Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"This Book Is Overdue!"

A gift of the library gods: I stumbled on The Dead Beat, a book about obituaries and the people who write them, when I was volunteering at the Hadley library in December, and lo and behold, it turned out to be by Marilyn Johnson, a former colleague of mine at Life magazine. I know firsthand what a wonderful writer she is--I'll never forget fact-checking her lovely profile of Lady Bird--and the topic was about an aspect of journalism, so I took the book out and really enjoyed it. It's smart and funny and such an unusual, far out topic. Who knew how interesting obits could be, not to mention their authors!

So I looked Marilyn up on FaceBook, natch, to tell her and say hey, and come to find out that her second book was about to come out, and it was about librarians! How cool was that! I ordered five copies, mostly as gifts, and on February 2 her book, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybarians Can Save Us All, came to my house. There's very few writers I'll preorder from -- Rosemary Mahoney, both because she's my old friend and because everything she writes is extraordinary, and Harry Potter, of course. This one was very worth it: hilarious and inspiring and wonderful, and the perfect book for a nascent librarian to read. It renewed my faith and gave me hope that perhaps all is not lost in this crazy world, not as long as we have librarians.

Check out this from the first chapter:

"Librarians' values are as sound as Girls Scouts': truth, free speech, and universal literacy. And, like Scouts, they possess a quality that I think makes librarians invaluable and indispensable: they want to help. They want to help us. They want to be of service. And they're not trying to sell us anything. But as one librarian put it, "The wolf is always at the door." In tight economic times, with libraries sliding farther and farther down the list of priorities, we risk the loss of their ideals, intelligence, and knowledge, not to mention their commitment to access for all--librarians consider free access to information the foundation of democracy, and they're right. Librarians are essential players in the information revolution because they level that field. They enable those without money or education to read and learn the same things as the billionaire and the Ph.D. In prosperous libraries, they loan out laptops; in strapped ones, they dole out half hours of computer time. They are the little "d" democrats of the computer age who keep the rest of us wired.

In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste."

page 8 from:
Johnson, Marilyn. This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. New York: Harper, 2010.

I love that and it's really what I'm about. Not for me any more, the cynicism of journalism, the competitiveness, the drive to look clever and smart and hip. I'm too old for that and I was never hip. I just want to be useful. This book is so reassuring about the power of libraries and librarians. It's smart and very well-written. Marilyn inserts herself just enough as a character but really lets the librarians tell their stories, all the different sorts. If you like libraries, or reading, or technology, or anti-technology, or just a good yarn with interesting characters, don't miss this one.

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