Marilyn Johnson is a fan of libraries. And librarians. She came to this appreciation while researching The Dead Beat (a book about obituary writers). To her, it seemed that librarians had the most interesting obituaries! So when the time came for a second book, librarians seemed a natural focus. The result is This Book is Overdue : How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us.
"I wrote the book originally to teach myself how to get more technologically savvy, and I wrote it for my parents, who I know felt like the computer age had zoomed of and left them in the lurch" said Ms. Johnson in a recent e-mail. While her target audience was not librarians, the profession has embraced the book, which is now in its fourth printing.
A small group met in a Toronto pub last night to discuss the book. This post will recount some of our discussion, and hopefully inspire further conversation here.
The first question that came to each of us as we joined the discussion was: "Did the profession need an outsider to write this book?" Our consensus was a resounding yes. Johnson's audience was not the profession (as she told me via e-mail). Her journalistic writing style and her "here, let me introduce you to this interesting person" approach are markedly different from the more ponderous and jargon-filled approach of our professional journals. This is a book for reading on the bus.
The book also goes beyond the "I like librarians. They're friendly and they do my homework for me" testimonial. Johnson cuts a broad swath through the profession, recounting tales from the New York Public Library to a (surprisingly) active virtual library universe in Second Life. The stories of the librarians who fought the U.S. Patriot Act are inspiring and chilling.
Each of us at the pub last night pointed to different stories which stuck with us. This is a book which screams out for highlighting, tabbing and marginalia. There are innovations, lessons and creative ideas in every chapter – ideas which can be stolen, er adapted, and reused in a wide range of contexts, websites to be visited, blogs to be monitored.
Judy Dunn, from the University of Toronto's i-School, said that the book should be recommended reading for students going into the library profession. I quite agree – this book is a window on a profession in transition, meeting the challenge of rapid technological change with a sense of inquiry, with a mind to community and respect for the past.