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Author(s)Gene Ambaum (2/16/2002 through 9/11/2016)
Bill Barnes (2/16/2002 through 4/29/2016)
Illustrator(s)Chris Hallbeck (2/29/2016 through 9/11/2016)
Bill Barnes (2/16/2002 through 2/28/2016)
Current status/scheduleDaily updates.
Launch dateFebruary 16, 2002
End dateNovember 9, 2016

Unshelved is a daily comic strip most notable for being set in a public library.[1] Published by Overdue Media, the webcomic was created by writer Gene Ambaum (not his real name) and co-writer/artist Bill Barnes, and has been appearing at the rate of a strip per day since February 16, 2002, with a virtual circulation in excess of 45,000 readers and growing via RSS feed, website and email subscription. Beginning on February 29, 2016, Chris Hallbeck took over as the illustrator. Hallbeck had previously been a guest illustrator for over a year.[2][3] On April 29, Barnes announced that he had also left as co-writer of the strip.[4] It is part of the Create a Comic Project.[5] On October 10, 2016, it was announced that the final comic strip would be released on November 9. Bill Barnes returned to draw and co-author the final week of strips.[6]


Originally titled "Overdue" until a trademark issue arose, the creators held a contest in March 2003 to determine a new name and Unshelved was the winning title. The contest is just one example of how Barnes and Ambaum respond to feedback from the audience. Fans have also recommended what types of merchandise they would like to see imprinted with characters, voted on the design for the Unshelved baseball cap, and told Barnes what they thought of his experiment with computer-generated fonts. A blog by Barnes covers the nuts and bolts of writing, illustrating and producing the strip and merchandise, details from speaking engagements, news in the library field, and the webcomic industry, as well as more personal notes about computing, work and family.

Characters and setting[edit]

The Mallville Public Library, (a play on Smallville, Superman's adoptive home town) is the setting for Unshelved. Most of the action in Unshelved occurs in the library.


An official character synopsis from the creators is in Unshelved's primer.

Library workers[edit]

  • Dewey, a slacker Young Adult librarian who, because of his interest in pop culture and comic books and tendency to challenge authority, became the young adult librarian by default. Although single throughout most of the strip, Dewey has married Cathy, his girlfriend, and they have now had their first baby.
  • Mel, the harried and good-hearted manager who tries to run a tight ship. It has been implied that she is lesbian.[7]
  • Tamara, the sweet children's librarian who gets an adolescent Merv to play tea party with his action figures. She follows a vegan lifestyle.
  • Colleen, the technology-phobic reference librarian whose soft side comes out when she adopts a baby from China – and begins reading AACR2 to her at bedtime. In June 2011, Colleen was "forced" into retirement.[8]
  • Buddy the Book Beaver, the former summer reading program mascot and now library page. A trademark dispute with a nearby library caused him to be involved in a library mascot cage match.
  • Randy, the appropriately-named part-time librarian who has an eye for the ladies.
  • Dewey's Grandma, who loves to gamble. She occasionally volunteers as a greeter at the library, usually as part of court-mandated community-service.
  • Dyna is a cynical new librarian who was hired when Colleen retired. She was introduced Aug. 1, 2011.[9]

Patrons and Others[edit]

  • Merv, the prankster teen patron who gets his buddies to visit (and boost Dewey's street cred) by promising CDs to copy and Internet porn on the library tour.
  • Naked Ned, the nudist lawyer with a love for his civil rights.
  • Lambert, the homeless patron who insists there is a ghost in the men's bathroom.
  • Cathy, one of Merv's teachers and Dewey's wife. They finally got together over their mutual anticipation for Serenity following Revenge of the Sith. They have also formalized "getting together" by discreetly getting married and starting a family. They have one infant daughter Trillian,[10] named after the character in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Doreen, Colleen's adopted daughter. Colleen said that she used her vacation time to go to China to adopt a baby.[11] The baby's name and gender was revealed in her first appearance.[12]

The Unshelved Book Club[edit]

In August 2005 the Sunday editions of Unshelved, formerly indistinguishable from the weekday strips, became the Unshelved Book Club, a full-page full-color book recommendation presented in the form of a comic strip. Barnes and Ambaum encourage libraries and bookstores to post them in displays in order to encourage reading. The books featured are both new and old, picked by Barnes and Ambaum based on their personal preferences.

Empire County Strikes Back[edit]

Barnes and Ambaum proved they could tell a longer story in a full-color 24-page 'graphic novelette' called Empire County Strikes Back in Library Mascot Cage Match. It tells the story of the mother of all bookmobiles, intent on taking over the Mallville Public Library's position.

Library Tips and Conference Tips[edit]

Occasional Unshelved strips are produced in the Library Tip format, which intentionally recalls the Dick Tracy "cut out and collect" Crimestopper tips. Barnes and Ambaum also use this format for the Conference Tips they contribute to the American Library Association's publication COGNotes, the daily newspaper printed at the annual and midwinter ALA conferences. These are reprinted in their books.


Unshelved sells a variety of merchandise related either to the strip or to the general subjects of reading and/or libraries. Hits have included Book Club (a parody of Fight Club), Read Irresponsibly, What Happens in the Library Stays in the Library, Guess What I'm Reading?, Pimp My Bookcart, and Will Work for Books.

The strip has been collected in twelve published paperbacks:

  • Unshelved Volume 1 (Overdue Media, 2003)
  • What Would Dewey Do? (Overdue Media, 2004)
  • Library Mascot Cage Match (Overdue Media, 2005)
  • Book Club (Overdue Media, 2006)
  • Read Responsibly (Overdue Media, 2007)
  • Frequently Asked Questions (Overdue Media, 2008)
  • Reader's Advisory (Overdue Media, 2009)
  • Large Print (Overdue Media, 2011)
  • Too Much Information (Overdue Media, 2012)
  • Bibliovores (Overdue Media, 2013)
  • Reads Well With Others (Overdue Media, 2015)
  • Overdue (Overdue Media, 2017)

Unshelved's Pimp My Bookcart[edit]

The Unshelved sequence starting September 25, 2006 featured a parody of MTV's Pimp My Ride featuring a library bookcart. This was so well received that Barnes and Ambaum quickly announced a Pimp My Bookcart contest. The winner, "Pink Cadillac", was selected from over 100 entries from libraries and schools around the world. In June 2007 a second contest was announced, with prizes (including book carts) provided by Highsmith. The winner, "What can (Mr.) Brown do for you", a book cart transformed into a UPS truck, was selected from 129 entries in November 2007.

What Would Dewey Do @ Book Expo America ?[edit]

Barnes and Ambaum created a custom comic (available only as a download) for Book Expo America. The comic featured the Unshelved librarians at BEA, but mostly focused on Dewey's efforts to get a signed book by his favorite fantasy author. The purpose was to advise conference-goers on tips and tricks to make the best use of the conference. This is the first major co-promotion effort for Unshelved. Perhaps as a result, BEA claimed record attendance by librarians in 2008.

Non-Unshelved work by Barnes and Ambaum[edit]

Barnes and Ambaum are frequently paid to speak about Unshelved at library meetings and conferences around the country. Barnes moderated the 2005 and 2006 "Web Comics School" series of panels at Comic Con, and was on the webcomics panel at Sxsw 2006. Barnes also participated in the original Spawns of Insomnia 24-hour comic challenge for Seattle-area cartoonists, the result of which, Whippersnappers, was published in a limited-edition run for Unshelved readers.


  1. ^ Thorne, Amy (2010). "25 Webcomics and Libraries". In Robert G. Weiner. Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives: Essays on Readers, Research, History and Cataloging. Elizabeth (FRW) Figa and Derek Parker Royal (forewords); Stephen Weiner (afterword) (illustrated ed.). McFarland. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-7864-4302-4. by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, a strip set in a public library, is very popular among library workers
  2. ^ Changes
  3. ^ Inside The New Unshelved
  4. ^ Bill Barnes - Back to Work
  5. ^ "Healthy Holidays: Lessons Learned from a Community Education Event." Presentation. American Public Health Association 137th Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, PA. November 11, 2009.
  6. ^ Unshelved is Ending
  7. ^ http://www.unshelved.com/2011-11-2
  8. ^ http://www.unshelved.com/2011-6-29
  9. ^ http://www.unshelved.com/2011-8-1
  10. ^ Unshelved strip that introduces the new-born daughter's name
  11. ^ http://www.unshelved.com/2002-8-3
  12. ^ http://www.unshelved.com/2002-8-5

External links[edit]