Marilyn Johnson. New York, Harpercollins, 2010.
"In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste." --Marilyn Johnson
Marilyn Johnson read through countless obituaries as research for her first book The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries. Along the way, she came to realize that obituaries for librarians were often the most interesting and could be about anything. With her curiosity peaked, Johnson interviews countless librarians which results in twelve very unique sections peppered with her personal experiences and commentary. In This Book is Overdue! Johnson strives to break the bun-wearing librarian stereotype and nullify the idea that everything can be found online. She celebrates the profession of librarianship, exalting librarians seemingly vast knowledge and commitment to service. Her outsider's voice is refreshing as she learns more and more about what librarians do behind the scenes. Librarians in all areas of the field will appreciate having such an enthusiastic cheerleader.
Johnson focuses on how technology is changing the profession and in some instances the physical library as well. Johnson's ethnographic approach sheds insight on librarians offering street reference at political conventions, librarians running a distance education program for students around the world, those offering reference in the virtual world of second life, librarian bloggers, and the Connecticut four who challenged the Patriot Act. Despite the wide spectrum of topics, her underlying theme is that "Googling-it" is not sufficient. Librarians and Information Professionals are necessary to help patrons figure out what to Google and how to access information that isn't indexed on the internet. An example from Overdue! describes a patron interested in her relative who was born one race, but passed for another. The patron needed help determining what keywords and subject headings to use, as the term "passed" only lead her to a dead end. The antidote ends with the librarian assisting the patron and also persuading the Library of Congress to add a new subject heading therefore assisting patrons like her everywhere. Johnson argues that technology has become eminent in almost every aspect of life, and librarians should be sought after as the guides to technology. However, her book is one-sided lacking any viewpoint against technology except for a brief mention of the New York Public Libraryï¿½s Research Branch being turned into a public circulating branch. She comments that many of the specialized research librarians will not be replaced, leaving researchers with nowhere to turn. No other negative impacts of technology are discussed.
While innovation and technology are no doubt a large part of the profession, a more balanced overview would have given the reader a more realistic picture. There are many more aspects of the profession that should also be celebrated and are evidence to why librarians are still necessary.
Overall this book would be of interest to anyone in the library field, especially those working with technology. Johnson mentions great resources and blogs throughout her book that are not to be missed. However, some may wish to continue reading books such as The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts (2008) for a more typical overview of the field.Reviewed by: Allison Coltin. Allison is a MLIS graduate from San Jose State University and an Information Delivery Specialist at the University of Southern California.