This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All - Marilyn Johnson As a devout library lover in my youth, though finding very little reason to visit in my older years (and actually feeling sad about this) due to largely to lack of reading time... this was a fun book to read. It does its job of making libraries seem exciting, and full of awesomeness. The writer expresses the loves that are close to all library-lover's hearts: books, collecting books, organizing books, reading book, knowing about books and the stuff we found in books -- oh and all that other media and stuff as well. She expresses this while describing the struggles, experiments, and changes made in libraries in these internet times.

As a fairly adept computer/database programmer and all-around "IT" guy, and developer of a web site that currently gets about 500,000 unique visits per month, I felt that she could have used the thing she stresses many times in the book that libraries need now: competent computer/IT consulting/staff. Pretty much every library computer/web interface I've seen (in Canada) has sucked extremely badly. Excusing this by saying these companies who supply these systems (and horrifically expensive prices) were the only ones capable of handling such large collections at the time is just ridiculous to those of us who have some knowledge of these things. Excusing great mystery of the missing holds as finally (after how long?!) as being not the fault of the software, but of the librarians, equally misdiagnoses the problem. Were there no simple audit trails? Do the developers have no respect for data integrity?!!! Excusing this on having to interface with or work on top of legacy systems and structures, while certainly a consideration and a constraint, does not seem credible to me.

It's truly broken my heart to see the crap my beloved libraries have installed, and tied themselves to. And continue to. The IT consultants they seem to end up with these days seem more to be sales people --- selling them a bill of goods. A short term we-want-to-be-hip-and-up-to-date solution tied to specific devices, or pathetic DRM schemes.

And the length of time the author spends in Second Life is, to me, also rather startling. She does mention the lag and glitches. But she doesn't mention the relatively steep learning curve and hardware requirements just for entry. She describes the scenes she participates in that world with beautiful imagination: the (virtual) reality is vastly (if not infinitely) more clunky. Yeah, it's interesting and fun that a group of librarians have gravitated there and done interesting things... but Second Life is rather rather old technology by this point, which never really took off as expected: it's a niche of which you can say at least it did better than all of the other "revolutionary" virtual reality environments that were supposed to change the way we interacted with computers. Admittedly it's been years since I looked at it, and frankly I felt like I had entered a time machine and gone back about five years to hear such glowing reviews of it in this book. Five years!

I was more interested in the social activism side of librarians; and some of the history of library initiatives was quite interesting.

Lately, though I have no "information systems" training, I have found myself helping a local non-profit organization (for free) get their old, approximately 2000 volume, card catalog into a computer. I set up Koha for them (an excellent, free, open-source, library software -- even if it feels a bit hodge-podge) and wrote up documentation on the cataloging process, and circulation. Actually I've ended up doing the input for 1500 of the volumes myself in my spare time over the last year. I've become very familiar with MARC (in it's various flavours), Z39.50, worldcat, and related things.

I've also become rather intimate with the blessed cards, and all their peculiarities. Notes written on them by librarians 20 years ago which are now indecipherable. At several points the cart catalog was gone through and a system of small lines, dots or checkmarks were added to the corners of cards indicate some sort of status. No one really remembers what the marks meant -- and what they do remember no one knows if the information is still valid. There are professinionally printed cards with LCC numbers. But most of the cards are manually typed: I am amazed by the skill of the old typewriter formatting! So much time and love went into these cards. Little details. They were lucky to have had a real librarian labouring with love on these. Some cards are hand written...
the physical cards themselves are a treasure which in some ways I hate to supplant.

Perhaps we will image them, and add the card catalog as an item to the online database as a curiosity. (Most are already photographed as part of our digitizing process.) Some amateur librarian in the future who cares about this little library may like to just randomly flip through some of the card images -- for some nostalgic fun, and inspiration.

Anyhow, it was interesting to read the author's own, non-techie, struggle with the simple (yet so complex) business of saving web pages for herself. And it was nice she gave a vigorous and insightful nod to the importance of open source software in cataloging and storing information for the long term (even if it what she meant was "open formats").

I just wish i had more time.