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
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.
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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.
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
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.”
“Johnson does for the library profession what Malcolm Gladwell did for the theory of memetics in The Tipping Point.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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 mustread for librarians and the company they keep. Libraries and librarians are one of the best kept secretsit is time to unleash them. Reviewer: Elizabeth Young