by Kristine Lloyd
A combination of curiosity and disdain piqued my interest and led to my subsequent purchase of This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save us All by Marilyn Johnson. The exceedingly lengthy subtitle is so very librarian-esque, but more importantly, what’s up with the term “cybrarian?” Does anyone actually use this term, without irony? On the cheesy scale, it ranks right up there with Guybrarian.
The cover of the book features a superhero librarian. With her svelte bod, ample bosom, and kindle in hand, she leaps bounds, books and buildings to save us all. Throughout the book, Johnson compares us to navigators, miners, jockeys and Girl Scouts. In sum: we are information saviors, which frankly, may be a lofty load for any of us to bear. Despite the smarmy exhortations about our greatness, Johnson does highlight the heroism of our profession, with inspiring tales of information visionaries creating complex and innovative library services on Second Life, standing up for patrons’ privacy rights, linking students across the globe and fighting to save artifacts of both the commoner and the exalted.
After finishing the book, I found myself wanting to be a public library hero like Josh Greenberg, who has created all kinds of interesting applications for the New York Public Library. Johnson’s description of Greenberg is “like the best librarians and archivists [he] had shown me how to figure out what I wanted to do, then pointed me toward the answer.” Lest I get too wistful here, Johnson spends a disproportionate amount of time describing the less glamorous aspects of public library work: stalkers, smelly folks and non-book, book drop deposits, if you get my drift.
In spite of the love-fest Marilyn Johnson showers down on our profession, I find it troubling that this book wasn’t written by a librarian. More than a few of the librarians mentioned in the book also happened to be prolific writers, even if they did not publish much of their work. Johnson treats us like cultural artifacts, idealizing our profession in a way that makes us all forget that at the end of the day, this isn’t necessarily a calling, it’s not quite missionary work, we’re mere mortals trying our best to connect our patrons with the right resources.