In a time of economic stress, when librarians are needed more than ever, yet library budgets are being cut, Marilyn Johnson speaks out in our behalf in her forthcoming book This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. Her message to anyone who will listen is that librarians are the "authors of opportunity." She sums up her assessment of librarians near the end of the book thus:
It didn't matter who I was, or what I did, or where I paid taxes, or how long I stayed. I'm sure it didn't matter if the book had RFID tags or a checkout card with a ladder of scrawled names, though tags were neat. I knew the librarians would help me figure out anything I need to know ...
I was under the librarians' protection. Civil Servants and servants of civility, they had my back. They would be whatever they needed to be that day: information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, computer technicians, historians, confidantes, clerks, social workers, storytellers, or, in this case, guardians of my peace.
While Johnson extols the virtues of the profession, she points out that it has some members that resist change, usually trying to preserve services and procedures that served well in the past. She also repeats the often heard cry that librarians fail to promote themselves well in our highly contentious world. Her praises, however, greatly overshadow her criticisms. She believes that most librarians knock themselves out serving their clients regardless of pay, institutional support, or appreciation from society at large.
In Johnson's previous book Dead Beat, she attended professional conferences and interviewed leading obituary writers. She immersed herself in the obit world, visiting newspapers and archives in many places. In This Book Is Overdue, she takes a similar approach. She attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington in 2007 and select regional conferences, and she visited libraries across the country to learn how they were changing. She even went to Italy to attend the graduation of St. John's University library program for students from developing nations. A look at the Acknowledgments in the back of the book verifies that she met a great variety of librarians during her research.
My favorite chapters tell about the Connecticut Four filing a legal challenge to the national security letter that was issued to their library under the U.S. Patriot Act and about the St. John's University program for international students mentioned above. I also enjoyed the stories about the relationships between librarians and IT staff, about blogging librarians, about Radical Reference providing information to protesters in Minneapolis/St. Paul, about librarians in Second Life, about services to authors at New York Public Library, and about the opening of the new Darien (Connecticut) Library.
Having been one of the librarians interviewed for this book, I was eager to read it. I was hoping to like it and was not disappointed. I enjoyed reading about people I know and subjects about which I have firm opinions, even when I do not totally agree with Johnson. An outside opinion is good to have. She is always fair and reports multiple sides of issues. Many librarians will want to read this long anticipated book which publishes in February 2010.
Johnson, Marilyn. This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. HarperCollins, February 2010. ISBN 9780061431609