Notes | Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library

Posted on Nov 22, 2022

Amanda Oliver. Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library. Chicago Review Press. 2022.


Amanda Oliver reflects on the nine years she spent working within public libraries. Much of the book centers on her time at Northwest One, a library in DC that, like many libraries, is a haven for people that our already limited safety nets do not cover.

She discusses how librarians serve many functions well beyond what an MLIS degree prepares them for, how the presence of an armed guard at her library provided a relief, but the dissonance of not trusting cops and adding a carceral solution to a problem better addressed with structural resources.

While Oliver does detail facts and figures about public libraries (who uses the resources, murders of librarians, her own survey, etc) The work is not prescriptive with its suggestions for the future of libraries but grounded in what libraries are: reminders of who we were and who we might become.


Amanda’s experiences are not unlike my own working for a city owned theatre adjacent to a library. As a theatre technician I was woefully unprepared to be encountering people experiencing mental health crises, cleaning up needles, asking them to not sleep by the actors’ entrance and my only offering being a pamphlet of resources put together by the city, clearing the belongings of the homeless from behind our bushes and exit ramps. While I always endeavored to find the owners of the belongings and asked them to gather them up away from the buidling before Fridays. The churn of the unhoused in the area was high. As the city of Denver pushed residents down Colfax, they made their way into Aurora and to our theatre. It didn’t always work out that people knew the compromise the theatre staff tried to make: respecting those in the community while also serving those that came into the theatre. The author’s experiences are definitely more harrowing as her mandate was to serve the people and mine was to help the city make good theatre and serve those within the walls.

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