Thursday, November 17, 2011

Case Study No. 0070: Gene Ambaum

Unshelved talks about BEA
BEA Talks with Unshelved at the ALA MidWinter Event
Tags: bgsgou0 XBo
Added: 1 year ago
From: BookExpoAmerica
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[Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum are talking to the unseen cameraman in front of their "Unshelved" display at BookExpo America 2010]
CAMERAMAN: She wanted to talk about the Reading Room ...
CAMERAMAN: At BookExpo that you guys do.
GENE AMBAUM: We have couches. At BookExpo.
CAMERAMAN: What happens on these couches?
BILL BARNES: Our primary pitch is that we have couches. It's amazing that you don't have to get past that. Like, as a Hollywood pitch, you just go "We have couches," and suddenly there's like thirty five librarians in line for your booth.
GENE AMBAUM: It's kind of like, "We have couches, come sit in them." That's our pitch.
CAMERAMAN: And that's all it takes?
GENE AMBAUM: Yeah, and there's free books, often around the couches.
CAMERAMAN: And what happens on the couches?
BILL BARNES: Uh, what happens on the couches stays on the couches. So we cannot reveal--
CAMERAMAN: It's like the shirt, "What happens in the library stays in the library."
BILL BARNES: But the deal is that BEA historically is more of an industry show, where you get publishers and you get booksellers. And it's a fairly recent thing for librarians to be a part of that, and now they are a part of it. But a lot of the publishers haven't, kind of, completely brought that in. And so we're this little oasis, where a lot of the library marketing people for the publishers come and meet with librarians. They bring books, they bring ARCs. We had giant piles of ARCs last year.
GENE AMBAUM: And librarians meet at our booth, and they breed.
BILL BARNES: They do, and make more librarians. This is where librarians come from, they come from BEA.
CAMERAMAN: I did not--
GENE AMBAUM: That's how we're increasing librarians attending BEA!
BILL BARNES: [laughs] That's right, most of it again--
CAMERAMAN: My parents will not answer that question for me!



BookExpo America
by Bill

Monday, February 15, 2010

This year BookExpo America is in New York City for the second time in a row, and for the second time in a row we'll be hosting the Unshelved Library Reading Room where librarians (and anyone else) can come by, sink into our comfy couch, put your feet up on our sturdy coffee table, and pick out the ARC of your choice, provided by the library marketing groups at publishers big and small.



Odds are, you already know "Gene Ambaum" - not because he is, as one colleague says, "an outstanding teen librarian, beloved by patrons and coworkers, who brings a freshness to everything we do," but because he's the librarian half of the team that produces Unshelved, the comic strip set in the imagined but oh-so-real Mallville Public Library.

Librarians aren't the only ones who appreciate Unshelved. Ambaum's colleague says the strip "has given the library a new audience and a heightened visibility, making the library irreverent and hip yet at the same time important." Even the Boston Globe has commented that Unshelved "captures the absurdities of working in a library" with sardonic wit.

Ambaum, who understandably disguises his true identity and workplace, has wanted to be a librarian since he was 17. As a YA librarian, he likes "being the adult who treats teens with respect," especially "the teenage book and comics geeks, because it's like looking back in time at myself."

The Unshelved partnership came about because the wife of his collaborator, Bill Barnes, pushed the two together. She "knew he and I were geeky in the same way," says Ambaum. Barnes and Ambaum started pitching ideas to each other and launched Unshelved in 2002. Now, Barnes says, "Every week Gene writes a dozen or so comic strips that range all over the place in terms of theme and actual humor content, but one or two have enough brilliance to inspire us to work together to write a week's worth of Unshelved."

Working the conference circuit to speak and to sell their Unshelved merchandise, the two hear endless amusing (or horrific) library stories from their fans, who tell them that the strips that really hit home involve "computer problems (or the patron causing them) and anything dealing with parents and children in the library."

Ambaum says the strip helps him "step back and calm down when things are going bad...not just because I know I'll make a good comic about it all later. Writing Unshelved with Bill reminds me that my job is fun." Reading Unshelved does that for us, too.



Welcome to Unshelved, the world's only daily comic strip set in a public library! Writer Gene Ambaum (the made-up name of a real-life librarian) and co-writer and artist Bill Barnes have been publishing since February 16, 2002. Some of the stories are made up, some of them are based on real life, and some are absolutely true stories sent to us from our readers. And the stranger the story, the more likely it is to be true.

Here's a quick primer about the library and the people who work there and frequent it. Enjoy your stay!

The Mallville Public Library
Most of the action in Unshelved takes place in or near the Mallville Public Library, a branch library in the same system as Outlet City. Recently the library underwent a significant (and unusually rapid) remodel.

Our hero, the determinedly ironic young adult librarian who would rather read comic books or play games than work the reference desk, or indeed do any kind of work at all.
First appearance: February 16, 2002

Beleaguered branch manager trying to keep the chaos to a minimum. Mel's great passions in life are fly-fishing and office supplies. It is Mel's fate that she can't state an opinion that isn't immediately contradicted by the events around her.
First appearance: February 16, 2002

Children's librarian. Cheery and idealistic, but don't cross her. Tamara's favorite letter is "T."
First appearance: March 4, 2002

Cranky, old-fashioned, computer-illiterate reference librarian who late in life surprised everyone by adopting baby Doreen from China. ("I wanted a clone but the technology wasn't there.")
First appearance: February 19, 2002

Twelve-year old who spends a lot of time in the library for someone who doesn't like to read. He enjoys action figures, web surfing, and video games. Dewey is either his idol or the only person who will talk to him, or both.
First appearance: February 16, 2002

Buddy the Book Beaver
Former library mascot turned library page who still wears his costume for reasons that aren't entirely clear. His colorful past is slowly being unearthed.
First appearance: June 26, 2002

Mallville's media-savvy attorney is also a civil libertarian who exercises his freedom of expression in a unique way.
First appearance: March 14, 2002

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