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Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  394 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Who are libraries for, how have they evolved, and why do they fill so many roles in our society today?

Based on firsthand experiences from six years of professional work as a librarian in high-poverty neighborhoods of Washington, DC, as well as interviews and research, Overdue begins with Oliver's first day at an "unusual" branch: Northwest One.

Using her experience at thi
Hardcover, 210 pages
Published March 22nd 2022 by Chicago Review Press
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Jarrett Neal
Apr 08, 2022 rated it liked it
Another bait-and-switch book. Like other readers, I approached Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library with the assumption that it would be Amanda Oliver's incisive critique of America's public libraries. Well, the book is that, but only in part. This text is really an amalgam of Oliver's memoir, superfluous diatribes on the evils of social media and cancel culture, and lamentations about the homeless/unhoused populations who frequent libraries and rely on them to meet all of their needs. Onl ...more
Carrie O'Maley Voliva
I'm giving this 3 stars because it was good enough for me to finish and I enjoy reading about other librarians's experiences. However, she worked in a public library for 9 MONTHS. So, it's hard to take much of this seriously (and then she knocks on centralized selection and library administrators when she doesn't have the experience to do so). In short, it's a no. ...more
Apr 07, 2022 rated it it was ok
I like that it exists! However, if you'd like to read why I gave it only two stars, here it is:

I understand the marketing aspect, but the fact that this book is mostly a (somewhat meandering and unfocused) memoir, contextualized with the history of libraries in America, doesn't mesh well with the title "Overdue." With a title like that, I wish that (rather than highlighting Oliver's short but memorable stint at an urban public library) it had been a collection of memoir essays from a variety of
Mar 04, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-stuff, i-own
America's public libraries are often referred to as sanctuaries, beacons of democracy, the people's university. Some call them The Great Equalizer. But libraries are not created or treated equally. In fact, they magnify the economic and social inequality that permeates our communities.

Oliver asserts that while public libraries are given more than enough public praise (read: white guy writes an op-ed), library workers are expected to fill the gaps in our social safety net with little to no train
Apr 24, 2022 rated it it was ok
This reads as a sanctimonious journal entry in which the author works through her guilt in order to justify why she quit her job as a librarian.

Yes, librarianship is tough. Yeah, it's not for everybody. Some of the research in this is pretty solid. I'm sure that many people will find this book enlightening. However, I feel it is irresponsible to position herself as a moral authority and blame the public library institution as a whole because she could not shoulder the burden. That's fair; libra
Apr 13, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As a librarian, I was anxious to read a fellow colleague's take on public libraries, however, it turns out she only worked in a public library for nine months and I came away disappointed. A bulk of her time was spent in school libraries in DC, and I felt for her, for I myself had a brief stint as an elementary school librarian and I know too well all the limitations and extra work that administrators put on school library staff.

As for her short public library experience, I know the neighborhoo
Amanda Mae
Nov 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, first-reads
Oh this made my heart ache the whole time reading it. My library career has not been the same as the author's, but there was much overlap that I was all too familiar with. This is a must-read for all library workers and administrators, and I encourage any who are library fans to read it to get a deeper look at what goes on in the backend. You'll get a lot of myths dispelled. ...more
Christina O.
Apr 01, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"Overdue" confronts the fact that when we idealize libraries we are often unable to address the issues that arise in the reality of libraries. Even though I work at a library in a small city and incidents at our branch are less frequent than what the author was dealing with, I recognized that what Oliver is describing is relevant to all public libraries. The library often becomes the place where people go when every other public system has failed them, and yet it doesn’t have the resources or th ...more
Apr 02, 2022 rated it it was ok
Mixed feelings on this one. Yes, this book is “Overdue.” Such an important topic that must be discussed outside of LibraryLand.

But the execution of this important discussion is uneven and lacking in some areas. Just too many tangents and fillers.

Overdue is at its best when the focus is on the library. I would like to see these topics tacked in anthology of library focused essays.

Not flawless, but I am grateful for this crucial conversation.
Apr 20, 2022 rated it it was ok
I wasn't a huge fan of this book. This was likely because of the disjointed writing, the overall vibe, and that she only spent nine months in a public library.

Nonetheless, I think it is important we recognize and address the role that libraries play for unhoused and marginalized groups and the inadequacies of the systems in place to address the needs of people. I don't know if the general public realizes some of the roles that public libraries play in the lives of people whether that is providin
Apr 20, 2022 rated it it was amazing
So I'm gonna let everyone know I have very strong opinions in this so if you don't like cursing or as a librarian gave this good less the 4 stars look away now.

First, I want to address all the negative reviews I saw saying that this girl was only in public libraries for 9 months...she still had traumatic experiences that about 40% of librarians can relate too she just got the fuck out sooner and she has a right to comment on what she saw. Also if you were paying attention you saw she was a libra
Emily Clasper
Apr 20, 2022 rated it liked it
The author tells some real truths about libraries that should really be discussed more. However, some of her observations and opinions reveal her inexperience (9 months in a public library hardly makes you an expert) and often lacks context. I found a lot of it naive at best, more often substantially uniformed.
Also, I don't care about her childhood.
Heather Stewart
DNF about 1/2 way through. Author is whiny and obviously doesn't enjoy being a librarian, which is fine. There are plenty of jobs/careers I wouldn't want, but she complains a lot even going as far as how she loathes her co-workers. If you love all your co-workers, then kudos to you. My point is everyone is entitled to their opinion, but don't write it as fact and publish it for the world to get the wrong sense of being a librarian.

If she wanted to write a book about history of libraries, underpr
Mar 30, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 stars

If I had read this book before becoming a librarian, it might have made me doubt if this was a job field I could handle. Even now, I have not worked in a library with a large unhoused population or patrons with addiction like the author did, so my experience is pretty limited in that way.

I appreciate that the author pulls back the curtain on the systemic racism that is part of the library's foundational history and how mostly white staff serving diverse populations often leads to gaps i
Brian Candelori
1. I'm fairly certain Oliver got paid an additional $1 every time she typed Northwest One (her branch for 9 months). I searched the book and it came up 117 times. Which means the number of days she showed up (~160-180x) is close to a .75 : 1.0 ratio.
2. With that said, the issues Oliver brings up are relevant and reasonable. I've worked in public libraries almost as many years as she did months but invalidating her perspective b/c of that won't do us (as public libraries) any good.
3. I enjoy th
May 11, 2022 rated it really liked it
There's a lot here to enjoy, reflect on, and get depressed about. The author seems to have experienced the worst-case end of the spectrum of library work, but I could relate to much of what she chronicles in her short stay at DCPL. Her broader insights into home(house)lessness and the treatment of the displaced people of our society is what makes the book interesting though. My favorite moments are: when she describes the despair and anxiety that comes after the librarian has gone home -- did I ...more
Mar 28, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An extremely sad but important look at one young librarian's experience at inner city school libraries and public libraries that proved inadequate to meet the needs and intractable problems of their impoverished patrons. An alternate subtitle might have been "The Public Library as Homeless Shelter." It is no wonder that the author experienced PTSD as a result of her time in these places, but this is NOT the story of the average public library in America, nor an indictment of libraries that canno ...more
3.75* uneven, and grain of salt considering this writer worked in public libraries for less than a year (but draws upon experience as a school librarian and other nonprofit work). but some of her critiques of vocational awe, white saviors/librarians as saviors, social service expectations dumped on libraries w/o adequate resources or as an excuse not to build up infrastructure elsewhere, etc. did resonate with me, and did actually work to highlight the value and potential of libraries in a more ...more
Apr 23, 2022 rated it really liked it
A very interesting and important book. As a public librarian, I can relate to many of these stories and issues that she describes. It's not an easy job, and challenging situations come up often. Some of which are very traumatic. The public has so many misconceptions about libraries, librarians and what we do. Many have no idea how much our profession deals with homelessness, mental illness, racism, sexism and other barriers on a nearly daily basis. It can be an emotionally draining task trying t ...more
Mar 31, 2022 rated it really liked it
I am a bit divided on my thoughts on this one. Oliver absolutely and astutely discusses the disconnect that exists between the actual day-to-day in a library and public perception, especially as many library workers pivot toward more frontline work. She also hits the nail on the head as to staff burnout, compassion fatigue/vocational AWE, and the lasting trauma many must contend with, with little if any extra support or training.

She does point out the lack of diversity in the profession and her
Chris Scott
Mar 07, 2022 rated it it was amazing
A deeply thoughtful and fascinating perspective on the role of the public library in the US and in our communities. Aside from all the rich social and political insight, there's also just a ton of interesting information about how the public library came to exist as the complicated institution it is today. I got a lot out of reading this. ...more
Apr 17, 2022 rated it really liked it
As a public library lover, worker and patron, I've often thought about the future of libraries, especially during our lengthy COVID closure, so I was drawn to this title and wasn't disappointed.

Amanda Oliver worked in DC-area school libraries before spending nine months in 2018 at Northwest One, a busy branch library that's part of DCPL and little more than a mile from the White House and Capitol. A lot of what she writes about resonates in terms of the day-to-day inquiries and issues that aris
Lynda Austin
May 09, 2022 rated it liked it
Felt lucky to get an electronic copy of this book that I read an intriguing review on in Bookpage. I too work in a public library as a youth-oriented staff member. I felt bad that the author’s experience as a public librarian left her feeling as if she had PTSD. But I might have too had I experienced the things she did in her time at an urban DC library.
I feel very fortunate that my organization has given us training in handling a variety of confrontational situations that may arise in our jobs.
May 13, 2022 rated it really liked it
I resonated with a lot that Oliver had to say about working in a public library. I did for seven years and we would frequently joke about us doubling as desk workers and security. I was threatened, put in uncomfortable and heartbreaking situations, and verbally abused, and often the only help I got was the suggestion to write an incident report and ¯\_(ツ)_/ it off. Library workers are hardly ever given the real resources they need to put so much constant effort into the work. However I wish this ...more
May 09, 2022 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure how to weigh in fairly about this book. I appreciate what Oliver is trying to do here-- which is drawing attention to the dangerous environments and toxic mission creep of public library work-- but I'd rather have a megaphone for this cause who has worked in the field for longer than 9 months.

Overall the tone of this book tends toward bitter. And while the profession is struggling overall, I don't want public librarians to be represented as bitter. We are passionate about our work,
Rebeca Cox
Mar 27, 2022 rated it really liked it
In this book, Oliver states that society has again and again proclaimed that libraries will save us. With Americas houseless population growing and the problem only exacerbated with rising housing costs and stagnant wages, libraries find themselves serving as day shelters for many and are expected to fill in the gaps where the social safety nets in this country have failed so many people. She explains that the profession is misunderstood with people proclaiming that “it can’t be that hard when y ...more
Jennifer Riddle
May 04, 2022 rated it liked it
Interesting. Her library was in a rough area that I, thankfully, do not have a personal comparison to but, the book was still very relatable. The burn out and the complete care we give patrons is similar across the board. Public Library workers do so much more than shelve books and I support a book that shines a light on some of the rest of the job for the general public. I think library workers are under rated and underestimated everywhere.

A honest and sometimes gritty look at libraries and their place in society. A little history heavy for me but overall I liked it.
Apr 22, 2022 rated it did not like it
As a professional Librarian and Library Director, I have to say this book should not have been written by a person with 9 months of experience in a public library...and only one location at that. This book deserved better writing and better editing. In the alternative, a different title as this book had very little to do with actual public libraries.

While I applaud the author's efforts to write about some of the challenges public libraries face, she simply doesn't have the breadth of experience.
May 10, 2022 rated it liked it
2.5ish. I was so excited to read this, because it's completely in my wheelhouse and begins by bringing up so many important issues about the state of urban public librarianship and questions about who, exactly, is being SERVED by the library and who is being ignored or even actually endangered by its policies and ideals. Such good questions! But I ended up just being impatient with the (painfully white, achingly liberal) author for putting so, so much of her own personal story and personal backg ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Update book description 4 29 Jan 19, 2022 03:32PM  

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Amanda Oliver is a writer and former librarian. Her book OVERDUE: Reckoning With the Public Library is forthcoming from Chicago Review Press on March 22, 2022. She is the nonfiction editor for Joyland Magazine.

Amanda’s writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Electric Literature, Vox, The Rumpus, Pank Magazine, Medium and more. She has been interviewed about libraries and being a librarian f

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