Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This Post is Overdue!

Given that these beginning blogging weeks of [tk] reviews are intended, in part, to give readers a sense of who we all are as personalities, it's unsurprising that my first contribution is a day late, my time-management skills being what they are (or, rather, are not). On the other hand, my belatedness led me to an easy title for this post, as what I'd like to discuss is Marilyn Johnson's THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. I'll be referring to my library copy, which is, yes, overdue.

You may have noticed the banner on our homepage "Don't Close the Book on Libraries." The New York Public Library system is facing $37 million in budget cuts; this state of affairs is depressingly mirrored in library systems across the country and has been for the last several years. Cuts are necessary in a time of severe financial distress, but I believe there is a strong case to be made for libraries to be among the last groups to suffer cuts, rather than (as is often the case) the first to be slashed in the budget balancing act.

I've always been a fan of libraries, as I am of other public services (radio, television, transportation), because of their openness and usefulness for people from every sector of society. They are even more obviously essential in times when a high percentage of the population is job-searching, returning to school for further education and job skills, and otherwise in need of information. As Johnson's book reminded and taught me, the breadth of what librarians do and libraries offer is far-ranging--from specialized research to free entertainment to online outreach and social mobilization.

I found two chapters especially affecting. The first, "Big Brother and the Holdout Company," involved an exploration of the "Connecticut Four," librarians from a Connecticut consortium who sued the U.S. Attorney General over national security letters. These letters, served in secret as part of the Patriot Act, demanded that the libraries hand over their computer records, while at the same time placing a gag order on the librarians--compelling them to remain silent about even the existence of the letters. I encourage everyone to read more about this case, which is chilling in its implications about what our government (under the Bush Administration, but continuing in part today under Obama's) has authorized.

The second, "How to Change the World," takes place in Rome and describes an master's program from St. John's University that teaches students from around the world "how to bend their laptops to the cause of social justice." Here is a composite of one of the graduating classes: "Eugenie Murekatete, who lost her husband in the fighting in Rwanda and was now working at the UN...Parnel Saint-Hilaire from Haiti, who had just become a father...the Vincentian activist from Indonesia who had kept them all posted during protests, the two men who had disappeared from the online community for weeks after a typhoon in the Philippines--they were all graduating, and others, too, a dozen in all." They would go on to use their new skills to chart poverty statistics and AIDS proliferation, connect with other groups across the world, and open their own communities to information that would change lives. It was librarians that made it all possible.

There's much more in Johnson's book that deserves discussion, so I encourage you to buy a copy or, of course, to check one out from your library. To keep up-to-date on issues involving libraries, visit the American Library Association (ALA), which publishes Library Journal, holds conventions and other gatherings, and hosts a number of excellent blogs. (A personal shout-out to Monica Harris, a close friend and one of Library Journal's 2010 "Movers and Shakers"). And add your voice to those who speak up like the Lorax for libraries by using your local branch, donating to library associations, and writing to your representatives, reminding them that, as Walter Cronkite said, "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation."

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