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Buried in info? Cross-eyed over technology? From the bottom of a pile of paper, disks, books, e-books, and scattered thumb drives comes a cry of hope: Make way for the librarians — they can help!

Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that, in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us–expert and hopelessly baffled alike–can get along without human help. And not just any help: we need librarians, the only ones who can save us from being buried by the digital age. This Book Is Overdue! is a romp through the ranks of information professionals–from the blunt and obscenely funny bloggers to the quiet, law-abiding librarians gagged by the FBI. These are the pragmatic idealists who fuse the tools of the digital age with their love for the written word and the enduring values of free speech, open access, and scout-badge-quality assistance to anyone in need.

(Synopsis from cover of Harper Perennial paperback; cover image from goodreads.com)

I read my first Marilyn Johnson book last year for my book club, called Lives in Ruins. (You can read my review of it here.) Since then I read Johnson’s book about obituary writing, The Dead Beat, and now This Book Is Overdue! I always enjoy the unique approach that Johnson takes with her books; her books allow us a look into a field that most people wouldn’t consider investigating further. 

With This Book Is Overdue!, the reader gets a different look into the lives of librarians. Johnson combines exploring the role of libraries throughout history and what libraries look like today in an age of Google and social media. In a digital age where some think that human interaction is becoming obsolete, how does the librarian and the services they provide fit in?

We all know what librarians are in a traditional sense – they are the kind ladies (yes, I’m going to stereotype for this “traditional” description) who work at the public libraries, patiently waiting behind the desk to help with our questions. Often they are portrayed as being spinsters (what a word!), keeping their hair in a severe style, cardigans, glasses, and shushing those who become too loud  in the areas where people are trying to read. However, Johnson blows this stereotype out of the water with her research in to our librarians of now.

This Book Is Overdue! is set up where each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the areas that librarians today can work in. However, this format could cause some confusion fro the reader as well. How? Johnson seems to switch between her own experiences as she visits both physical and virtual libraries and the experiences she has with them and the what life is like for the librarians themselves. There is a lot of information that Johnson packs into her book about how the librarians are creating an online presence to their fight to maintain their physical locations as well. Just like many professions in the public sector, librarians are being asked to do more with less funding. Large organizations such as the New York Public Library system must figure out how to continue to be everything for their patrons: research assistants, children’s libraries, open to the public, maintaining special collections, etc. They have to figure out all of these different roles as their special collections librarians are being cut, funding is diminishing, and locations are being restructured without the librarians being consulted as to how their branches are utilized by the patrons.

This Book Is Overdue! offers a unique look into the different aspects of the world of librarians. It’s amazing to me how many varied roles the librarians must take on. I know I had not really thought of the intricacies that their jobs entail. I thought This Book Is Overdue! was an interesting read, but there were times where I would get lost with the direction Johnson would take – sometimes there were ramblings about her own journey that would get mixed in with the point she was making.

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