HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Marilyn Johnson

Authority on the Future of Libraries and Librarians


  • This Book Is Overdue: The Presentation
  • The Indispensable Librarian
  • A Field Guide to the New Librarian
  • Chasing the Virtual Librarian: Librarians in Virtual Reality
  • Writers, Archivists, and Our Future
  • The Dead Beat: The Art of the Obituary


New York

"[Johnson] should be the keynote speaker at just about every library related conference and then hired to work for each of those organizations as their marketing director."
-- ResourceShelf.com (daily newsletter for information professionals, educators, and journalists)

Marilyn Johnson celebrates libraries and librarians as essential players in the information age in her book This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (Harper). Johnson has become a sought after keynote speaker at library associations and conferences, libraries, and universities. The Philadelphia Free Library called her a "library sciences heroine."

Although futurists predicted that libraries would be dead by now, and many dismiss librarians as irrelevant in the age of Google, Johnson argues with passion and humor that librarians are more important than ever. Her speeches and presentations demonstrate how savvy and wired librarians are not just necessary, but indispensable. She profiles a dazzling array of visionary librarians who fuse the tools of the digital age with love of the written word and the old-fashioned values of free speech, open access, and scout-like assistance to all who need it. She shows how this new breed of librarian is the missing link between proliferating technology and information and the ordinary person with an old PC and a library card. Johnson's encounters with creative librarians continue and, along with her ability to illuminate the profession in surprising and perceptive ways, she has emerged as an outspoken advocate of library funding and an energetic leader in mobilizing authors for libraries.

Johnson was a staff writer for Life and an editor at Esquire, Redbook, and Outside magazines. Her first book, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries (HarperCollins), was a finalist for the B&N Discover Award and a selection of the Border's Original Voice program. She has written obituaries for Princess Diana, Jackie Onassis, Katharine Hepburn, and Marlon Brando.

Johnson lives with her family in Briarcliff, New York.

Praise for Marilyn Johnson:

"In the world of libraries and librarians, Marilyn Johnson is a rock star. The library industry could not have a better champion and advocate. I recently hosted Marilyn Johnson at the New Haven Free Public Library for a special in-service event for staff. Over 50 employees were charmed and energized by the obvious passion Marilyn holds for libraries of all kinds. Her stories involving her journeys around the country meeting librarians of all kinds were emotional, impactful and, at times, downright hilarious. Marilyn could easily have a second career as a stand-up comedian! I encourage library systems who are looking for a serious morale booster for staff to consider using Marilyn Johnson. There is no one better."
-- Christopher Korenowsky, New Haven Free Public Library

"The talk that Marilyn Johnson presented to our students and faculty was both fun and engaging. Moreover, the content reminded us of our commitment to librarianship and inspired rich discussions afterwards. As a speaker, Marilyn was prepared and flexible -- agreeing to take questions and engaging in a dialogue with her audience both before and after the talk itself. We could not have been happier with our decision to invite her to speak at St. Catherine University!"
-- Michael Mitchell, St. Catherine University

"Marilyn Johnson is a passionate advocate for libraries. She provided fascinating perspectives about the challenges and opportunities currently facing libraries and engaged our audience with her humor, her insights, and her wisdom. It was wonderful to have Marilyn Johnson here at Millersville!"
-- Marilyn Parrish, Friends of Ganser Library, Millersville University

"Marilyn was a pleasure to have with us at our conference. She was positive, available, and very willing to interact with our conference attendees. Marilyn's upbeat attitude...helped to make our luncheon the positive experience we wanted it to be. [She] was an excellent addition to our annual conference line-up. Her positive message about the importance of libraries was a welcome addition to our program in a time when school libraries and public education are under fire."
--April Dawkins, North Carolina School Library Media Association

Praise for This Book Is Overdue!:

"This is a book for readers who know that words can be wild and dangerous, that uncensored access to information is a right and a privilege, and that the attempt to 'catalog the world in all its complexity' is heroic beyond compare."
-- O, The Oprah Magazine

"Librarians and archivists, in all their eccentric, tech-savvy, and service-oriented glory, are celebrated in this highly complimentary and lively survey of their professions...This spirited book will be enjoyed by all who love libraries, or are poised to discover their value, but is likely to be most treasured by librarians and archivists seeking a celebration of their work."
-- Library Journal

"Topical, witty.... Johnson's wry report is a must-read for anyone who's used a library in the past quarter century."
-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Johnson does for the library profession what Malcolm Gladwell did for the theory of memetics in The Tipping Point."
-- Nora Rawlinson, Publisher of EarlyWord.com

"Marilyn Johnsons's marvelous book about the vital importance of librarians in the cyber age is the very opposite of a 'Shhhhh!' It's a very loud 'Hooray!' ever so timely and altogether deserved. Move over, Google - make way for the indispensable and all-knowing lady behind the desk."
-- Christopher Buckley, author of Losing Mum and Pup

"Johnson has made her way to the secret underbelly of librarianship, and the result is both amazing and delightful. Savvy, brave, hip, brilliant, these are not your childhood librarians. And who better to tell their stories than the sly, wise Marilyn Johnson."
-- Mary Roach, author of Bonk

"To those who have imagined a dalliance with a librarian--and there are millions of us--Marilyn Johnson's new book, chocked as it is full of strange, compelling stories, offers insight into the wildness behind the orderly facade of the humans who are at the controls of our information."
-- Pete Dexter, author of Paris Trout and Spooner

Praise for The Dead Beat:

"[A] fascinating book about the art, history, and subculture of obituary writing... [Johnson's] delight in the subject is unabashed...Johnson's analysis of the form and its top practitioners is absorbing, [and] her account of the culture of obituary lovers is downright amazing."
-- New York Times Book Review

"This delightful quirk of a book is ... an uplifting, joyous, life-affirming read for people who ordinarily steer clear of uplifting, joyous, life-affirming reads. A musing on history and the everyday lives that comprise it [and] a primer on good writing. Writers interested in honing the craft should inhale this book. Who else might profit or delight from reading about obituaries? Just about anyone who's not yet in one."
-- Mary Roach, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Persuades us that the obituary column is not only the place to find out who dies, but also a source of information - and wisdom - about the world of the living."
-- People (four out of four stars)

"Fetching...Johnson writes about obituaries with the zeal - and insight - of an avid obit fan ... [it] makes for lively reading."
-- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"A smart, tart, and often hilarious tiptoe through the tombstones."
-- Parade

"If you have ever, once, reveled in the obits pages, you'll be reading aloud from these fan's notes... [Johnson] shares the choice shockers and tearjerkers, along with an infectious reverence for the form. Only irresistible lives live here."
-- More magazine

"A sprightly journey around the lively world of obituary writing, which in [Johnson's] view has never been more vivid or interesting than it is today. Johnson brings a fresh sense of appreciation to the modest but exacting stories that many readers treasure above all others."
-- Washington Post

"[A] book-lovers' find. The obits quoted are hilarious, poignant, and insightful. They are examples of journalistic writing at its best, and although the author writes about the dead, they come alive on the page with wit, compassion, respect. ... I think it will be the sleeper book of the year. It is a textbook on writing, and I will assign it to a class I am teaching this spring. But it is more than that. It is an instruction on how we should live our different, individual lives."
-- Boston Globe

"Open this enormously entertaining book and your life will contain three certainties: death, taxes, and an overwhelming desire to turn the pages....Like a good life, The Dead Beat ends too soon. Like a good obit, though, Marilyn Johnson leaves us with a memorable story."
-- San Diego Union-Tribune

"[A] whimsical paean to the obituary, a literary form initiated by death, but paradoxically, Johnson finds, brimming over with vibrancy, wit, and irony in other words, with the stuff of life....The way others marvel over an orchid's distinctive coloring or the clean bouquet of a wine, Johnson relishes the finely crafted obituary . . . a gleeful celebration of the form, but with a twinge of elegy."
-- Baltimore Sun

"What a wonderful surprise - a charming, lyrical book about the men and women who write obituaries. The Dead Beat is sly, droll, and completely winning."
-- David Halberstam

"If Marilyn Johnson had been meaner, I could have said she puts the bitch in obituary. Instead, she's written a warm, funny, appreciative book that, ironically enough should live forever. But get it now."
-- Roy Blount, Jr., author of Feet On The Street: Rambles Around New Orleans

"A joyful book about obituaries? Absolutely! Marilyn Johnson pulls it off with death-defying grace, insight, charm, and wit. In the end, what a celebration of life!"
-- Lee Eisenberg, author of The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life

"A beautifully written, funny, and fascinating tour through the unexpectedly lively world of obituaries. Vital reading for anyone who knows a dead person or is likely to become one."
-- Lisa Grunwald, author of Women's Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present