Behold the stereotypical librarian, with her cat’s-eye glasses, bun and pantyhose -- a creature whose desexualized persona and desire for us to be quiet has fueled generations of wild sexual fantasies. But there's bad news for those of you with a shushing fetish; as Marilyn Johnson explains in "This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All," the uptight librarian is a species that's rapidly approaching extinction.
A new generation of young, hip and occasionally tattooed librarians is driving them out. They call themselves guybrarians, cybrarians and "information specialists," and they blog at sites like The Free Range Librarian and The Lipstick Librarian. They can be found in droves on Second Life, but also outside the Republican National Convention, dodging tear gas canisters and tweeting the location of the police.
Johnson, a former staff writer for Life magazine, and author of "The Dead Beat," a book about the fascinating world of obituary writing, delights in refuting our assumptions about librarians, while making a rock-solid case for their indispensability at a time when library systems are losing an average of 50 librarians per year. Who else is going to help us formulate the questions Google doesn’t understand, or show non-English speakers how to apply for jobs online, or sympathize with your need to research the ancient origins of cockfighting? Librarians, Johnson argues, are one of our most underappreciated natural resources.
Salon talked to Johnson over the phone from her home in Westchester County, in New York, about the inadequacy of Google, why librarians have so many stalkers, and how a group of Connecticut librarians helped protect your privacy.
How did you know that librarians, not exactly known for their wild personalities, would make such riveting subjects?
My first book, "The Dead Beat," was about obituaries, and during my research I realized that the most engaging obits were about librarians. I once told a writer who was mentoring me that I wanted to write a book about them, and he threw back his head and howled, like, "Are you trying deliberately to stay off of the bestseller list?" But then he told me this great librarian story. That happened over and over. People would laugh, then tell me a fascinating story.
It's worth reading.