Review: This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson

I’ve applied to grad school. I want to pursue a career in Library and Information Science. I haven’t been accepted yet but I exceed all of the minimum requirements and I should be getting my acceptance letter very soon. This interest in Library Science piqued on a whim. I’m currently an undergraduate studying Anthropology. I have one class left and I graduate in May. The Anthropology Department sent out an email about a Library Science internship program. I’ve seen opportunities pass me by over the years for a number of reasons: I worked two jobs, I worked a 9 to 5 as a receptionist and HAD to work those hours, I lived too far away, I wasn’t actually enrolled in classes, etc. But for some reason, this one really grabbed me.

Forty students applied and only 12 were accepted. I’ve been in school off and on for the last 10 years so I was surprised that I would be selected as a non-traditional student. The first part was an online course designed to introduce the participants to careers in the field paired with some shadowing opportunities at local libraries and archives. I visited the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, The Western Reserve Historical Society, The Health Sciences Library at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. There were several places that I didn’t get to see like the library at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives but since both are open to the public, I should probably drop by sometime.

The shadowing opportunities were a preparation for the rest of the program, which is a 100-hour paid internship. I am currently working at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History – it was my first choice and perfect for a student of Anthropology. I’ve done about 30 hours so far and I will probably volunteer after my internship because I’ll be starting a large project that I won’t be able to finish within the remainder of my hours. I don’t want to leave it incomplete but also, I want the experience in my chosen field.

To cut to the chase, I’ve picked up all the books that I can on Library and Information Science to prepare me for grad school and my eventual career path. I picked up This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson the last time I stopped by the Cleveland Public Library. (Side note: The Cleveland Public Library has a wonderful collection of Library Science books in addition to their sizable comic book collection – but you already knew about that!)

The book is a popular title more so than an academic one and it sets out to debunk the librarian stereotype and show how librarians are surviving in the digital age. I did enjoy the book and it was a far cry from the American Library Association handbooks (all awesome, by the way) or textbooks on cataloging and classification that I have been reading. I like Johnson’s writing style – she’s conversational and likable while still being able to command your respect as a reader. Her inspiration for the book was actually the topic of her previous book – obituaries. She found that the most interesting obituaries were those of librarians which prompted her to take a look into the field of library and information science.

Your typical librarian stereotype is one with gray hair in a bun, glasses and cats…lots of cats. But really, librarians aren’t like that. I’m bald and tattooed and there are librarians out there just like me. It doesn’t matter what a librarian looks like but rather what they do and librarians are librarians because they like to help others. Whether helping others involves teaching a Microsoft Word or Intro to Email class for patrons, helping a 12-year-old on a project about George Washington Carver or assisting patrons with tax forms, you can always count a librarian in.

This book examined some situations like the merging of a public library and a research library in New York City which stopped just short of creating chaos. As you may or may not know, materials in research libraries do not circulate. As a result, after the merger, public materials could not be checked out by patrons. What would you do if you went to your library and you couldn’t check out any of the books?

Another scenario that interested me was about librarians and the Patriot Act. Librarians have an unspoken confidentiality agreement with patrons. If a patron wants to know where he or she may find books on drug abuse, it is the librarian’s job to help the patron find the books. The librarian doesn’t ask why he or she wants the books nor does the librarian speak to colleagues about this person. That is why when a library in Connecticut was visited by the government regarding what a patron searched for on library computers on a given day, a lawsuit ensued. The Federal Government believed that a terrorist had used the computers at that library. Feeling that it was an invasion of privacy on behalf of the rights of patrons at personal level and by federal law, 3 librarians and an IT professional sued the government. Not to mention, they didn’t keep comprehensive records of who used their computers when. And they were gag ordered by the government.

There are humorous anecdotes in the book about rogue turds (yes, ROGUE TURDS…TURDS!) in the library as well as an introduction to quite possibly the best website ever. I must admit that I did get bored during chapter 9 which involved the secret lives of librarians in Second Life. It seemed like a waste of page space to me. Johnson set-up an account, moonlighted as a virtual librarian, befriended other virtual librarians who had virtual libraries in the virtual world that is Second Life. It wasn’t really interesting at all and I skimmed through most of that chapter. There is a chapter about archiving which I was happy to see because I have a special interest in archives.

I do have to say that I felt the book ended abruptly. It could have ended with the archives chapter and a short epilogue would have best served as an ending to the book. The last chapter seemed forced and wasn’t the best way to end an otherwise strong (minus Second Life) book. Overall, I enjoyed the book and I think it definitely fulfilled its purpose as a popular title with a glimpse into practical day-to-day librarianship that I don’t think patrons ever see or that students are taught about in library school.

This is one of the handful of books that I’ve read for pleasure in the past 3 years. This grad school thing has me on a roll and hopefully I don’t slow down. And hopefully I become the best librarian there is, the best librarian there was and the best librarian there ever will be…SHARPSHOOTERS FOR EVERYONE! Damn, I get off-topic in two seconds flat.


About Christine Pyles

I have an unhealthy obsession with Prince, The Artist, The Purple One. You know who I'm talkin' 'bout. I have a shaved head and I like being dudes with hair for Halloween. My nerd claim to fame is my love of Thor, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that I am the human version of C-3PO. Follow me on Twitter - @XineSoundclash. I'm real funny.

Posted on February 11, 2012, in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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