act goes well, it's really satisfying, but I always worry that we are stretched too thin to truly be helpful in all of the different realms, except maybe the main library.

  3. C.B., I didn't find it to be a "comfortable" read for some reason that I can't pinpoint. But I did come away with a better idea of what future libraries and librarians will be doing. It's an interesting book.

  4. I can well imagine the stress that librarians are working under today, Library Girl. But, if this author is correct, it will all be worth it in the end...hope so, at least. I do regret that less and less money is allocated toward the purchase of physical books, but I understand how crunched budgets are right now. Libraries are competing with the entertainment industry right now for patrons...free is good, so they should do well.

  5. I enjoyed this one too. I was fascinated by all of the hats that librarians wear and have to admit that I was totally ignorant as to everything their jobs involve.

  6. The workaday world of the average librarian is changing so fast today that I don't know how they keep up with all the possibilities. It's a good thing that there are so many social networks to link them all up, places where they can share thoughts and experiences.