Too Much Information is an Unshelved collection by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. This book came out in 2012, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the strip.
If you’re not familiar with the comic strip Unshelved, don’t worry. It is a bit of a niche work. But if you work in a library or book store chances are someone has at least one of these strips taped up around the office. I know which walls feature them at my place of work.
Unshelved stars Dewey as a frustrated but apathetic library employee. If Kevin Smith’s Clerks took place in a library, it would be this comic and star Dewey, probably as Randall. Throughout the strip we see ups and downs and daily frustrations featuring Dewey’s co-workers and some of the more problematic library patrons.
Working with the book reading public is different than other forms of retail. (Not that a library is retail, but there are certain over lapping circles.) The clientele knows how to read and because of that believes themselves to be intelligent and infallible. Neither of those are necessarily true. My frustration as a former book store employee and current knowledge of library inner workings had me laughing with empathy on every page.
There are always patrons who need to check out a book on appropriate social interactions before the next one in their holds list. Dewey has that rare attitude that comes from years of experience in one location. The belief that short of murder, you won’t be fired. There’s a confidence that comes from knowing you don’t have to let customers/patrons treat you like crap with a smile.
Dewey becomes my spirit animal, even though we’re both human. He has infinite patience for those that try, no matter how much of a pain in the ass the person might be. But anyone revelling in their ignorance is a person Dewey has no time for.
Throughout the collection there are also discussions between the cast that hit close to reality. Should those books no one has checked out in over 10 years be discarded to make room for new titles that will circulate? Or should they stay as rare sources of information that need to be treasured before they are forgotten? Where is the line on censorship? Why are their so many meetings? And can there be just one year without a budget cut?
Despite working in two different kinds of libraries, despite number of years of experience, despite many things – there is something universal within this world that Unshelved has latched on to. While other comic strips might show the universal truths of work, school, parents, kids, fat orange cats, etc. Unshelved shows the introvert world of those of us who love books and want to share that with the world. But, one at a time please and wait until I’ve had my coffee first, and no dumb questions please.