New York is full of these gems, little libraries and archives that capture a slice of the past and, in a disorderly and even chaotic world, organize the knowledge and art of, say, Louis Armstrong, or botanical gardens, or pornography (the Museum of Sex owns a collection of pornography painstakingly cataloged over the years by a Library of Congress librarian). The New York Society Library, a subscription library nestled in an Upper East Side town house, has a sweeping staircase and a beautiful old room for its old card catalog ("The members would never let me give this away," its head librarian says). The fabulous Morgan Library and Museum, with its illuminated manuscripts and Rembrandt etchings, is three blocks down Madison. And...not complaining, but...here we were in the American Kennel Club Library.Synopsis: Author learns that librarians frequently use the Internet and are innovating on it. Mind completely blown. Writing skills likewise.
Yes, just to keep things such as the definition of words straight, yes, Marilyn Johnson, you *are* complaining. Please let me know if the definitions of other words similarly escape you.
Marilyn Johnson is the author of a previous non-fiction book about obituaries and obituary writers that received a ton of attention and critical praise. And she's blowed if she'll let anyone forget it.
But for the moment, she's stuck in the wacky world of librarians. Some of them have tattoos! Some of them hang out in Second Life, pretending to be--get this--librarians! They write blogs! My head hurts from hitting this desk so much!
I think the ostensible aim of this book was to illustrate how librarians are using the internet to preserve and expand traditional librarian tasks, and how they're doing a really great job of it. The trouble is, Marilyn Johnson wrote this book, and she can barely restrain from mugging and grinning at Those Wacky Librarians every three pages, which makes the book a little trying on the nerves.
To be fair, Johnson has amassed an absolutely stellar collection of information here; she's shown a top-notch flair for information-gathering and research and interviewing, but her insistence on standing in the middle of that research attempting to come up with bon mots for it really hampered my ability to just read and enjoy it. A dog librarian?????? What??? I mean come on! "I'd been avoiding getting a dog for twenty years. Surely I could avoid the dog librarian? And what was a dog librarian doing at a writer's party, anyway?"
Yes yes, we get it. Oh that wacky dog librarian. Now please shut up so I can read about the dog librarian.
And lest anyone think I got hung up on the DOG LIBRARIAN bit because it's about a LIBRARIAN for dogs, I offer this evidence of yet more wtfery in Johnson's writing style, from a chapter on one of the least successful computerizations of a library's database:
And what was with [Wayne Hay, head of the IT department]? "Look," she said, "he actually wrote, 'I'm going to have a cigarette to calm down.' Do you believe that?"Um, no. It's not like almost like they were married, because they're co-workers. Divorce wasn't in the air so much as a need for nicotine.
Was he taunting her? It was almost as if they were married and divorce was in the air.
The whole book is like this. Johnson has a tendency either to get distracted by really uninteresting things (she spends three pages trying to determine the RL gender of an online librarian which hi, how inappropriate) or she just cannot get the hell out of the way of the people she's writing about.
Which is a crying shame, because she's found some really fascinating librarians doing incredible things. As I said, a really top-notch breadth of research going on, spoiled by unending self-insertions. The chapter on the librarians who fought the Patriot Act is worth the price of admission alone (hint to Americans: your government really hates you) and would make for fantastic reading in Civics classrooms across the country.
As long as someone else wrote it.
Ultimately, the whole book can be summed up by the following passage:
I've lived in my house for ten years, and the books are crushing me. I've given away carloads, and still they reproduce. Somewhere in these disorderly shelves is a novel pulished in 1981 called Easy Travel to Other Planets. The novel, by Ted Mooney, was notorious when it came out because one character, a female marine biologist, has sex with a dolphin. For me, though, the most memorable passage is the description of the affliction from which the denizens of this slightly futuristic world suffer: information sickness. There is too much to take in.There is too much here that has not been organized by someone with a flair for writing books. But on the bright side, you now know there's a book out there where a woman has sex with a dolphin.
Consider this a metaphor. Just, you know, not for librarians.