April 24, 2018

“Gene Ambaum” | Movers & Shakers 2007

Who Is That Masked Librarian?


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.




CURRENT POSITION Young adult librarian in a library in the Pacific Northwest

DEGREES MLS, University of Washington, 1997

WEB SITE Unshelved, www.overduemedia.com

OBSESSION Has waited in line to buy a Star Wars action figure