This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

( 15 )


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 ...

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Nora Rawlinson
“Johnson does for the library profession what Malcolm Gladwell did for the theory of memetics in The Tipping Point.”
Mary Roach
“Johnson has made her way to the secret underbelly of librarianship, and the result is both amazing and delightful. Savvy, brave, hip, brilliant, these are not your childhood librarians. And who better to tell their stories than the sly, wise Marilyn Johnson.”
Christopher Buckley
“Marilyn Johnsons’s marvelous book about the vital importance of librarians in the cyber age is the very opposite of a ‘Shhhhh!’ It’s a very loud ‘Hooray!’ ever so timely and altogether deserved. Move over, Google--make way for the indispensable and all-knowing lady behind the desk.”
Pete Dexter
“To those who have imagined a dalliance with a librarian--and there are millions of us--Marilyn Johnson’s new book, chocked as it is full of strange, compelling stories, offers insight into the wildness behind the orderly facade of the humans who are at the controls of our information.”
The Oprah Magazine O
“This is a book for readers who know that words can be wild and dangerous, that uncensored access to information is a right and a privilege, and that the attempt to ‘catalog the world in all its complexity’ is heroic beyond compare.”
Pagan Kennedy
This is one of those books, in the vein of Mary Roach's Stiff (about human cadavers), that tackle a big topic by taking readers on a chapter-by-chapter tour of eccentric characters and unlikely locations…In her most absorbing passages, I felt as if I were back in the children's library, scrutinizing a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, where the entry on "pachyderm" sat near the disquisition on "pachysandra," a kind of ground cover. Johnson's book carries the same kind of associative magic. Rather than taking us on a brisk, orderly march, she lets us ride on the swaying back of an elephant, glimpsing treasures glimmering through the fronds of pachysandra.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In an information age full of Google-powered searches, free-by-Bittorrent media downloads and Wiki-powered knowledge databases, the librarian may seem like an antiquated concept. Author and editor Johnson (The Dead Beat) is here to reverse that notion with a topical, witty study of the vital ways modern librarians uphold their traditional roles as educators, archivists, and curators of a community legacy. Illuminating the state of the modern librarian with humor and authority, Johnson showcases librarians working on the cutting edge of virtual reality simulations, guarding the Constitution and redefining information services-as well as working hard to serve and satisfy readers, making this volume a bit guilty of long-form reader flattery. Johnson also makes the important case for libraries-the brick-and-mortar kind-as an irreplaceable bridge crossing economic community divides. Johnson's wry report is a must-read for anyone who's used a library in the past quarter century.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
Librarians and archivists, in all their eccentric, tech-savvy, and service-oriented glory, are celebrated in this highly complimentary and lively survey of their professions. Journalist Johnson (The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries) admires the dedicated librarians she profiles. Among them are bloggers, Second Life enthusiasts, the Connecticut challengers to the Patriot Act, a founder of the Radical Reference collective, public librarians, and archivists organizing and saving collections for posterity. A strong section of the book is Johnson's exploration of the changes taking place at the venerable New York Public Library (NYPL), where this reviewer worked from 1998 through 2001. NYPL has enthusiastically embraced its digital potential and offers remarkable online collections, a bonanza for researchers everywhere. Johnson also notes, however, the merging of its circulating and research libraries, which has led to downsizing, the closing of its esteemed Asian and Middle Eastern Divisions, and the diminished number of degreed librarians on staff, all of which give her pause. VERDICT This spirited book will be enjoyed by all who love libraries, or are poised to discover their value, but is likely to be most treasured by librarians and archivists seeking a celebration of their work.
Kirkus Reviews
A spirited exploration of libraries' evolution from fusty brick-and-mortar institutions to fluid virtual environments. Former Redbook and Outside editor Johnson (The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, 2006) writes that a librarian attempts to create "order out of the confusion of the past, even as she enables us to blast into the future." General readers will be surprised by most of her tidbits of information-e.g., about a third of all the profession's U.S. graduate programs have dropped the word "library" from degree names, preferring cutting-edge locutions such as "information science." Johnson provides worthwhile profiles of a variety of librarians/archivists, including a Catholic "cyber-missionary" who trains students from developing nations to fight injustice at home using the Internet; an archivist of boxing; and a children's librarian known to her Facebook group as the "Tattooed Librarian." These professionals stay ahead of trends, challenge the FBI for using the Patriot Act as a pretext to examine patron records, battle vigorously in the blogosphere and indulge their creativity and fantasies through digital avatars on sites such as Second Life. In her admirable desire to discard the Marian-the-Librarian stereotype, however, Johnson seems bent on creating another: the librarian as ironic, radical, sexy and, above all, edgy. Business and financial librarians, for instance, while every bit as tech-savvy as the public and academic librarians she profiles, are nowhere in evidence, perhaps because they are not engaged in "increasingly activist and visionary forms of library work." For those curious about how librarians are coping amid budgetcrunches, Johnson gives insufficient attention to how well they are convincing taxpayers and lawmakers who mistakenly believe that users armed with Internet access don't need gatekeepers to find information. In a time of unprecedented challenges, librarians will be delighted that someone values, even celebrates, their continued relevancy-but they may wish for a journalist who assesses their contributions with more cool than cheerleading. Agent: Chris Calhoun/Sterling Lord Literistic
From the Publisher
"This is one of those books, in the vein of Mary Roach's Stiff, that tackle a big topic by taking [listeners] on a chapter-by-chapter tour of eccentric characters and unlikely locations." —-The New York Times
Children's Literature - Elizabeth Young
Librarian power! Swish those biblio capes and twirl those sparkling literary scepters. Librarians have all the answers and they know how to use them. Such is the plight of today's librarian and Johnson provides a unique look into their profession. Not to be confused with grandma's starched (yet tasteful) white bloused, black floor length skirted and bun adorned head, todays librarians emerge in all shapes, sizes, colors, etc. and have one common goal: to find what you are looking for, even if you do not know you are looking for anything. Johnson is quick to point out that librarians today do more than just stamp and shelve books. While those are necessary tasks, do not be surprised to find them sharing a glass of wine or two with popular authors, dressing as storybook characters, or even joining a virtual club experience in Second Life. Any boundaries that have been in place in the past have been pretty much obliterated by the keepers of the latest technology and their imaginations. While not a children's book, this would make for splendid reading during that transitional time that happens somewhere in high school and college when careers are being discussed and paths are becoming more focused. Usually ignored in career fairs, librarians are definitely in the uber cutting edge and a profession not to be shelved in a corner! A must—read for librarians and the company they keep. Libraries and librarians are one of the best kept secrets—it is time to unleash them. Reviewer: Elizabeth Young
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061431616
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/25/2011
  • Series: P. S. Series
  • Pages: 282
  • Sales rank: 276,030
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Marilyn Johnson

Marilyn Johnson is the author of Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble (Harper, 2014), and two other works of non-fiction, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries (Harper Perennial, 2007) and This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (Harper Perennial, 2011). The Dead Beat, a bestseller, was chosen as a Border's Original Voice and was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, and both The Dead Beat and This Book Is Overdue! received Washington Irving Book Awards. Lives in Ruins is a Libraryread's best book for November 2014, and one of Publishers Weekly's 100 Best Books of 2014. Johnson, a former editor and writer for Life, Esquire, and Outside magazines, lives with her husband, Rob Fleder, in New York's Hudson Valley.

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    1. Hometown:
      Briarcliff, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Pennsylvania; M.A., University of New Hampshire
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

1 The Frontier 1

2 Information Sickness 13

3 On the Ground 31

4 The Blog People 49

5 Big Brother and the Holdout Company 67

6 How to Change the World 87

7 To the Ramparts! 105

8 Follow That Tattooed Librarian 123

9 Wizards of Odd 133

10 Gotham City 171

11 What's Worth Saving? 213

12 The Best Day 245

Epilogue 253

Acknowledgments 263

Notes 267

Select Bibliography 277

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Marilyn Johnson's This Book Is Overdue! Or How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

    This book is, indeed, overdue! And thank goodness, Marilyn Johnson came out with it. In this current economy, our libraries are the best thing we've got going and anything that brings them to mind, encourages visits, urges investing time in checking them out and researching their history, is of utmost value. All that besides the fact that this is a fascinating read, well written, and I hated to see it end. Fact is, I have got to buy a copy for my first read from the library :>) Anyone who loves books, enjoys libraries...this is a must have book! Enjoy it...I sure did! And will again, many times.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    I'm grateful to MJ for writing this book

    All who care about our libraries (and those who don't, but should) need to read this book. MJ has broadened my perspective of how libraries should and do function. Frankly, she brought me into the 21st centurey, something I probably needed. Now I go for all the classes on data bases, research, etc. that our nypl has to offer. I got this book at the library but look forward to buying the paperback edition when it comes out, for which the author has promised a much needed index, which, she said at her nypl talk, we can now get on her website of the same name. The chapters on "Wizards of Odd" and "Gotham City" are worth the price of the whole book. MJ enumerates about librarians and their avatars on their "Second Life" website, which I plan to visit soon. There was so much new material in that chapter, I had to read it in two sittings. And I was much impressed with the recording of her visit to the secretive Board of Trustees meeting at the NYPL in the "Gotham City" chapter. She's surely the only non-librarian-trustee who ever breached that security!! WOW!! It is true that her style is a bit breezy and superenthusaistic, so it might leave you a bit breathless, but so what?! I am so glad she wrote this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2010

    This book is overdone!

    Let's face it: avid readers like books, and so it is natural that they will like libraries, and a book about librarians sounds like a real winner. As someone who also enjoys using the many benefits of technology, I was especially drawn to a book subtitled ,"How Libraries and Librarians Can Save Us All".

    From the title, the cover, and the book jacket narrative, one expects the book to be light in tone, which I enjoy. A light tone, however, doesn't excuse a light approach to organization or balance, and The Book is Overdue fails in that regard.

    The first part of the book starts out well enough. There is good material about how technology is affecting library schools, patron services, and even the nature of libraries themselves. I was intrigued by the virtual libraries in virtual-reality game-playing worlds. And certainly no booklover can fail to cheer at the librarian heroes who defied the FBI in order to protect the reading habits of their patrons.

    After that, the book went rapidly downhill, both in content and organization. Ms. Johnson did a tremendous amount of research and clearly loved every minute of it; then it seems she came back and just spewed it all out without enough attention to organization. The book skips around distractingly and annoyingly. For example, the chapter Gotham City is primarily about the New York Public Library, but in the middle of it there is a long digression describing a specialized boxing library, after which the chapter returns to the Public Library. The boxing library does show another interesting aspect of libraries, but did the discussion of it really belong in the middle of the Public Library presentation?

    The book also needs more balance. In her haste to assure readers that not all librarians wear flat shoes, buns, and go home to live with aging mothers, Ms. Johnson perhaps goes too far in the other direction and seems to glory in portraits as counterculture and bizarre as possible. There could have been more about librarians who are progressive in their professions but a bit more traditional in their personal habits.

    Ms. Johnson obviously loves books and libraries as much as I do; she bubbles with enthusiasm. I just wish she had shared her enthusiasm in a more disciplined way. If you are a bibliophile who enjoys offbeat anecdotal narrative and can tolerate a rather stream-of-consciousness technique, then you will probably like this book a lot.. If, however, you prefer a book from which you learn something and admire a more orderly style, then you should look somewhere else.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2010

    How Not to Live Like the Collyer Brothers

    The radio gave way to television, which is giving way to the Internet--yet they're all still around. That's because they all still do the same thing, entertain and inform. A medium delivers the message.

    If you're interested in newspapers, magazines, books and have been caught on the Internet, then this book is something to consider. It's not a screed or a polemic, but a breezy account of the proof that the more things change the more they remain the same. We need help. And it's there.

    Ms. Johnson certainly strikes you as someone who cares deeply about all these things, but who also has the light touch to keep anyone from moaning into despair. She's surely one who would help even a shy boy scout usher the elderly across the street--and then have something nice for them to eat on the other side.

    There's more optimism in this book than someone playing with loaded dice.

    John DeMetropolis

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2015


    Good book about librarians and how they are keeping up with the times of advancing technology. Jms

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  • Posted June 7, 2011

    Wanted a better handle on modern librarians.

    Another reviewer claimed that all the information was there, it just needed better organization. It highlighted a lot of the new innovations that librarians are using to stay 'up to date'- but the most alarming thing it leaves out is their struggle amid budget slashing and economic downturn. Some of the librarians even hinted at it, like the one in NYPL who knew he would be reshuffled or fired. Instead of investigating that, she goes off in weird tangents about administration vs professional pay and archiving. The author is even shocked to find out librarians write naughty tell all blogs anonomously...but doesnt bother to really get down to the nitty gritty. If you want to know about the realistic world of a librarian, then read those blogs. I felt I didnt learn anything worth while when it comes to the day to day of this profession. Its skippable.

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  • Posted February 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fun, Honest and a Fast Read

    "This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All" by Marilyn Johnson is a non-fiction account of the author's research and pontifications of how librarians will guide our culture into technological literacy. The book paints a picture of how the role of librarians is changing with technology. The book is divided into 12 distinct chapters, these don't have to be read in order because each chapter stands on its own. Disclaimer: I am a big fan of public libraries. Public libraries are some of the few public buildings the public actually uses. Whether you are rich or poor, educated or not and no matter to which political party you donated to, you are always welcome at your local library - they are the great equalizer of our society. I loved what this book was trying to do - make librarians relevant at the age of Google. Being in the IT field for the past 20 years (wow, it really has been that long) I can certainly appreciate the "information overload" message and how sifting through mountains of information could be a show stopper (how can you possibly make a decision?) unless you know how to find the relevant information. But we don't even need to go this far - in some states you cannot even file for unemployment benefits unless you do it on-line. Each chapter in the book has a different focus, some chapters were more interesting than the others but they are mostly independent from one another. Ms. Johnson explores different aspects of the job librarians do everyday (archiving, categorizing and helping patrons) with an eye towards the technological modernization of their profession. When it comes to organizational models this book is fun, honest and a fast read. Even though the book is well written, the chapter where Ms. Johnson explores the online librarian games and fantasy world is.well.boring. However, if you trudge through it (or skip it) the book keeps on with its fascinating premise. I wish this book would have been more focused. While every section certainly has its merits, most everyone who will pick up this book knows the relevancy of librarians to us "commoners" and most of the book is about the author's experiences researching.this book. The points in the book would make a great reference point next time you go to the town meeting to argue against slashing the library's budg

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Needs a good editor

    I am a huge fan of the library in general so I was looking forward to being impressed with this book. I had to wait several weeks to get it from the library. This book is difficult to read because it needs better editing. The sentences run on continually and conversations begin suddenly. There are pieces of history lost in long paragraphs. I began bored with it after a few chapters. It's interesting to read the progression of libraries into the computer age, how librarians had to learn computer lingo instead of just being a source of information. I would have enjoyed reading more first hand accounts from long-time librarians. The upside of this book is that every community needs a thriving library and every citizen should possess a library card.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 9, 2010

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    Posted March 24, 2012

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    Posted September 17, 2010

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    Posted May 23, 2011

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    Posted April 19, 2010

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