Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian

The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Ed., by Nicole C. Engard with Rachel Singer Gordon, Medford, NJ: Information Today Inc., 2012.

Review by: Amanda Richards

Over the last few decades, technology has become indispensable to libraries. We rely on technology to complete the majority of our job duties, so when it breaks, misbehaves, becomes outdated, or no longer meets our needs, we depend on Systems Librarians to come to the rescue. But what happens when one falls into the role without specific training? What should they know to be successful and maintain a healthy Systems department?

As the title suggests, The Accidental Systems Librarian is geared towards Librarians and Library staff that have been thrown into the role of Systems Librarian without much training. The first chapter details not only why this role is so important to the library, but also how to form the foundation of a Systems department. In addition, the authors compiled numerous resources needed to establish competencies for staff as well as the computer systems. The front matter notes there is a website associated with the book which updates the information regarding the links in text (see: The reader can email Engard directly, too, if they discover broken links or outdated information and it will be updated on the website, thus extending the relevance of the published book a while longer.

This book is divided into twelve chapters, three appendices, and a conclusion. The first four chapters are arranged as general guides on broad topics (e.g., “Systems Librarians as Change Agents,” as well as critical desktop and web-based applications), with the remaining eight chapters focusing on specific topics such as networking, researching techniques, and independent study opportunities, to name a few. Each chapter is also further divided into sections which give more detailed explanations and lists resources to consult.

As someone not employed as a Systems Librarian, this reviewer thought the text was quite informative. There were several sections with information that, at first glance, seemed obvious until one asks: “Would I have thought to address that institution-wide?” These “obvious” points then become great reminders. For instance, Engard discusses the increased popularity of mobile computing and goes on to explain how to accommodate users by making the library’s catalog and website mobile friendly. She also provides great advice on how one can learn to troubleshoot computer issues and what to do with old machines. The appendices are also fantastic resources. In particular, Appendix A provides the survey Engard used, Appendix B lists recommended readings, and Appendix C collates useful websites.

There were a few portions in the book that felt unfinished—for instance the section on web browsers. Engard details the benefits and drawbacks of Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox but only writes a few sentences about Google Chrome. This reviewer also wishes Engard had discussed how Internet Explorer and Firefox have issues complying with current W3C web standards (see: which can cause numerous websites to not load within those browsers. It would also have been wise to recommend libraries have at least two of the three standard browsers available on public PCs.

On the whole however, The Accidental Systems Librarian (2nd edition) is proving to be a great resource. This reviewer has already recommended it to several colleagues and friends who are interested, yet unfamiliar, with the topic and/or field of systems librarianship. I plan to keep this book handy and to look into the resources Engard has collected. While I have yet to actively search the website associated with the book, from what I have seen thus far it is a useful resource as well. I would especially recommend this book to librarians who are working in smaller libraries that don’t necessarily have a systems department.

Amanda Richards is a Senior Library Technical Assistant at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL. In December 2012 she received a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida.