National Library Week begins today, and, in case you missed it, the stereotype of the bunned, bespectacled and shushing librarian has been officially retired. In her place is a new breed: techno-savvy, irreverent, smart. If she wears glasses, they might be cat's eyes with rhinestones twinkling in the corners. Nowadays, librarians are digital archivists, database mavens and computer programmers. A few are even men.
Author Marilyn Johnson noticed the changes when researching her previous book about obituaries, The Dead Beat, and decided to survey the 21st century library landscape. She found librarians writing blogs with cheeky titles like Pimp My Library. She found librarians who create online avatars in the Web-based virtual community Second Life. She even found social activist librarians with fully stocked iPhones at political protests, taking to the streets to offer "radical reference."
Not that everything in library land is perfect. Ever witness a fight between a librarian and an IT guy? Johnson chronicles a hilarious "migration" gone bad in Westchester County, N.Y., with librarians fuming at the IT guys, who in turn wrangle with software vendors. On a more serious note, Connecticut librarians had to secretly retain lawyers to fight off gag orders when they refused to comply with government "national security letters" asking librarians to turn over private patron records without the safeguard of a court order.
And then there are nationwide budget cuts. Johnson looks closely at the legendary New York Public Library, which is making tough choices among research rooms for scholars, play areas for children's books and digital archives.
Mostly, though, Johnson's book is an enthusiastic valentine to librarians. Maybe some of its readers might become librarians, too.
Angie Drobnic Holan is a reporter and researcher at PolitiFact.com. She graduates from the University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science in May.