Okay, so I am a sucker. I read the most popular book among librarians right now, This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson.
Johnson, also the author of this very interesting book on the pleasure of reading obituaries, was intrigued by the extremely interesting lives of librarians she uncovered while doing her obituary research. So for her second book, she entered on a study of librarianship in the 21st century, specifically how librarians use new technologies to help their patrons.
The book is broken up into themed chapters, each reading like their own New Yorker essay. Johnson looks into library bloggers, librarians on Second Life, the public library computer catalog, and the New York Public Library, to name a few.
I am glad Johnson wrote this book. If I could pick 1 overall thesis for this book, I would say she is driving home the point that today's librarians (or at least the ones she thinks are the very best) are just as quirky as the old fashioned the old stereotype, but the main difference is, these librarians put helping the patrons first. No more guarding the books. It is now about access to information how and when the patrons want it.
Of course I love this message. This is what I do. This is how I train my students. Librarians (especially public librarians) should question how their policies, procedures, purchases, shelves...how everything they do, every decision they make benefits their patrons. Nothing should come above patron service.
However, I already am one of these librarians and I work with some of the people she inteviewed for this book, so after finishing This Book is Overdue, I don't think I got anything out of it.
If you are not a librarian who is inclined to put the patron first, then you need to read Johnson's book and subscribe to my RSS feed. If you are a patron who wants to understand the recent history of 21st century librarianship, you should read this book also.
The appeal of this book is the peek into the private lives of librarians, their subversive online activity, and the behind-the-scenes feel. Johnson's love of libraries comes through on each page. The tone is conversational and celebratory, and the pace is steady. There is a lot of technology jargon in this book also. As I mentioned, since each chapter reads like a New Yorker article, each chapter is almost its own entity. You can read this book is chunks, or even skip a chapter that is not of interest to you without ruining your experience of the book.
Three Words That Describe This Book: librarians, technology, behind-the-scenes.
Readalikes: There are a few other recent books that give the behind-the-scenes peek into the library life. A few of my favorites are Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangsta in the Public Library by Don Borchert, Quiet Please: Dispatches From a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas, and Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles. All of these books are similar in theme and tone to Johnson's book.
Books like Stephan Fatsis' Word Freak about the professional scrabble world and The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester would also be good readalikes.
In terms of fiction, try the comic Unshelved available in books and online (I get the RSS feed with daily strips). It follows the trials and tribulations of a public librarian.
If you really want a fiction book featuring a librarian, click here or here. We are everywhere...
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