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

by Marilyn Johnson

Paperback, 2011




Harper Perennial (2011), Edition: Reprint, 282 pages


Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us--neither the experts nor the hopelessly baffled--can get along without human help. And not just any help--we need librarians, who won't charge us by the question or roll their eyes, no matter what we ask. Who are they? What do they know? And how quickly can they save us from being buried by the digital age? This book is a romp through the ranks of information professionals and a revelation for readers burned out on the clichés and stereotyping of librarians. Here are bloggers, radicals and visionaries 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.--From publisher description.… (more)


½ (507 ratings; 3.6)

Media reviews

Say the word "librarian," and most people conjure up a frumpy, bespectacled woman shushing people — Marion the Librarian. The image is outdated, Marilyn Johnson argues in her impassioned celebration of librarians and archivists, cleverly titled This Book Is Overdue.
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Ms. Johnson's enthusiasm for libraries and the people who work in them is refreshingly evident throughout the book. In a charming if meandering style, she samples from her conversations with traditional librarians and with "cybrarians," a catch-all term for a generation of librarians intent on
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finding ways to integrate the old mission of the library with the new possibilities of technology.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
One full star off for snarky reference to avoiding dog ownership and absence of similar judgment on cat-ownership's insanity.

I thoroughly enjoyed (most of) this book. It's true that I'm a recent re-convert to library usage, after many years of avoiding them because of one old prune-faced,
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pursey-lipped hag's humiliation of me: She wouldn't let twelve-year-old me check out Stranger in a Strange Land "because it has S-E-X in it" until my mother approved. Mama's rejoinder to that was, "Honey, so does life. If you're lucky." (Actually, she was middle-aged, plump, and wore a HUGE cross around her neck...when she was done with her mischief, I made my mother laugh by saying, "too bad it wasn't the crown of thorns.")

But the many and various challenges that libraries face are completely transparent to the public that uses them. We just expect that they'll keep on being there, checking books out to us, providing online resources for our kids and grandkids, being waystations for us when our own Internet connections go down or whatever. We're not fond of paying for the libraries, either, as demonstrated by the readiness of governments of all sizes to cut their acquisition, staffing, maintenance budgets to the bone and beyond, to the point of amputation.

Fortunately, The Librarian is a resolute and resilient subspecies of Homo "sapiens", and has cleverly disguised itself in some very odd places...Google "Second Life" sometime and go for a walk on the Weird Side! Lots of librarians talked to author Johnson, and told her tales of woe; but she heard paeans of praise and odes to joy, too, and reports each and all of these classes of utterance with clarity and asperity.

Libraries and librarians have moved onto the World Wide Web with verve and enthusiasm...but back in RL, things aren't so rosy. The New York Public Library's iconic building at Forty-second and Fifth will, for the first time in forty years, house a circulating library. It comes at the cost of the Asian and Russian collections, but what the hell...the money from redeveloping the Mid-Manhattan Branch's site into yet another hotel will do some good, too, right? But...and this is where I get madder than hell...can any amount of material gain make up for the loss to the culture of the world that two collections of rare, irreplaceable material objects (the papers of the Tsarist government! the contents of a monastery's library!) properly curated and indexed represent? I presume the fact that I bother to phrase the question tells you what MY answer is.

I said in another review that "{h}istory is the beautiful, brightly lit foam on top of the annihilating tsunami of the unrecorded past. History books are the spectrographic analysis of the light glinting off that foam." Yes, but I left out a key component: Without a library to house, organize, cross-reference, FIND that book, what good does the damned thing do?

Support your local library in a PRACTICAL way. And go hug a librarian.
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LibraryThing member bell7
So many people subscribe to the notion that libraries are falling by the wayside. Who needs books, they argue, when just about anything can be found on the Internet now? Marilyn Johnson explores ways in which libraries are not only continuing to be relevant in a wired world, but using technology to
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promote and extend library services. Just a handful of the topics covered include blogging, Second Life, and archives. What ties these all together is where librarianship and technology meet - and make great services for their patrons at that crossroad.

I expected this to be a book for librarians, written by a librarian, but that first impression had to be revised in numerous ways. Marilyn Johnson is not a librarian, but got the idea for this book when she was writing about obituaries and some of the more interesting ones she came across were the obits of librarians. Furthermore, the book is broad in scope, and reads more like a series of vignettes than an in-depth look at any one issue. My only real disappointment was that she spends a lot of time talking about the New York City libraries, and personally I am more interested in and find more relevant how small-town libraries with smaller budgets and fewer connections would serve their public. Many librarians have probably heard of most of the technologies, issues, and ideas that she covers. Does that mean that librarians won't like the book? No, but I would more readily recommend this book as perhaps being more helpful for folks who are thinking of going for a master's in library science - in fact, I learned about much of these topics in my M.L.I.S. program - and it's a great introduction for them to see the breadth of what librarians do, including the sometimes crazy balancing act between research, archives, traditional services and shinier things like blogging, Second Life, and circulation numbers. Alternatively, I would suggest it to those folks who think librarians are still in the shushing business to open their eyes to all that librarians can do, even in a wired world.
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LibraryThing member lilithcat
I requested this book from the Amazon Vine program because I love libraries and librarians. I thought I'd be reading a real discussion about the place of the library in this cyber-age. But I didn't get that. In fact, it's hard to say what I did get.

The problem is stated clearly and succinctly by
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the author early on (though I doubt she realized that she was describing her book!), when she says, "This is a story . . . researched partly on a computer in mazes so extended and complex -- every link a trapdoor to another set of links -- that I never found a sturdy place to stop and grasp the whole."

Her failure to "grasp the whole" has resulted in a book that is little more than a collection of anecdotes. Johnson has no thesis, no point, to tie these stories together. She jumps from a lengthy discussion about libraries and librarians on Second Life (and it occurred to me that it's been ages since I've heard anyone even mention Second Life!) to the serious matter of government intrusion into library records to decisions about archiving author records. (She actually spends nearly six pages on library blog entries about feces. Really.) She is uncritical about technology, so entranced by its usefulness that she cannot see its drawbacks.

And the book is too much about Johnson, her interactions, what she did, what she thought.

I'm not saying, "Don't read this book." You may find some of the anecdotes amusing or interesting. Just don't expect any serious discussion or analysis of the problems facing libraries and librarians today.
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LibraryThing member CatheOlson
Being a library advocate/activist as well as an elementary school library media tech, I had such high hopes for this book. I didn't even wait for my public library to get it in, I ordered it so I could get it right away. Unfortunately, I have to say this book did not measure up to my expectations.
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I loved what it was trying to do . . . show how important and relevant librarians have been and continue to be, but I found this book kind of . . . boring. It was mostly anecdotes of the author's experiences while researching this book. While some were interesting and I did learn some interesting things about librarians, I wanted more of a point and a focus to this book . . . not just a librarian rave but more about the importance of libraries in general--with points I could use in my letter writing campaigns to politicians and school boards on why libraries need to be funded and staffed adequately. So, while I'm glad someone had the idea to create a book like this, I just wish it would have been stronger.
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LibraryThing member droether
With the question of the future of libraries on the line in the minds of some, Johnson’s book is a timely work that sheds light on the wildly diverse world of librarianship. Some argue that the library is an antiquated institution that is not necessary in the world of the iPad, ebooks, and Google
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Books. However, Johnson illustrates the diverse ways that librarians and other information professionals serve the research needs of their users–often in the most unexpected ways. From a unique program at St. John’s University in which librarians teach students from around the world how to use technology to bring about social justice, to information professionals who serve users in the Internet world of Second Life, Johnson’s well-researched vignettes prove that the field of librarianship is not a dying one.

The book also provides an introduction to other parts of the field of library science, including archives and digital libraries, showing how these institutions too are morphing consistently to suit the needs of society. Perhaps this book should be sent to the politicians and corporate leaders who seek to close public libraries. At the same time, her research reveals new, innovative ways in which information users can be served by information professionals. Society is always changing, in one way or another, and information professionals must adapt to the needs of society. This is why information professionals exist, and without progress, information institutions will not achieve their ultimate goals. Every librarian and information professional should read this inspiring book so that we can learn, from the stories which Johnson so effectively illustrates, how to fulfill our users’ informational needs, whatever they may be, in the most efficient way possible.

“I was under the librarians’ protection. Civil servants and servants of civility, they had my back. They would be whatever they needed to be that day: information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, computer technicians, historians, confidantes, clerks, social workers, storytellers, or, in this case, guardians of my peace.” (252)
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LibraryThing member nomadreader
What I didn't know, but perhaps should have inferred from the book's title (This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All) is the author, Marilyn Johnson, is not a librarian. The book isn't necessarily aimed at librarians, although I think there are things all librarians,
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readers and citizens could learn from this book. Ms. Johnson's first book is about obituaries, and she discovered librarians had absolutely fascinating obituaries and focused her next book on us. Awesome, yes? As I often confess, part of the allure of librarianship for me is being in academic environment but still able to enjoy life and have hobbies. I am not a slave to my job, although I love my job. I have work-life-love balance and intellectual stimulation from all three. I am lucky.

Each chapter has a different topic. Some were more interesting to me than others, and although she explores many aspects of librarianship, especially in the modern and changing sense, it's not a comprehensive book (nor is it supposed to be.) It was so refreshing to have a non-librarian not only defend the profession but praise it. Sadly, when you tell people you're in graduate school in library and information studies, they often ask why. When I respond, "being a librarian requires a master's degree," people are often dumbfounded and shocked. The exception, usually, are the people who actually have a friend or family member who is a librarian. They exclaim with joy when you say you're a library student.

If you like books, technology or organizational models at all (hello, book bloggers!), you will like this book. My one complaint? The book is mostly about public librarians. As an academic librarian, I was eager for Ms. Johnson to point out how our jobs are different. It wasn't the scope of her book, but I'd love to see a follow-up go in-depth into academic librarianship. It's a fun, informative, and fascinating read. As a librarian, it was delightful to see an outsider take an honest look at the profession. As a reader, it was a delight to read Ms. Johnson's beautiful, descriptive language.
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LibraryThing member CBJames
I always wanted to be a librarian. I am an English teacher so it's not really that much of a stretch. I think it would be fun to sit behind a desk and recommend books to people, help them find some odd piece of information they need for a project of some sort. And, I would be paid to open boxes
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full of new books and put them on shelves. I love doing that.

Books? That's so last century.

This Book is Overdue is about librarians on the frontier, the new frontier. It opens nicely by juxtaposing a library on the old frontier, the town library in Deadwood, South Dakota once a part of America's wild west, with the town library in Deadwood, Second Life, a virtual library in a virtual part of the internet's wild west. Both libraries exist to provide a service, a means for people new in town to find all they need to know to adapt to their surroundings, to learn the town's history, to pick up information or a new skill that will help them better their lives. One offers tourists information on local historical sites, the other gives avatar's advice on how to dress as a proper saloon girl. Second Life's version of Deadwood offers players a chance to become a gunslinger or a prospector or a saloon singer for a small fee. One player, a retired electrical engineer and railroad buff, becomes an librarian in a frilly 19th century dress to become town librarian in the virtual Deadwood. There are hundreds of professional librarians offering their services and training other volunteers to become virtual librarians in virtual libraries all over Second Life.

These librarians have seen the future, and they're going to catalogue it.

Marilyn Johnson takes the reader on a tour of library science's cutting edge. Libraries that give away single use audio books, internet catalogues that can tell you exactly how many miles away the book you want is, libraries with Wii rooms, 24-hour information systems open nation wide, and street librarians who wander among demonstrators at protests with wireless laptops handing out the latest updates on everything from legislative actions to police blockades. If you want to know it, there's a librarian somewhere who wants to tell you.

They're here to help.

It's not always a pretty picture. Champions of the old systems will not get much sympathy from This Book is Overdue. The days of the card catalogue are long gone and the movement to computerized data bases and on-line library catalogues has not been easy for some. It can be difficult to get one's head around the idea that the new libraries may not actually have all that many books in them. In an age where anyone with even a second rate computer can access more information that can be found in all the books held in a typical town library, Librarians must adapt if they are to survive. The librarians Ms. Johnson interviews for This Book is Overdue intend on not just surviving, but on thriving. Witness the virtual librarians in Second Life.

Though the general public doesn't often see it, librarians are front-line defenders of the Constitution in the United States. Freedom of speech, more precisely the freedom to read, has always been under some kind of assault in America. Ms. Johnson devotes a chapter of This Book is Overdue to the case of the Connecticut Four, three librarians and a tech specialist who were forced to sue the Federal Government in order to keep a patron's records private after the passage of the Patriot Act which intended to give the Department of Homeland Security the power to check anyone's library records without a warrant, without stating a reason why and without telling anyone about it. Maybe a patrons are looking up how to build a bomb. Or maybe they're looking up how to treat a form a cancer they have, or what to do if they suspect their child is gay, or how they can walk away from an abusive spouse, or how to press charges against someone who hurt them, or any number of other things they want kept private from family members, employers or the government.

Marilyn Johnson is hopeful about the future of libraries and librarians. They are a group of people she admires greatly and enjoys; her book is a successful tribute to them.
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LibraryThing member SamanthaMarie
From the perspective of someone who has just finished library school and is currently looking for a job, this book is fascinating. If it became a general bestseller, it could do a lot to promote librarians and information scientists. Marilyn explores lots of different aspects of librarianship, from
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cyberlibrarians to archivists and the fight against the Patriot Act. The story of the four librarians fighting against the Patriot Act was the most interesting and scary part of the book. It also mentions the New York Times article that made me look into library school. There was also a lot of current information on blogs, which makes me wonder how quickly this book will become dated.
Definitely required reading for librarians, and hopefully everyone else in the reading world.
In case it matters, I picked up this book for free from the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2010.
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LibraryThing member subbobmail
Ah, here's a much-appreciated love letter to librarians. Marilyn Johnson makes the case that libraries are becoming not less but MORE relevant as information becomes ever more free. (After all, libraries are just about the only places where information remains truly free.) She talks to punk
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librarians, librarians who do reference work in Second Life, librarians who fought the Patriot Act, librarians who shatter the ever-popular shushing stereotype. Sure, the book reads less like a coherent whole than a collection of linked articles, but I don't care. It really is overdue.
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LibraryThing member thebookpile
I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would. I'm impressed that the author mentions a SirsiDynix integrated library system (ILS) upgrade in chapter 3. The chapter about the effects of the Patriot Act on libraries provides a good overview and the chapter about the NYPL is very enjoyable,
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That said, none of the stories delve very deep and there are a few glaring omissions. There is an entire chapter about librarians on Second Life but no mention of code4lib, and only very brief mentions of the Internet Archive and the Darien library's great work.

Nevertheless, this provides a good introduction to this rapidly changing profession. Would make for great beach reading.
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LibraryThing member firedog
For everyone interested in libraries, this seems like an important book. Marilyn Johnson gives a wonderful overview of current day libraries and librarians. Johnson's writing is both humorous and informative.I've always been interested in libraries. I grew up in a small town and we had a public
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library that was relegated to a backroom in the National Guard Armory. Somehow, this has led to a very new and modern library with a very dedicated staff.This book underlines to me how most of us undervalue the libraries and their staff. I liked the many examples of progressive libraries and how important it is that today's libraries keep changing with the times.There is a tremendous amount of internet information from blogs to sources to archiving. I'm sure I will be referring often to this book and Marilyn Johnson's website.
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LibraryThing member KC9333
Library lovers have all heard the gloom and doom predictions that Google and the Internet are making libraries obsolete. Yet this author looks at many libraries and finds them not only relevant but vibrant. Her book is a fast, enjoyable read. The chapters cover many diverse topics in libraryland
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and it is easy to focus on those of interest. Chapters dealing with virtual librarians as well as the surprising loss of digital information today are especially strong. Her discussion of librarians ( the seekers ) and archivists ( the keepers) reinforces the importance of both professions. However, while the author documents her positive experiences with librarians and is entertaining and informative, this book could have delved farther into the real world implications of drastic budget cuts and services lost. There are unfortunately far too many examples out there.
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LibraryThing member francesanngray
As an academic librarian, I was pleased to receive this book as gift. Johnson describes the many ways that librarians in general contribute to society and I enjoyed reading the chapter about the New York Public Library. I was disappointed by her writing style however, which I found to be cloying
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and condescending. I will not be recommending this book to my colleagues.
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LibraryThing member david7466
Ok, librarians reading this review will likely disagree, but I found this book to be incredibly self serving and pointless. The author seems to ramble on and on about their lurkings among libraries and discussions with librarians. The emphasis seems to be on how librarians really aren't what they
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used to be (in a good way) and how tough of a job they have and how much they complain about it. A few of the stories were amusing, but in general it just seemed to drone on and on.
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LibraryThing member bfister
It's a funny experience reading this book. At times you roll your eyes, but all along you're thrilled that a non-librarian took it upon herself to explore some of the interesting things going on in the field and to report what she learned with such wide-eyed fangirl enthusiasm. I particularly
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enjoyed the section on Radical Reference and on the Connecticut librarians who sued over their National Security Letter gag order, and for the first time got a hint of why some librarians spend so much time in Second Life (though honesty, I still don't get the fascination). A fun, fast, cheering read - and it cracked me up to get an overdue notice for THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE!
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LibraryThing member flemmily
This Book provides an excellent overview of the state of librarianship today. Johnson manages to perfectly balance a personal voice with well-researched journalism. It is an engaging book, and a fairly quick read.
In spite of this, I did not love This Book, and in fact fell just shy of actually
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liking it. I think a large part of this is due to the fact that I've spent the last two years in an MLIS program. I've heard enough about the possibilities of new tools, and am ready to hear about content already. I also found myself annoyed by the rah-rah tone. I don't want to save anyone. I'd like to help people, and I believe libraries are very important, but I'm not rushing into burning buildings rescuing babies. I prefer to hear a more critical perspective, and I kept wishing this book had been written by an actual librarian who could acknowledge more of the challenges faced in day to day librarianship.
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LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
The book is interesting, but it wasn't quite I expected... I was hoping more for a day to day type book about how the modern library worked, instead got a book full of technology and blogs. It was interesting, and also quite informative, but I think the book focused too much on Second Life (which I
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believe, even in 2010 when the book was published, diminished from its peak a few years ago.)

I think the author was going for a traditional vs new technology sort of book and that both have a place in libraries, but it misses the point by only briefly mentioning how a normal librarian uses technology to help the average person.

The book is well researched, has lots of interesting people in it. The author knows her subject and how to write.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
The “best of times, worst of times” cliché certainly applies to today’s librarians and to the modern libraries in which they work. Patrons have learned to expect and to demand services from their libraries that were all but unheard of not more than a decade ago. Today, libraries are expected
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to give precious shelf space not only to books, magazines, and newspapers, but also to audio books, CDs, and DVDs. Much precious floor space is given over to computers so that patrons can (supposedly) do research and (even more supposedly) access what used to be called the library’s card catalogue system.

Old-school librarians must feel as if the rug has been pulled from beneath their feet. Freshly minted librarians will be better prepared, but even they are having to scramble to keep up with the freight train bearing down on them. Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All is probably aimed more at librarians themselves than it is at their customers, but heavy-duty library patrons should also take a look.

Johnson focuses on the changing roll of the librarian – and how librarians everywhere are directly involved in rewriting their job descriptions. Interestingly, despite the rapid fire changes that librarians are dealing with, what is perhaps their most important role is not really changing all that much: they are still the gatekeepers of the information being sought by library patrons. Librarians still, if they are good at what they do, know the best way to find the information being sought by their customers. They know not only how to find it fastest, but whether to trust what they find.

This Book Is Overdue takes a look at librarians themselves, not just at their job duties. What Johnson has to say about them might surprise readers whose only impression of librarians comes from what they see at the library. Johnson, while she does seem to agree that librarians are a bit of a “type,” wants her readers to know that there are some real characters in the ranks. There is a chapter on librarians who hit the streets during protests, offering information, via smartphones, that will be useful to protesters and those being protested, alike. Another highlights the efforts of a small group of librarians who set a national precedent by protesting the intrusion of The Patriot Act into the privacy of their patrons.

One of my favorite chapters is the one in which Johnson looks closely at the efforts of a group of professional and amateur librarians who have created working libraries within the popular Second Life software. What these men and women have accomplished is amazing – especially since what they do in Second Life is every bit as time consuming and difficult as what they do in their day jobs.

My other favorite is the chapter on librarians who blog – I’ve run across more than a few of these myself and have enjoyed both the irreverent ones and the more serious ones. Johnson’s point is that the blogging world is where librarians can be themselves (even to the point of sometimes having to hide their true identities) and can have real fun with their fellow readers.

This Book Is Overdue is for dedicated readers and the people we depend on to keep us supplied with the book-fix we need to make it through our week. It is not the easiest thing to read (I did find the author’s style to be a little dry, at times) but it is well worth the effort.

Rated at: 3.0
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LibraryThing member jrbeach
A long essay, expanded to book length. Too repetative for me - I didn't finish the book. (I did enjoy it initially)
LibraryThing member BLBera
I am currently reading it, and have decided to become a librarian in my next career.
LibraryThing member wvlibrarydude
As a librarian, I was disappointed in the book. I found myself skimming quite often to find good stories. The whole chapter on Second Life could be dumped as irrelevant. An author that approached the subject of libraries and librarians with no focus. A shotgun blast would have been better.
LibraryThing member fadedwords
With plans to go to library and information science school sometime in the future, I was really excited to read this book. I was not disappointed! I definitely cannot wait to get started on the path to becoming a radical librarian.The only part of the book I disliked was the chapter on librarians
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in the virtual world of Second Life. It was interesting at first, but it seemed to drag on forever. Overall, though, this is a quick and exhilarating read.
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LibraryThing member crosbyc
A love letter to librarians today. Lots of anecdotes about all the radical things librarians are doing. No real overarching thesis, but an entertaining read. Really, librarians will save us.
LibraryThing member jreeder
I love this book! Its fun to hear about other librarians and the new trends in info.
LibraryThing member susanbevans
With fascinating chapters such as "Information Sickness" and "Follow That Tattooed Librarian," Marilyn Johnson's This Book is Overdue gives the reader a quirky but informative look beyond the librarian stereotype. I am a reader who loves her county library - in fact we're on a first name basis,
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"The George" and I. I have always had a great appreciation for librarians, but This Book is Overdue has reinforced my belief that public libraries and the librarians who tirelessly work to bring books to the masses, are vitally important to the future of mankind.

Marilyn Johnson's This Book is Overdue illuminates the things today's librarians are doing to combat misinformation, to keep up with the latest trends in technology, to fight censorship, to make a difference in their communities, and quite literally, to change the world. There is so much to take in, so many aspects of libraries that I had never thought about before - the amount of information Johnson gives is a little overwhelming. Nevertheless, I think librarians could benefit from reading This Book is Overdue if only to search out new ideas to make their libraries better.

The only negative I have after reading This Book is Overdue is a lack of solid organization. With so much information and research, it is important to have a level of focus that was not achieved here. If the chapters had been tied together a bit more tightly, it might have made for a better book overall. On the whole however, This Book is Overdue is an extremely engrossing and thought-provoking look at the future of libraries and librarians. I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in the ways technology has shaped and changed the face of libraries forever.
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Physical description

282 p.; 8 x 0.6 inches


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