Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: This Book is Overdue!

It's the review all of you bookish nuts have been waiting for!!! I liked This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All so very much that it's really hard for me to review it without pure gushiness. And again, I'm a slacker and don't have my copy with me at work, so you'll have to wait for a separate post for all the witty, winning passages that I desperately need to share.

In short, this book is all about the stuff that librarians do that most people don't think about, know about, or ponder. In particular, this book demonstrates the intersection between librarians (or information scientists) and technology.

Now you may remember that I did a short stint in an online Library Science program. I completed two courses, started a third, and then my life blew up (fiance, baby) and I dropped out of that third course. However, I was fortunate enough to learn much of what this book had to report in one of those initial classes that I did finish, and author Marilyn Johnson enhanced and enriched what I'd learned with personal stories of librarians and their technology.

Chapters in this book are varied and wonderful. In one chapter Johnson presents an online Masters program for students from struggling corners of the world. In essence, each of the students has to come in for a boot camp to learn how to use technology--how to exist and prosper in the online environment--when they may be fighting for freedom at home, struggling against famine, or helping their community survive the wrath of a hurricane or tsunami. Each of the students intends to take the knowledge they learn in their online Masters program and use it for humanitarian purposes. The struggles the students face are unimaginable. Example: One student learns to charge his laptop from his car battery because it's the only power source available.

Johnson inserts herself in her stories quite often as she observes the community of librarians at work. In the case of the online Masters degree, she attends the graduation ceremony and meets with the students and the librarians, observes classes, and sprinkles her facts with her commentary. Johnson stands in awe of the librarian women and men who undertake projects like these in the name of free flowing information.

Another especially effective chapter was over virtual reference--in particular, librarians in Second Life. I learned of virtual reference in my library classes and I find it totally fascinating. Basically, a growing number of libraries are providing reference service (answering any question under the sun) in the online environment. Some reference services are provided via text message while others use instant messaging services like Yahoo! Messenger or Moodle. I actually did a semester-long intership for a college in the western part of Texas as an online reference provider. Great fun and it could be quite a challenge at times.

In Johnson's book, these online reference librarians have taken the practice to a whole other level. By using Second Life software--an online virtual world filled with wacky places and avatars to represent users--librarians can virtually mingle and chat with patrons while drinking a digital cup or coffee, attending a virtual Alice in Wonderland tea party, or wearing a corsette and thigh-high lace up boots on their avatar. Some libraries and consortiums have built intricate communities around their reference service that attract readers, outsiders, crazies, and information lovers alike. By implementing virtual reference in Second Life they are disseminating information in new and weirdly wonderful ways.

I especially loved Johnson's stories about herself in the Second Life chapter. She had a heck of a time integrating herself into the virtual community, and she stands as a wonderful example of exactly how much good these virtual librarians can do! They helped her become comfortable in a community she really came to enjoy, and it was fun and educational to boot.

A final section that really intrigued me was about the workings of the New York Public Library. The most famous location in the NYPL system is the big lion-bedecked building on 5th Avenue. While it was once a research library it has now integrated a lending library into the mix to serve a larger number of patrons and bring in more traffic. This chapter was both exhilarating and sad since many of the former researchers and departments were dismantled or reintegrated into the system in the name of change. It was an interesting discussion of trends in the library world as well as the future of digitization. It also embodied the question: what good are librarians in the digital age? To answer that question briefly: they are absolutely integral.

Reading this book gives a new view of libraries and librarians. They are not just the keepers of the books anymore, but stand on the cutting edge of technology and fervently devote themselves to bringing those resources to the public in the name of free flowing information. What we all know is an admirable career becomes even more fascinating under Marilyn Johnson's pen.

I cannot recommend This Book is Overdue! heartily enough. Go lay your hands on it any way you can!

Watch for an upcoming post of great passages and cool resources I found (librarian blogs, etc.), thanks to the book.


FTC Disclosure: I got this book from the good people at Harper; I'm so glad I did!


  1. I'm dying to get hold of this book - it sounds so good!

  2. This book sounds great and I am adding it to my list to read on Goodreads right now so I don't forget about it!

  3. This sounds like an absolutely amazing read - thanks for such a great review!

    I can't wait to get my hands on the bits about the New York Library - ever since I went to visit a few years ago, it's one of my favorite buildings in the world!

  4. I finished this book last night. Now I want to be a librarian. :-D I also hate my local library system more than ever. Not nice, I know, but they could learn a lot from this book.

  5. This book sounds wonderful! I have a feeling it's going to be popular in the book blogger community. The title also reminded me that I have an overdue video to return to my library. I'm on my way there right now.

    Aloha from Rob

  6. Kathy, I hope you love it!

    Kathleen, I need to be more prompt at adding books to my wishlist. So many goodies fall through the cracks because I'm lazy. lol

    Chelsea, no problem! I enable where and when I can. The NYPL portion was one of my favorites.

    Jill, can't wait to see what you think of it. And I like my current library system, but the last one was DREADFUL.

    Rob, I suspect it'll be a blogger hit as well. Or at least I hope so!

  7. Oo, interesting! My library's just changed to its third online system since I was a kid - they have lots of new features that are good (like they note the due dates of books that are checked out, and the holds system is better), but they've gotten rid of the Browse capability, which makes me ever so sad. I miss Browse.

  8. This book sounds really interesting! For me, it's interesting to learn about how libraries are using virtual worlds to spread information - I once worked on a project about distance learning using second life, where you can actually take classes virtually, so I'm interested to read about how libraries use the medium. Great review!

  9. I have seen this one around and I think it looks (and sounds) so good!

  10. I hadn't heard of this one until your review, and it does sound really good. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  11. As a soon to be librarian in training, I want this! I want it right now! I missed your review when you first posted it, but Jill pointed me towards it when I mentioned the book on Twitter, and now I'm even more excited to get this book.

  12. Great review! I'd get this book just based on title alone. I've always thought it would be so interesting to be a librarian!

  13. Fizzy sent me over here to read your review ... or I can't enter her giveaway for it. It sounds like a fun book ... and I would like to know more about librarians. And I think I read this author's book about obituary writing ... it was a good one too.

  14. This sounds awesome! I hadn't heard of it before, but now I can't wait to read it.

    Word verification: calipork-Is that some kind of emerging brand of organic pork from California?

  15. Great review, Andi. I read this one too; it was interesting to see an "outsider" view of the library field - I just take so much for granted. Nothing really unusual struck me while reading, I had read about most of what she talks about in library journals, blogs etc. I have to remember that other people are interested in this stuff & share more!


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