‘Unshelved’ makes library lovers laugh

by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix

Sometimes a website wanders into view that is so wonderful you can’t believe you were lucky enough to stumble over it in cyberspace. That sums up the Seattle-based Unshelved, a daily online cartoon about public libraries.

Set in the fictional Mallville Public Library, which is a branch of the Outlet City library system, it humorously tells stories about a wide range of library issues from staying current in the age of digital downloading to dealing with homeless patrons.

The young and the ironic
The central character is Dewey, who  Unshelved authors Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum describe as being “a determinedly ironic young adult librarian.”

The cast includes a cheerful, but obsessive-compulsive children’s librarian, a cranky, computer-illiterate reference librarian who has photographic memory, a nudist who is a civil-libertarian lawyer, and a 12-year-old who is more keen for the Internet than for books.

Archives provide abundant giggles
Visitors to the Unshelved website can access hundreds of comic strips from 2002, when the series was born, to yesterday when Dewey, the fictional young adult librarian, was getting wacky from the lack of air conditioning in the Mallville Library.

How many ways do readers love thee, Unshelved? In 2006, The Seattle Times ran an article estimating the daily readership to be 30,000.  A year later, another online source cited 35,000 daily readers. That figure has  likely increased a lot and probably doesn’t take into account the number of subscribers who opt to receive weekly instead of daily email reminders.

Unshelved book club
Aside from the daily cartoons, another feature that readers enjoy is the Unshelved Book Club, which every Saturday posts a one-page cartoon in which the eccentric staff and patrons of Mallville Library talk about a book they have read.

Book Club picks include choices for all ages and are based on a wide range of reader suggestions. Here are some examples from the archives:
Stargirl, the ultimate YA flower child novel, by Jerry Spinelli;
The Big Book of Irony, by John Winocur;
Facing the Lion, Growing up Maasai on the African Savanna, by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton;
Bookhunter, a cartoon-style detective story that takes place in a library, by Jason Shiga;
•Mark Stein’s How the States Got Their Shapes, a fascinating field trip into the past for history lovers and info geeks;
• Larry Doyle’s underdog-attracts-the-popular-girl story, I Love You, Beth Cooper; and
•Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point pitted against Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Unshelved on the local library shelves
Through its corporate entity, Overdue Media LLC, Unshelved also has published a number of collections of its daily cartoons. These include Read Responsibly, which features YA librarian Dewey, on its cover, blithely walking off a pier while reading.

You can find the Unshelved collections—where else?—at the library. Or you can purchase them through Ingram Publisher’s Service or through Unshelved. Overdue Media also sells amusing bumper stickers and tee shirts with slogans such as “read irresponsibly.”

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