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

Here at the beginning of National Library Week, let’s pause a moment and think about libraries. What makes a library? Sure, the building is important, and the computers and systems in it, and the books and information it contains. But what really makes a library is the people – the behind-the-scenes people who order the books and process them so you can find them (it’s not elves or magic that does that, but real people); it’s the people at the desks who check out your books or sign you up for that library card; it’s the people putting books on the shelves and keeping the computers up and working (again, not elves or magic – real people); and it’s the librarians at the reference desk showing you where to find that book or digging up that obscure bit of information you need.

Marilyn Johnson has written a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the world of libraries – their diversity, their changing role, their struggles in This Book is Overdue! Johnson is not a librarian, just a long-time library user. Her wide-ranging topics – libraries in Second Life, libraries defending the First Amendment, libraries preserving the past, libraries embracing and leading technological innovations for the future – quickly explode any myths about a staid and passive profession. Yet libraries are facing hard economic times, just at the time when so many people need them and Johnson wants to make sure that we don’t let them and what they stand for disappear:

“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 the information revolution because they level the field. They enable those without money or education to read and learn the same things as the billionaire and the Ph.D.”

Don’t let your library disappear.

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