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


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

The Digital Age has many people wondering what the point of a library --- or a librarian --- is anymore. Marilyn Johnson’s investigation, part memoir and part history, is a fascinating look at an overlooked field. You’ll never think of your local library branch the same way again.

I had a feeling I wanted to be a librarian, but I had no idea of all the fun (and the stress) that goes into the job before I picked up THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! Johnson begins by talking about her first book, THE DEAD BEAT, in which she researched obituaries and obituarists. Librarians’ obituaries always seemed so interesting to her that she decided to dedicate an entire book to them.

Divided into thematic chapters, THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! reads like a novel with hundreds of colorful characters. Johnson interviewed and observed librarians on the job, and each chapter --- whether dealing with academic libraries, creating collections, or upgrading technology --- tells a complete story of the librarians who excel at those areas.

“The Blog People” describes that relatively new Internet phenomenon of people chronicling their daily lives for an audience they’ve never met. Librarians, Johnson argues, have used this field for personal and professional advancement. No longer is a librarian just someone you hand your books to after you’ve chosen them. Blogging allows library patrons to see their librarians as real people, especially those who blog about the strange, silly and sometimes unbelievable happenings at their branches. Later on, in “Wizards of Odd,” we find out that the Internet’s virtual realities, in games like Second Life, allow librarians to create alter egos who help virtual patrons with reference, research, or any other sort of question the same way they would in their own brick-and-mortar library.

But not all of librarianship is fun and games. “Big Brother and the Holdout Company” describes the less glamorous side of the job. In 1984, four library workers found themselves keeping secrets from their families and being renamed “John Doe” as they sued the FBI for demanding to see their patrons’ checkout records. Surprisingly, even the most average-seeming libraries can get struck with requests from the government for personal information, and these librarians made it a personal crusade to make sure that everyone could keep their book tastes private. Who would have thought that checking out a book could be dangerous?

The book ends with more detailed looks at specific libraries and their operations. Johnson details the technological remodel of the New York Public Library and then dives into the job of a library’s archivist or curator, who must decide whose materials are interesting, why a library should buy them, and which pieces are important.

THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! takes a unique point of view: that of a narrator who is simultaneously omniscient but also has her own personal experiences as a librarian. It clearly took a lot of research and interviews to put together such a broad and extensive look at a complicated and multi-faceted job, but Johnson makes it read like a story rather than a textbook. I found it more riveting than many of the novels I’ve read lately, and I simply could not put it down. Educators, book lovers and library enthusiasts undoubtedly will love this book, but so will anyone who enjoys delving into the lives and jobs of others.

Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gómez ( on January 24, 2011

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

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2011
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0061431613
  • ISBN-13: 9780061431616