Not Just Marian the Librarian Anymore

I haven’t loved a book in a long time the way that I loved This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, which is saying something because I can rarely get through a work of nonfiction.  I didn’t want to put this book down, nor did I want it to end.  In it, Marilyn Johnson examines the role of librarians and libraries in today’s technocentric world.  She dispenses with the stuffy, behind-the-desk persona that immediately springs to mind to expose a vibrant, tech-savvy guru who can answer your questions faster than Google–and more accurately too.

As evident in my e-book rants, I have a great attachment to physical books.  It was eye-opening for me, to say the least, to learn how much librarians are at the forefront of evolving technologies and educating the public on how best to use the digital resources available nowadays.  Additionally, I’d never given a thought to the preservation of material created in cyberspace, i.e. blogs, or digital archiving and really had to broaden my concept of the field.  Ultimately though, librarians are unchanged at heart.  They are still driven by a passion to organize and preserve information and to render it accessible to anyone who wants to get at it.  It’s the formats, resources, and times that are changing and I find it inexplicably comforting to know that we still have librarians who will enthusiastically take our hand and guide us through stacks or cyberspace.

I can’t count the number of things in this book that surprised and impressed me, but I’d like to mention a few of my favorites:

  • The British Library’s Turning the Pages website lets you look through things like Jane Austin’s handwritten history of England and Mozart’s notebooks, complete with his music playing in the background.
  • Poop, or “rogue turds,” is frequently found in library nooks and on the shelves themselves.
  • Second Life is a virtual community where librarians flock and, naturally, create and manage libraries (specializing in everything from sex to Abraham Lincoln) that are linked into reputable online collections and resources. Everyone is welcome here, and it seems there are plenty of non-library related–and even a few R-rated– distractions awaiting your avatar.
  • It is not uncommon for librarians to come together and compete in choreographed dance routines that employ book carts.
  • The future of libraries can be seen in Darien, Connecticut, where its library loans Kindles and laptop, holds technology workshops like BlackBerry Boot Camp, and has an instant-messaging system that allows you to “ask a librarian” anytime, anywhere.

Marilyn Johnson submerged herself in library culture and subculture and has produced a fascinating account of her findings.  I loved reading about the lives of  librarians, the innovations, and those seeking to hold onto paper scraps and printed books. Yes, I am the sort of person who gets excited about libraries and books about libraries; however, I think upon reading this book you might be too.  While Johnson shows the many challenges confronting libraries during poor economy times in the information age, she also paints an optimistic view of an institution that is evolving and will endure, for it is championed by librarians.

“[Librarians were] protectors of the bubble of concentration I’d found in the maddening world” ~Marilyn Johnson

“I like to look at the world and see how it is, and how is can be–how it could be–a little bit better if it was better organized.” ~Kathy Shaughnessy, librarian

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One thought on “Not Just Marian the Librarian Anymore

  1. I immediately pulled out my “library list” to add this title for my next visit and found that it was already there from the first reference I had seen for this book. This just underscores the appeal I saw in this — books, libraries, organizing, plus computers. I’m off to search the stacks, leaving with one of my favorite quotes on the whole appeal of organization:

    Vita Sackville-West – It isn’t that I don’t like sweet disorder, but it has to be judiciously arranged.

    Aaah.

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