‘This Book is Overdue’ (and reviewed)

“In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”

This title’s been on my to-read list for awhile, Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. Johnson, bless her, is a writer fascinated by librarians. πŸ™‚ I do love people who recognize and appreciate the skills of librarians (see “husband, my”), and it’s funny and sweet the things Johnson marvels at.

Here’s how Johnson describes her book:

This book can be read as a journey into increasingly activist and visionary forms of library work. The walls of the library have grown porous now and in some cases are merely virtual, as librarians have come out from behind their desks to serve as active enablers in the digital age. [p. 10]

And here’s how she explains her initial fascination with librarians:

I became interested in librarians while researching my first book, about obituaries [that would be The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries]. With the exception of a few showy eccentrics … the most engaging obit subjects were librarians. An obituary of a librarian could be about anything under the sun, a woman with a phenomenal memory, who recalled the books her aging patrons read as children — and was also, incidentally, the best sailor on her stretch of the Maine coast — or a man obsessed with maps, who helped automate the Library of Congress’s map catalog and paved the way for wonders like Google Maps. [p. 5]

Chapter excerpt from This Book Is Overdue!
Chapter 12 of This Book Is Overdue!

For obvious reasons, I also kept going back to the chapter on librarian bloggers, “The Blog People,” reading aloud passages to my husband.

Librarians were the last people I’d expect to make noise on a social network. And yet, in the last decade or so, librarians took to blogging with a vengeance. … Unedited and unmonitored, blogs represented a kind of free expression that librarians traditionally supported and celebrated, but had rarely taken the opportunity to practice. [p. 50]

Open, casual, approachable, dedicated to demystifying technology and networked to the eyeballs, the bloggers became the public face of the twenty-first-century librarian. [p. 52]

Librarians, in short, were swarming in the Web, exploring and mapping it, while linking readers to the shiny, or useful, or fascinating things they found along the way. [p. 55]

This last quote came at the end of this long description of Johnson’s amazement at all the useful things a librarian will link to while writing a post (like podcasts or Google map directions or links to online degree programs). Throughout this passage, I kept thinking, “Why wouldn’t you link to stuff like that? It just makes sense.” But then, I’m a librarian, and I just think that way. πŸ˜‰ It’s nice to have others appreciate that kind of detail.

There’s a brief chapter, “Follow that Tattooed Librarian” that includes the “sexy librarian” image and includes shout-outs to the librarian movies Party Girl (1995) and Desk Set (1957). She also highlights a strip club in Las Vegas called “The Library.” The strippers at this club were also fascinated with real librarians and asked them for advice to make their acts more realistic! πŸ˜‰

Other funny, endearing quotes and non-sequiturs throughout the book:

In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste. [p. 8]

Someday, I will stop being surprised at all the things librarians read; they’ll read anything. [p. 49]

I had no idea poop was such a problem for librarians [p. 61]

“‘Sorry to get all reference on you’?” What a great phrase. [p. 111]

As a breed, librarians tend to share a sense of humor that is quirky, sardonic, and full of wordplay, but nothing captures their gift for self-mockery quite as vividly as the book-cart drills, held at various state conferences and culminating each year in a contest at the American Library Association’s summer convention. [p. 124, see the 2010 championship routine below]

I couldn’t pick the archivist out of a police lineup of librarians. Except for the tattooed ones, all of them looked like people I’d known at Oberlin. [p. 233]

Best thing about this book is how reader-friendly it is. You don’t have to read straight through. (I sure didn’t!) It’s the kind of book you can flip to, read for awhile, smile, laugh, cry, put it down, and then pick up again when you need to. That’s probably why it took me so long to return it to the library.

In short, if you’re a librarian, you will love this book. If you’re not a librarian, then be warned, because after reading this book, you will fall in love with us. Or more in love with us. And reading this book will increase your chances 100% of saying “thank you” the next time you visit your local library and find yourself sharing a smile with your friendly librarian. πŸ™‚

And here’s a clip of the ALA 2010 Book Cart Drill Champions, “Night of the Living Librarians”

ALA Book Cart Drill Championship 2010 – The Winners” video uploaded by tackyjulie is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:

  • Johnson, Marilyn. This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. Harper Perennial, 2011.

Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

5 thoughts on “‘This Book is Overdue’ (and reviewed)”

  1. Hello! Thanks for your review! I had been gifted this book upon MLIS graduation, and I was excited to read it. While I agree with you that Johnson does a good job of sharing a contagious excitement for librarians and libraries, I’m not sure that I’d recommend the book to another librarian, especially one that’s been in the business for a while. I thought this was a great book for non-librarians, and a good peak into the behind-the-scenes of librarian lives. But as for librarians, we already love libraries! πŸ˜‰ I got a little tired of her constant amazement at things I suppose I take for granted, and maybe because I just graduated, I was hoping for a read to build upon what I already knew, not one that promotes standard library practice/procedure.
    Anyway, thanks for your post, and come check out my blog sometime πŸ™‚ toverduin.wordpress.com

    1. Thanks for your comment! Very interesting reply… and I see what you mean, especially as you’re a recent graduate. Congrats! πŸ™‚ Maybe it’s because I’ve been a librarian for almost a decade, that I felt this book was the perfect refresher. It’s so easy to be come jaded — in whatever profession, not just librarianship — that reading this book felt like a great way to get re-energized about the VALUE of what we do. And to be more appreciative of each other, in whatever library field or venue we’re working in. And I find it personally fascinating to have a little insight into how others view us. It’s like looking into a window at our own profession — but wearing someone else’s glasses — a rare opportunity, indeed. πŸ™‚

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