Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Book Review: This Book Is Overdue! By Marilyn Johnson

This Book Is Overdue is more than a year old, but was new to me when Sarah, the archivist at Plainfield Public Library handed it to me and said, "You will love this." She was right.

I enjoyed Johnson's book because it is a candid look at librarians and archivists from the view of a writer who adores libraries and people who work for them. (I nearly typed "people who work in them," but she writes extensively of the librarians who work within Second Life and who provide web-based services, so that terminology wouldn't be entirely accurate.)

The book focuses on exactly what library folks do to serve their patrons. Johnson relates story after story of how librarians and archivists go to great lengths to locate information, books, manuscripts, and more for writers and ordinary people who might not exactly know what they need. She gives high praise to helpful reference librarians, and well she should. The reference interview is not only a great tool, it is one that can be customized by its gifted user to yield world-changing results, as Johnson demonstrates throughout her book.

Among other topics, the author covers the eternal battle of IT vs. everyone else, but increasingly, I see job ads for "digital librarian," "electronic records manager," or "information systems librarian." As budgets continue to tighten, and because library schools are now "i" schools (she did mention the Rutgers name change that happened during my first semester in the MLIS program), we all must have some grounding in digital applications.

One topic that Johnson did not discuss in depth is the movement in the archives and special collections communities to use EAD (encoded archival description) in collaborative ways to bring more collections into the view of potential users via their online finding aids. The Online Archive of California is a great example of that EAD collaboration. On the other hand, I am very glad she wrote about the virtues of WorldCat, one of my favorite tools for locating materials.

Of course, I am biased, but I thought perhaps the world of the archives and special collections might deserve its own book (and maybe I need to write that book, as Mom often prods me to do). But it was interesting to read about David Ferriero's work at NYPL prior to his current post as the 10th Archivist of the United States (AOTUS). And, it was touching to read about how an archivist processed her late husband's papers for inclusion in Rutgers' special collections (although I would have saved the ephemera because I love the kind of snapshot in time it gives a collection).

If you are a librarian or archivist, like me, you will recognize your friends, former classmates, colleagues, and library bloggers in this book. But we are not the only ones who should read this work -- I'd recommend pointing your local congressperson to its catalog page in the local library and not-so-subtly suggesting that he/she check it out and read it. This Book Is Overdue is a quick read because Johnson is a fine writer and tells an engaging story, but it's an important read because she goes a long way to provide valuable library advocacy in her book with the hero librarian on the cover.

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