Reckoning with the Public Library
By Amanda Oliver


224 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Cloth, EPUB, PDF, Trade Paper

Cloth, $28.99 (CA $38.99) (US $28.99)

ISBN 9781641605311

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Mar 2022)


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"One part love letter, one part eulogy, Overdue tells the story of America’s public library system . . . Amanda Oliver proves herself a vibrant new literary voice . . . This is a book for all book lovers.” —Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

When Amanda Oliver began work as a school librarian, fueled by a lifelong love of books and a desire to help, she felt qualified for the job. What she learned was that librarians are expected to serve as mediators and mental-health-crisis support professionals, customer service reps and administrators of overdose treatment, fierce loyalists to institutionalized mythology and enforced silence, and arms of state surveillance.

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 Northwest One, the DC Public Library branch where she would ultimately end her library career.

Through her experience at this branch, Oliver highlights the national problems that have existed in libraries since they were founded, troublingly at odds with the common romanticization of the library as a shining beacon of equality: racism, segregation, and economic oppression. These fundamental American problems manifest today as police violence, the opioid epidemic, widespread inaccessibility of affordable housing, and a lack of mental health care nationwide—all of which come to a head in public library spaces.

Can public librarians continue to play the many roles they are tasked with? Can American society sustain one of its most noble institutions?

Libraries will not save us, but Oliver helps us imagine what might be possible if we stop expecting them to.


"Amanda Oliver’s harrowing and moving tale is, among other things, an indictment of our country’s grotesquely inadequate social services. She demolishes whatever stereotypes we might carry of librarians and libraries." —Tom Lutz, award-winning author of The Kindness of Strangers

"Overdue paints a vivid and meticulously researched picture of American public libraries: not as utopias exempt from the inequality and violence in our country, but as real places that too often bear the brunt of them. Both a deeply personal cry of frustration and a boldly argued rallying cry, this book will change the way you think about libraries. It will, in all the best ways, make you want to fight: not just for more equitable libraries, but for a more equitable world." —Claire Comstock-Gay, author of Madame Clairvoyant's Guide to the Stars

“One part love letter, one part eulogy, Overdue tells the story of America’s public library system through the eyes of a young, idealistic librarian who has experienced both the best and worst of it. Amanda Oliver proves herself a vibrant new literary voice as she weaves her own deeply personal account with an unblinking look what the library was meant to be, and what it has become. This is a book for all book lovers.” —Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth 

"Overdue is a work of not only rigorous research but also enormous empathy as it attempts to reckon with our country's many failures and how they manifest themselves in our public library system. It should be required reading for those of us who love to read." —Zan Romanoff, author of Look

Overdue by Amanda Oliver is a crucial, incisive, heartening look at our society through the triumphs and pitfalls of our public library system. This book is required reading for everyone who remembers their first trip to these community centers fondly and wants that experience for future generations.”Akilah Hughes, author of Obviously: Stories from My Timeline

"Overdue sheds light on some of our country's most literary and sacred spaces. In this powerful, thoughtful, and deeply compelling debut, Amanda Oliver shows us what libraries are for, what they cannot do, and how belonging can look so many different ways. For anyone who has ever delighted in the cool hush of the stacks of a library, this book is for you." —Emily Rapp Black, author of The Still Point of the Turning World

"As a writer saved, like so many others, by the public library in my hometown, I was fascinated by Amanda Oliver's tender, truthful, wide-ranging, and deeply personal memoir about life in American libraries, and her honesty about the centers and edges of American life right now. It's a testament to the written word and saving graces." Susan Straight, author of Between Heaven and Here

"At once a love letter and a call to action, Overdue dispels mythology and demands a better future. You’ll never see libraries the same way again." — Esquire Online

Author Biography

Amanda Oliver is a writer and former librarian. Her writing has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesVoxElectric Literature, Medium, and The Rumpus. She has been interviewed about libraries and being a librarian for NPR, CBC Radio, Associated Press, and American Libraries Magazine. Oliver is a graduate of the MLS program at SUNY Buffalo and the MFA program at UC Riverside. A Buffalo, New York, native, she now lives and writes in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree.