Cybrarians, Seriously?

By , April 8, 2010 12:15 pm

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.

4 Responses to “Cybrarians, Seriously?”

  1. Erin Hoffrance says:

    I’m glad you pointed out that this wasn’t written by a librarian, I wonder how, if at all, the perspective would have differed had it been penned by an “insider.”

  2. April says:

    You found it troubling that the book wasn’t written by a librarian? I think that’s the best part! Why would anyone want to read a book about how much a librarian loves other librarians? Of course we know our own value! I think it’s fascinating to see how an outsider views our profession. She brought up points that I never even thought about which is easy to do when you are immersed in the trenches.

  3. Kristine says:

    Thanks for your comment, April. You make a good point, and perhaps it she does us a great service by pointing out to the world how great a resource we really, especially in an era where many people think computers replace librarians. But Johnson definitely does not provide an even-handed view of our profession. She only subtly paints a picture of some of our more dysfunctional behaviors, like the OCD that drives us to fetch and dig for an answer for a patron, even if there really isn’t one. But perhaps that is for another book to cover!

  4. Brenna Louzin says:

    Great review. And, thanks for taking the time to read and report on this fascinating new book.

    I think the word cybrarian is kind of a late ’90s word, myself. Perhaps we need a new moniker for the 21st century. And, yet, I must share that yesterday while compiling a statutory history, I was absolutely delighted to be able to examine real volumes (in our own collection) from as far back as 1897.

    Aren’t we much more than cybrarians?

LLOPS is powered by WordPress • Panorama Theme by ThemocracyLog In