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Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
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0

How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

A-This Book Is OverdueA former writer for Life magazine, Marilyn Johnson is also the author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2006).

The Topic: As people spend more and more of their time interacting with the world via computer screens, the heroes of our future now seem to be the computer programmers, the device-design gurus, or even the lowly office IT guy. But as Marilyn Johnson tells it, the seemingly humble and antiquated librarians are the ones who will save the day. While she is eager to disabuse her readers of the misconception that traditional librarians were all schoolmarms and shut-ins, Johnson is most enthusiastic about the new generation of "cybrarians," who are determined to restore the library to its rightful place as the center of the community and to treat information access as a human right.
Harper. 272 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780061431609

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"As Johnson amply shows in her romp through the brave new world of the profession, these new librarians cum information scientists are building on the work of their pioneering predecessors as they branch out in sometimes surprising directions." Judy Bolton-Fasman

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[Johnson] pays homage to a profession undergoing a mind-boggling transition. ... This cheerful book is full of personalities, including four heroes who defend patron confidentiality in defiance of the Patriot Act, and a special-collections librarian stoically watching his scholarly treasures shoved aside in favor of more popular offerings." Tricia Springstubb

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] a loving and appreciative portrait. ... With this joyful and absorbing look into the world of librarians, Johnson has filled a desperately needed gap in our understanding, and she will inspire her readers to feel as she does: thank goodness for librarians." Kim Schmidt

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Librarians have a champion in Johnson, yet her clear bias takes nothing away from the book, partly because she builds a solid case for their existence. ... Is this book overdue? Yes, but perhaps it's still in the nick of time." Kim Ode

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is one of those books, in the vein of Mary Roach's Stiff (about human cadavers), that tackle a big topic by taking readers on a chapter-by-chapter tour of eccentric characters and unlikely locations. Given Johnson's attractions to wild tangents, the journey often dissolves into a jumble. It is a testament to her skill as a writer that she remains fascinating, even in the throes of A.D.D." Pagan Kennedy

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Johnson succeeds in making us like librarians, but she avoids digging too deeply into the controversies roiling around the future of books and their keepers. ... Although Ms. Johnson adopts a balanced approach to the new technology, she accepts uncritically some of the canards of our techno-positivist age." Christine Rosen

Critical Summary

As book lovers themselves, reviewers happily joined Johnson in librarian hero worship. They were consistently impressed by her enthusiasm for her subject and entertained by her anecdotes about the challenges librarians face on a daily basis. Opinions differed, however, over Johnson's idea that librarians will guide us to a new era of literacy online. No one doubted the valor of Johnson's "cybrarians," but some asked if she was sufficiently critical of the drawbacks of moving information online--from the decline in American attention spans to missing the smell of a good old-fashioned binding. Enjoy this book for its look at library culture, not for its prognostications.