Rating: Highly Recommended
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
As I’m sure many people would agree, libraries provide havens of knowledge and offer invaluable services for any community lucky enough to have one. The San Marcos Public Library, for one example, provides any number of materials to check out—from books to DVDS—but also holds storybook hours, academic tutoring, and tax information workshops. In addition, libraries come in a wide variety of roles—including ones focused on university collections (like the Kellogg Library at Cal State San Marcos) or that hold genealogical records for their distinct regions (such as the Pioneer Room archives at the Escondido Public Library).
Considering their importance in relation to the knowledge they possess, and to the communities of people they serve, the issue of how libraries and their librarians handle emerging technologies is an important one.
The fact that the very heart of Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All focuses on technological shifts in libraries thus turns her work into a timely read. Johnson—current editor of Esquire, among other notable publications— explores different facets and issues found in the library field as it presently stands, through an easy-to-digest essays.
Truly, one of the greatest strengths in This Book is Overdue is in its conversational prose style. Johnson discusses her forays into the library field like an enthusiastic explorer. It is easy to follow along in her interviews with the head of reference services at the Chappaqua Library in New York, or in her navigation of the blogs produced by an increasing number of librarians who wish to highlight their holdings or activities, or even her voyages into Second Life (an online platform getting used to create virtual libraries, develop digital collections, network, etc.).
Johnson develops the term “Cybrarians” as a new term attached to the many talents librarians must now have, indicating the importance technology now plays within their profession. In an age where so much information gets transmitted online, Johnson suggests, librarians or cybrarians are now learning to manage vast computer databases, digitize paper-based materials, and continue to improve accessibility for their patrons—all while dealing with dwindling funds allotted to them by legislators throughout the nation.
A crucial point that comes up again and again in This Book is Overdue concerns the tremendous financial struggles faced by libraries, which Johnson emphasizes need our support to remain up and running to the best of their abilities. These are places that go out of their way to help people, without asking for payment from the people who frequent them; a rare gem, indeed. Johnson highlights this need through her visits to various libraries, interviews, and attended ALA conferences.
The essays found in Johnson’s work also have a nice arrangement that guides the reader on towards more complicated issues. “Information Sickness,” one of the first essays in the collection, describes the gradual transition libraries have made in their use of technologies, and explores public opinion as to where libraries should stand in terms of the materials and technologies they should possess for patrons. Meanwhile, the midway “Big Brother and the Holdout Company” addresses the lesser-known tale of a group of librarians who sought to protect their patrons’ privacy despite a gag order due to the Patriot Act. Yet another essay, “What’s Worth Saving?”—found close to the end—ponders over the fine details of what materials and formats libraries might focus on preserving for future generations.
I would recommend This Book is Overdue for anyone interested in discovering what types of issues currently confront the library world, the types of innovative things librarians are up to in connection with emerging technologies, and simply ways in which our libraries need or could use the support of their home communities.