Q&A about library props + call numbers with a Hollywood prop buyer

“When you see a library [onscreen], it is often a set and not a real library location. We rent books and shelves and everything else.”

I am so excited about today’s post, and I hope y’all will be, too! If you’re a regular reader of Reel Librarians (thank you!), then you may have noticed that I’ve been writing a lot more lately about call numbers in TV shows and movie posters. Over the years, I have written quite a few posts about incorrect call numbers I see onscreen, and you can explore an entire tag of posts about call numbers on this site. I have also been contacted in the past by a couple of prop masters to double-check call numbers they were preparing for various projects — definitely a highlight of my professional (and online) life! ๐Ÿ˜€

Light bulb moment

And in early March, I received this intriguing comment from Melissa Frankel, a set decoration buyer and prop buyer in L.A.:

Hello, I found your blog while looking for dewey decimal examples to put on fake library books on a tv show. Iโ€™ve spent quite a bit of time creating library book labels in the past โ€“ mostly for the tv show Young Sheldon. I always try to get them right. […] Iโ€™m kind-of glad that someone might appreciate the trouble that I go to to get it right, but Iโ€™m also afraid that they will notice errors! Happy hunting!

So I reached out to Melissa to thank her personally… and then I had a light bulb moment! Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn more from her perspective and expertise about library-related props and set decoration, and then share that info with all of you? So we emailed a bit back-and-forth, and I was thrilled when Melissa agreed to an interview, which we conducted over Zoom. (Note: This interview took place before the current strike and contract negotiations by the Writers Guild of America labor union in Hollywood.)

Zoom Room chat with Melissa Frankel
Can you tell I was really excited to chat with Melissa? Screenshot from our Zoom Room chat.

A bit of background

Melissa Frankel is a very talented textile artist and painter who also studied music. Please check out her website, Melissa Frankel Designs, as well as her Instagram account. Melissa started out in the prop department in professional theater. Her current focus is in the art department, specifically in props and set decoration — two different things, as we will explore! — on TV shows such as Hacks, Young Sheldon, Black-ish, New Girl, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (just to name a few!), as well as movies, including Beautiful Boy (2018) and Dance Flick (2009). Amazing, right?! ๐Ÿ˜€

Q&A with Melissa Frankel

Below is our chat together, edited for length and clarity.

Jennifer:
What are the different roles in set design, and what are the proper names for those roles? Like, is “prop master” an actual term, or are there different terms I should be using?

Melissa:
Great question! For television shows, the head of the Art Department is the Production Designer. The Art Director is the Production Designer’s assistant, second in command for the Art Department. (On film, sometimes there is no Production Designer; in that case, the Art Director is the highest position.)

  • Set Designer (not to be confused with Set Decorator): They do the drafting of sets that will be built and the technical drawings (computer or hand drawing) for the blueprints.
  • Graphic Designer(s): They design signage (street / storefront / brand logos etc), artwork, handheld props that use graphics, etc.
  • Construction Coordinator and foreman, etc.: They oversee the Paint department, the Greens department (trees/plants), and the Construction department (who build the sets).

There is also an Assistant Art Director. The following departments are independent but collaborate with and are hired by the Production Designer.

Props:

  • Prop Master
  • Buyer
  • Assistant Prop Master (on set)
  • Prop Assistants (on set)

Set Decoration:

  • Set Decorator
  • Assistant Set Decorator (if applicable)
  • Buyer
  • Lead Man, who oversees the Set Dressers and On-Set Dresser(s)

Jennifer:
Wow, so props and sets are two different things! Is there coordination between the two?

Melissa:
Yes. Sometimes the lines between what is the set decorator’s responsibility and what is the prop master’s responsibility is blurred. In general, items that are handled by an actor are props. Items that are not handled by an actor but are anything in a set are set dressing. For instance, lights, mail, clothes, dishware, furniture and art are all set dressing, provided by the set decorator. In a library [set], there might be a globe. If it is not handled by an actor, it is set dressing. But if an actor spins it, marks it, picks it up, etc., the prop master will work with the decorator and decide who will do it and what it should look like so that it looks good in the set but also is appropriate for whatever action is involved. If the books are not handled by an actor, the set decorator is responsible for them. If the book gets checked out at the checkout desk, then the prop master usually provides the book.

When you see a library [onscreen], it is often a set and not a real library location. We rent books and shelves and everything else, and the labels are probably not right for the books.

Melissa:
In props we have the saying: “One is None and Two is One.” So we often have at least two identical of any and every item that we provide. Sounds crazy — and it is! But that’s the best way to be prepared.

When you see a library [onscreen], it is often a set and not a real library location. We rent books and shelves and everything else, and the labels are probably not right for the books.

Jennifer:
Do you always make call numbers for book props? Do you use any resources to help you with creating call numbers?

Melissa:
On Young Sheldon, I used the Library of Congress Catalog website regularly. I could usually find the Dewey Decimal number on there, as well as the Library of Congress number. I did get confused when I had to make a label for fiction, which I guess Dewey Decimal doesn’t cover. The numbers for the scientific books were easier to find. I do remember using the WorldCat site, as well. 

Jennifer:
Those are the websites I use, too! I’m glad somebody’s out there noticing these things, and the work that goes into it.

Melissa:
The covers of the books interest me, too, because we often will create new covers, whether it’s for a real book or a made-up book, because we’ve got to follow a lot of rules about showing other people’s artwork, which includes book covers. Real books actually take quite a while to get cleared for us to use. So we always have a plan B, which would be a made-up book, or actually, sometimes we’re allowed to use the real title, the real author, but we have to create our own art in the style of the original book. We have graphic artists who are usually full-time on the show. I would let them know that we need to make a front, a back, and a spine, and we will wrap the new cover around the real book. If the real book doesnโ€™t have any artwork or photos on it, and it only has text, we can usually use it as is. If weโ€™re making a book from scratch, we need to get title and author names cleared by the legal department.

Jennifer:
And I have a question with the graphic design. Are they also the ones responsible if there is something on a computer screen, like a closeup?

Melissa:
It can be the graphic designer. It could also be the Playback department, who works on the set while they’re shooting, and they actually plug into the computer that needs to be seen. In the past, when I worked on Young Sheldon, I was doing most of the research about the computers because I was buying them. So I then would forward some information about what it should look like to the post production or playback people who were designing the screens. I would get manuals and images, and I was dealing with vintage computer collectors, so sometimes I’d pass along some of that information to them. We work so hard to get it right. So it’s a collaboration.

Jennifer:
What led you to this work?

Melissa:
I sort of fell into it. I think if you’re not suited to it, you don’t last, but a lot of people do sort of fall into it. I studied music in college, and so I applied to musical theater and opera houses. When I got out of college, the job that presented itself to me was a prop job, so I worked in props and set decoration for professional theaters for several years. And then I met somebody who had worked [in L.A.], so I thought, Okay, I’m gonna try that. And so I moved to L.A. and got in the business, and I’m a craftsperson, so I’m well suited to working in props.

We work so hard to get it right. So it’s a collaboration.

Jennifer:
On your IMDb.com profile page, sometimes you’re listed as the set decoration buyer and then on others, you’re listed as props buyer. Do you like to switch in-between, depending on the needs?

Melissa:
Yeah, depending on just the job. I think most people don’t do that. I worked in set decoration for over 20 years, and then I was offered a job that was supposed to be half set decoration and half props, because it was Young Sheldon. So that’s how I sort of moved back into working on props. And now, if I’m between jobs, I’ll apply for either type of job. There’s a lot of overlap. There’s a different kind of focus with set decoration. You’re dealing with huge quantities of stuff because you have to fill rooms with stuff, whereas props you deal only with what the actors handle, so it’s only a few items each day. But I need to give them a variety of those items. I need to give them multiples that are identical in case something breaks while they’re shooting. So it’s more focused. And you have to make sure you get it right, and that it blends with the rest of the set.

That’s where the collaboration comes in. The props department, they work with the things that the actors are handling, and then the set dressing are the things that theoretically (but may change on the day) are just for background. Most of the errors that happen are maybe decisions like on the day where, oh, let’s have some action, and let’s pull a book. Only if we are told in advance that we’re gonna look at a particular shelf, that’s the only time we would pay any attention to what type of book is there in what order. As long as it’s a book, and it has a white label on it, it would go on a shelf, and we wouldn’t pay any attention.

Jennifer:
I appreciate that level of detail. I absolutely hate it when there is a specified library scene, and there are no call numbers anywhere on the books. I’m like, “Come on! This is like the lowest level. At least have call numbers!” And you get books and things from prop houses, right?

Melissa:
Yes, theyโ€™re big buildings filled with stuff for rent. There is a specific prop house called Faux Library. All you have to do is call them, and you could say, I need a 100 feet of books, or I need 500 feet of library books, and they’ll pack them up. You can call them, and they’ll send you books with labels, so there’s no real excuse, I think, for not having labels — unless you can’t afford that prop house, because it’s a low-budget production or they’ve run out of books for some crazy reason, and it’s last minute.

Jennifer:
Do they get things from real libraries, like when libraries weed or get rid of books? Is that where they get their store of books?

Melissa:
Maybe some of it. I think originally the title “Faux” was because they used to empty the books out of their pages, so that the books were lightweight. They would recreate books with foam. It costs a little more per foot for the hollowed out books because they had to work to recreate them. But it’s nice because the set dressers have to haul all those books, you know.

But I think they probably get them [books] from all different sources. At this point I don’t know if they acquire any more [books] unless a show offers them, because they have a big collection, they have a warehouse full of stuff. I think there was one time when I collected old law books from some place that was getting rid of them. So that does happen sometimes.

And to think, how different your life would have been if you’d gone for that library cataloging job.

Jennifer:
You once thought about going to library science, and then a job with the Library of Congress. What led you to consider that?

Melissa:
Well, I lived in [Washington] D.C. at the time, and I think I was looking for a job, and it was musicology related. I had studied music in college, and I think I was offered the job after a long process of applying, since it’s a government job. I think that I really enjoyed doing research in college, and I like looking for things. I turned it down because it was just cataloging for at least a year, and I thought that might get tedious. I didnโ€™t know if I could do that.

Jennifer:
Cataloging is a very specialized field. I don’t know if I could do it either. And I even took a cataloging class [during library science graduate studies]. And it’s an even more specialized field because it’s music.

Melissa:
Yeah, it was cataloging sheet music. Yeah, it’s interesting where your paths take you.

Jennifer:
And was that before you got really into set decoration and props?

Melissa:
Yes, it was. I had had two theatre jobs at that point, working backstage and prop making, and then I decided that I would move to the West coast and pursue theater some more, which I did. I [first] moved to Seattle. So I lived in Seattle for about four years and worked in theater there before moving to L.A.

Jennifer:
And to think, how different your life would have been if you’d gone for that library cataloging job.

Melissa:
A year or two after that, I went to some kind of music symposium at a university, thinking, should I go back into that world? But I think I prefer to be more active. I didn’t want to be sitting all day. Of course, now the job I have, I am sitting all day, but I wanted to be more active.

Jennifer:
And you’re still researching. I think that’s cool that you’re doing a lot of research in your job.

Melissa:
Yes, a lot of my job is research. So I like it for that reason.

Jennifer:
As a college librarian, I teach research skills [credit] classes, and I like to point out to students that research doesn’t end in school. We all do research on a daily basis, like even in our daily lives. And I like to bring out examples of careers where you use research in different ways. So this is another good example.

Melissa:
I’m curious what you teach in that class.

Jennifer:
We call it information literacy. It’s focusing on basic research skills. So how do you search effectively online? Which I think has gotten harder. When do you need to use library resources, and when do you need to go online for research? How do you take a research topic and drill it down to searchable keywords? How do you do citations? How do you not plagiarize? I really enjoy it. I try to make the class as practical to real life as possible. But enough about what I do!

Yes, a lot of my job is research. So I like it for that reason.

Jennifer:
Here’s a totally left-field question. So when you think of librarians and movies — and this may be the first time anyone has ever asked you to do that! — what comes to mind? Do you think of any movies or reel librarian characters?

Melissa:
Well, the first thing I think of is the librarian in Young Sheldon, who fits into some of your descriptions of librarians, to meet sort of comedic purposes [like the Comic Relief character type].

Jennifer:
That makes sense that you think of the show you’ve worked on.

Melissa:
And I was usually not quite interacting with her [the actress Sarah Baker who played librarian Ms. Cheryl Hutchins]. But I was making props for her. There wasn’t [a library scene] in every episode, but it was not uncommon either. It was a school library [Medford High School]. Sometimes we didn’t see the librarian, but Sheldon, the main character, would eat lunch in the library a lot. So also I had to label books for him, that we would see even when he wasn’t in the library, because he always had library books out that he was consulting. And in fact, this is kind of interesting. I used to get the books from the head of the Astronomy and Physics department at UCLA — so he’s the technical advisor for Young Sheldon and an amazing guy. He had worked on The Big Bang Theory, as well, which was the precursor [to Young Sheldon]. I would go meet him, and he would have pulled a bunch of books, a stack of books for me that he got from professors who had retired or passed on, and he’d pass them along to us, and so then I’d have to label them.

Jennifer:
Oh! That’s interesting! And that’s such a good use of books from retired professors. We often get that in [college or university] libraries. A professor will retire, and then offer to give us their collection. But the books are often just so old. We are trying to keep our collection current, and often those books are not.

Melissa:
Well, that show [Young Sheldon] is supposed to take place, when I was working on it, at the end of the 1980s. So even if the books came from the ’50s or ’60s, that was totally fine. I was super careful about not having any books that had come after 1989, because that’s the year we were supposed to be in when I started on the show.

It is cool, working on the studio lots, because you feel the history there.

Jennifer:
I’ve done a round-up of call number errors. I probably need to update it! I also include when people get them [call numbers] right, so I’m equal opportunity. But I wonder sometimes, where did it go wrong?

Melissa:
And it may be multiple answers. Everybody has their specific role. And although you collaborate, you have only so much budget, so much time, you know, to do these things. It’s very fast-paced.

Jennifer:
I anticipate complaining more about call numbers [onscreen] in the future, so I want to make sure that I’m possibly not directing my irritation toward the wrong person. Like, I’m not ranting at you.

Melissa:
It’s annoying to me, too. I mean, I guess that’s why I like doing my job. I like it to be done right. There’s gonna be times when I get it wrong, for whatever reason, a bunch of reasons. But I wish we always got it right.

Jennifer:
Yeah, but it’s cool that you’ve focused on these things. You do research for this job. It’s very interesting of how these kinds of things, you know, like call numbers — which are very, very specific to my field — but other people access these things in different ways, too, even in props. And there are places like the Faux Library prop house, like that is what they specialize in! And that’s very cool.

Melissa:
It is cool, working on the studio lots, because you feel the history there. I was just down at a lot last week that I had never really been on, and they have these underground stages โ€“ where The Three Stooges shot โ€“ and it has this really old elevator that they could put a car into and then go underground Thereโ€™s a lot of history there, although they are tearing down a lot of the old stages and replacing them with office buildings. But it still feels like a cool place to work.

Jennifer:
Thank you so so much, Melissa, and thanks for all your hard work on these little details [like call numbers]. It is appreciated by some of us! I think my readers will find this really interesting, to have this chat about this crossover from my profession into your world.

Melissa:
Yes, it was fun. Thanks!


Continuing the conversation

Thanks again to Melissa for this amazing chat! I learned so much about the work that goes on behind-the-scenes on sets and props, and I know this will shift my perspective when I analyze library-related scenes in the future. My favorite parts? I enjoyed learning how much Melissa uses research skills in her work as a set decoration buyer and prop buyer, and how much she enjoys that aspect of her creative profession. And I clapped with glee when Melissa shared that she ALMOST became a cataloger at the Library of Congress. How serendipitous is that?! Librarians and prop design = a match made in Hollywood? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Did y’all enjoy this Q&A with Melissa? What did you learn or find interesting? Please leave a comment and share!

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MORE fun with call numbers on the new ‘Shelved’ TV show

This TV show highlights call numbers in a clever and special way!

Two readers recently alerted me to the new Canadian TV show Shelved, and as you may have seen in April’s “Recent additions” post, I have added all the episode details to this site’s TV Shows page. Shelved is, as CTV describes it, a “work-place comedy centered around the lives of the employees and patrons at the Jameson Public Library in Parkdale [a neighborhood in Toronto, Canada] as they go about their lives in this unassuming yet extraordinary place.” The lead characters are all librarians and library workers, including: Lyndie Greenwood as branch head librarian Wendy Yarmouth, Paul Braunstein as assistant branch head librarian Bryce de Laurel, Dakota Ray Hebert as junior librarian Jacqueline โ€œJaqโ€ Bedard, and Chris Sandiford as senior librarian Howard Tutt. And OF COURSE one of the show’s tagline is: “SHHH Happens.” ๐Ÿ˜€

The show was inspired by real-life Parkdale Library in Toronto, and the branch’s head librarian, Miranda Huska, even has a cameo in the series!

Here’s an excerpt from a recent review of the TV series:

“[T]he show is a welcomed addition to Canadian television and is unlike anything weโ€™ve seen before. The single camera comedy format alongside deadpan humour is something usually reserved for major American networks, while providing viewers with familiarity of being set in Toronto with its multiculturalism and diversity. This is where the show shines. Aside from the writing being well done, the diversity of characters both highlights and pokes fun at certain prejudices while allowing viewers of diverse demographics to find themselves in the story.”

Kevin Bourne, “TV Review โ€“ Shelved is a Comedic Look at Classism and Diversity in Toronto,” Shifter, 6 March 2023

I am particularly intrigued by the true-to-life issues this show (comedically) incorporates, such as diversity, classism, and the effects on the community due to under-funding of vital social support services like public libraries. I’m not able to watch the show (yet), but I will keep a lookout if any streaming service, like Amazon Prime or Hulu, decide to make it available it for U.S. audiences to enjoy. In the meantime, I looked up the episode list on IMDb.com, and I clapped with delight when I realized how this TV show incorporates call numbers in a clever and delightful way… front and center in their episode titles! This totally seems to match the tone, theme, and library setting of the entire series. Bravo!

A brief review of Dewey Decimal call numbers

We’re going to get into each episode’s title and use of call numbers below. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same foundation with the basic function and general layout of call numbers. If you’re a longtime reader of Reel Librarians (as ever, thank you!), then you’ll likely be familiar with call numbers, so feel free to skip down below to get to the good stuff. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But if you’re new (hi!) or need a refresher, think of call numbers as addresses for specific books. It’s how materials are organized and shelved in a library’s physical space, and it’s how users actually find physical items in a library. Probably the most common call number system — also referred to as a “classification system” in the biz — used in public libraries and K-12 school libraries is the Dewey Decimal classification system, also known as “DDC.” Dewey originated in the U.S. in the 1870s (named by and after its creator, librarian Melvil Dewey), and has been translated into 30+ languages and adapted for use in over 135 countries. Dewey uses ten main categories, or “classes” (000’s through 900’s) to organize items. Although you technically can catalog fiction with Dewey call numbers, most public libraries only use Dewey call numbers to catalog non-fiction (i.e., factual works) by its subject matter, not by author. So if you are researching a non-fiction topic like whales, you’d probably want to find multiple books about the same subject (whales) all together, right? But for fiction, you’re likely to be looking for a title, or multiple titles, by the same author. Therefore, most public libraries organize fiction in its own separate section and organized by author; larger public libraries also usually have separate sections for other popular genres or formats, like science fiction, mystery, romance, biography, large print, etc.

The first line of a Dewey Decimal call number indicates the main category the book is in, like whether or not it’s fiction or non-fiction (and subject matter). The second line usually indicates the first three letters of the author’s last name. Here’s slide #19 from an “Introduction to Call Numbers” Slideshare that visually demonstrates how to begin reading and understanding Dewey Decimal call numbers:

Introduction to Call Numbers” Slideshare by glenoaksweb, used under “fair use” guidelines

Different call number systems are used in different kinds of libraries, including — but not limited to! — the Library of Congress classification system that most academic (college and university) libraries use. But understanding the basic structure of call numbers will suffice for now!

Exploring episode titles for ‘Shelved’

As I mentioned, each episode thus far for Shelved integrates call numbers. So fun! Below is a list of each episode, its summary, its title, and what each call number reveals — both on the show AND in its real-life inspiration library. Did the show gets its call numbers right?? (Spoiler: Partly.) Let’s explore and evaluate!

Episode 1: โ€œJane Eyre FICTION BROโ€ (1.1, March 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Wendy attempts to get the Jameson library new computers while Howard, the transfer librarian from Midtown, arrives to work at the branch.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The novel Jane Eyre, by English author Charlotte Brontรซ, published in 1847.
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “FICTION” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Fiction section, and the “BRO” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Brontรซ. (Note: This novel was first published under Charlotte’s pen name “Currer Bell,” but the call number is alphabetized by the author’s real surname.)
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: FICTION BRO
  • Call number accuracy: An exact call number match! 5 books out of 5 ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“–

Episode 2: โ€œThings Fall Apart FICTION ACHโ€ (1.2, March 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Howard creates a list of improvements for the library, which result in chaos. Wendy starts a new program that causes an embarrassing misunderstanding.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The novel Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. This was the debut novel by Achebe, a Nigerian writer, and the book was first published in 1958.
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “FICTION” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Fiction section, and the “ACH” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Achebe.
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: FICTION ACH
  • Call number accuracy: Another exact match! 5 books out of 5 ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“–

Episode 3: โ€œDrag: The Complete Story NONFIC DOOโ€ (1.3, March 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Bryce objects to a drag queen storytime reader prompting sensitivity training for all staff. Things get awkward between Howard and Sheila.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The non-fiction book, Drag: The Complete Story, by Simon Doonan, published in 2019.
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “NONFIC” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Non-Fiction section, and the “DOO” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Doonan.
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: 306.768 DOO
  • Call number accuracy: This is where things fall apart! 2.5 books out of 5: ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– 1/2 ! (I gave it half-credit because the TV show call number does indicate that it’s non-fiction, and the “DOO” part is correct.) But because this is a non-fiction book, it needs an actual Dewey Decimal call number in order to be shelved by its subject matter, not by author. The 306.768 call number used by the Toronto Public Library system reveals that it’s shelved in the 300s category, Social Sciences; the 306 indicates Culture and Institutions; and the 306.768 subdivision indicates “Sexual orientation, transgenderism, intersexuality”

Episode 4: โ€œAnd Still I Rise FICTION ANGโ€ (1.4, March 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Wendy organizes a shelf for women’s appreciation week, so Bryce protests by creating a shelf for men’s appreciation month. Meanwhile, Alvin is embarrassed when he learns that the subjects of paintings are different than he perceived.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The book of poetry, And Still I Rise, by American poet Maya Angelou, first published in 1978. “And Still I Rise” is also the name of the title poem included within this collection.
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “FICTION” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Fiction section, and the “ANG” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Angelou.
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: 811 ANG
  • Call number accuracy: Uh oh! Only 2 books out of 5: ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ! (2 books for getting the “ANG” part correct.) Most public libraries shelve poetry in the Literature section of the Dewey Decimal call numbers. The 811 call number used by the Toronto Public Library system reveals that it’s shelved in the 800s category, Literature and Rhetoric (works of literature and works about literature); the 811 subdivision indicates American poetry in English.

Episode 5: โ€œThe Hunger Games FICTION COLโ€ (1.5, April 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Howard, Jaq, and Bryce compete in a book push to win a paid day off. Wendy panics when Unhoused Wendy locks herself in the bathroom.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The dystopian novel The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, first published in 2008.
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “FICTION” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Fiction section, and the “COL” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Collins.
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: SCIENCE FICTION COL
  • Call number accuracy: So close! 4 books out of 5: ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ! The TPL system has a specific section for Science Fiction, and they’ve decided to shelve The Hunger Games in that specific genre/collection, rather than in the more general Fiction section. (To be fair, I’ve seen this book and series shelved in different sections in different libraries, including in general Fiction, Science Fiction, and in Young Adult Fiction sections!)

Episode 6: โ€œMoby Dick FICTION MELโ€ (1.6, April 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Jaq finds her favorite author’s new book problematic; Bryce visits a patron about a lost book; Wendy downplays the branch to get donations.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The novel Moby Dick, by American author Herman Melville, first published in 1851.
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “FICTION” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Fiction section, and the “MEL” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Melville.
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: FICTION MEL
  • Call number accuracy: Another exact match! 5 books out of 5 ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“–

Episode 7: โ€œWall and Piece NONFIC BANโ€ (1.7, April 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Wendy oversees a community mural with temperamental artists; someone from Wendy’s past arrives, causing Jaq and Howard to meddle.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The book Wall and Piece by British graffiti artist Banksy, published in 2007, a photographic collection of Banksy’s art, along with biographical and artistic commentary by the artist. (I’m also assuming that “Wall and Piece” is a play on Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel War and Peace — a clever nod to the political, social, and anti-war themes often present in Banksy’s art.)
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “NONFIC” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Non-Fiction section, and the “BAN” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Banksy.
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: 709.2 BAN
  • Call number accuracy: Yikes! Only 2.5 books out of 5: ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– 1/2 ! (I gave it half-credit because the TV show call number does indicate that it’s non-fiction, and the “BAN” part is correct.) The 709.2 call number used by the Toronto Public Library system reveals that it’s shelved in the 700s category, The Arts; the 709 indicates standard subdivisions of Art, including “History, geographic treatment, biography”; and the 709.2 subdivision specifically indicates “Biography” of artists.

Episode 8: โ€œBrave New World SF HUXโ€ (1.8, April 2023)

  • What the episode is about: “Wendy fights to keep her library alive; Howard considers moving on from the library; Jaq and Bryce contend with their future at the branch.” (via IMDb.com Episodes List)
  • What this episode title refers to: The dystopian science fiction novel Brave New World, by English author Aldous Huxley, published in 1932.
  • Where this item is shelved in Shelved: The “SF” part of the call number tells us that this book is shelved in the Science Fiction section, and the “HUX” is the beginning of the author’s last name, Huxley.
  • Where this item is shelved in the real-life Toronto Public Library system: SCIENCE FICTION HUX
  • Call number accuracy: Sooooo close… 4.5 books out of 5 ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– ๐Ÿ“– 1/2! The TV show abbreviated “Science Fiction to “SF.”

Overall, Shelved did pretty well with their call numbers, particularly with the fiction titles. They earned 3 exact call number matches, with another 2 very close call numbers. Where they stumbled was with the non-fiction titles.

Summing up & looking ahead

Yes, I know I’m being picky and nerdy here by examining and evaluating these call numbers. HELLO, I’m a librarian! (#NoRegrets #LibrarianLife #CallNumbers4Eva) If you’re going to put call numbers out there, especially front and center in your episode titles, you know that information professionals are going to notice. And critique your efforts. And have fun doing it. And then offer you advice and resources so you can get it right the next time. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Contact me anytime, Shelved. Til then, thanks for the clever use of book titles and call numbers!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from "Dual Spires" Psych episode
Closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers | Screenshot from โ€œDual Spiresโ€ Psych episode

You can explore more posts I’ve written about call numbers here, including this epic round-up post: The good, the bad, and the misshelved | Library call numbers in the movies.

And speaking of TV shows and call numbers… we are definitely on a theme this month! I’m going to have a very special post next time, an interview with a real-life props buyer who has created call numbers for TV shows! Stay tuned!

Sources used

BONUS! Recently added Reel Librarian titles (May 2023)

Recent additions to the Master List of English-Language Films:

  • The Accursed (2022)
  • Calendar Girls (2003)
  • Circle of Friends (1995)
  • Reno 911!: It’s a Wonderful Heist (2022, TV movie)
  • Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022)

Recent additions to the Foreign-Language Films list:

  • Ne dao Bog veฤ‡eg zla (2002) — Croatia

Recent additions to the TV Shows list:

  • Abbott Elementary (2021- , USA)
  • Dark (2017-2020, Germany/USA)
  • Desperate Housewives (2004-2012, USA)
  • The Diplomat (2023- , USA)
  • Kiff (2023- , USA) โ€“ Animated series
  • RWBYย (2013- , USA) – Animated series, additional episodes
  • Tokyo Mew Mew New (2022- , USA) โ€“ Animated series
  • Violet Evergardenย (2018, Japan) โ€“ Animated series
  • You (2018-2024, USA)

As always, thank you to everyone who regularly reads this blog and who sends titles to add to this site. Please keep sharing!

Having fun with call numbers | An (overdue!) spotlight on ‘Monsters University’ (2013) teaser movie poster

“I want to read Scarenomics, too!”

The “first impressions” post about Monsters University that I wrote back in 2013 — in which I highlight the 40-foot monster librarian who appears (or rather, unfurls) in a university library scene — remains one of the top 10 most popular posts of all time on this site. Three years ago, in early June 2020, a librarian colleague here in Washington state, Lauren, emailed me about the books and call numbers on a movie poster for Monsters University… and eeeeeeeeek, I’m just now getting around to highlighting these details! I’m so sorry, Lauren — shame on me for being woefully belated in this follow-up post! (Perhaps I can be forgiven because that was the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that was a very weird time for us all, right?)

Here is the movie poster closeup, as seen on Lauren’s Instagram account:

I agree with Lauren — I want to read Scarenomics, too! ๐Ÿ˜€

Here’s the closeup of the call number on that title:

MU 21.2013 JUN

LOVE! THOSE! DETAILS! The “MU” surely stands for “Monsters University.” And the movie opened on June 21, 2013, which is what I’m sure the “21.2023 JUN” is alluding to… LOL! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

(And yes, even though I know this is a made-up call number used for the purposes of this teaser movie poster, I went ahead and looked up the “M” class in the Library of Congress classification system. I am a librarian, and I like to be thorough. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I already knew “M” was the class/category for Music, but what I didn’t know was that the “MU” sub-class is not currently being used!)

Closeup of call numbers and stickers from Monsters University poster

You can see the entire movie poster online here, which is where I got a better closeup of all the book titles that monster Mike is standing on:

  • Scareonomics
  • I’m Scary, You’re Scary (Note: This book has a “USED” sticker at the bottom of the spine, instead of a call number label, which likely makes it a textbook rather than a library book. Again, these details are soooooo good!)
  • The Power of Screams
  • Complete Monster Encyclopedia (“Monsteropolos History & Timeline,” Volume XXV, by Dr. A. Gruff)
Book title from Monsters University movie poster

Thanks again, Lauren, for being a reader of this blog and for reaching out to me about this really interesting detail of the book titles and call numbers on this movie poster for Monsters University! I’m so glad you are also, as you eloquently put it, “fascinated by the way pop culture sees librarians and libraries.” I hope this post is better late than never?! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have you seen Monsters University? What were your first impressions of the 40-foot librarian? Do you love those clever call numbers as much as I do? Please comment and share!

Sources used

Revisiting the library location in ‘I Love You to Death’ (1990)

Was this library scene filmed in Tacoma?

Recently, I was reading my monthly email newsletter from my local public library, Tacoma Public Library (TPL), and I came across this very enjoyable blog post, “Mostly filmed in Tacoma.” I had forgotten that the black comedy, I Love You to Death (1990) had been filmed in Tacoma! Years ago, back in 2012, I had written a post about the public library scene in that movie, Love in the stacks in โ€˜I Love You to Deathโ€™ … perhaps I can be forgiven for forgetting about that since I wrote that post before I actually moved to Tacoma? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here’s a trailer for I Love You to Death, starring Kevin Kline, a philandering husband named Joey, and Tracey Ullman as Rosalie, his wife who tries several times to have him killed. The movie is based on a true story (!!!) and has become a cult classic.

I Love You To Death (1990) Trailer” video uploaded by madeinthe80s, Standard YouTube license

The library scene, although clocking in at only a minute long at almost 30 minutes into the movie, is a brief but pivotal one, as it’s when Rosalie discovers that Joey is cheating on her. “Caught in the act” is the name of this library scene on this DVD’s scene selections menu!

The library scene is #9, “Caught in the act”

I searched online for several different movie location sites to see if they could shed any light on where the library scene was filmed, as well as the Filming & Production page for the movie on IMDb.com. Most sites, like the Movie-Locations.com site, plus the TPL blog post, mentioned the usual suspects of filming locations from Tacoma that are recognizable in the movie, including: Bobโ€™s Java Jive, the Bostwick Building, the Elks Club Building, and the Holy Rosary Church. But no mention anywhere of a library or another location used for the library scene.

I then revisited the post I had written back in 2012 to see if I could figure out if the setting for the library scene was filmed at one of the TPL branches. This was the best screenshot I had taken back then, but it didn’t provide much to go on:

Screenshot from ‘I Love You to Death’ (1990)

I then followed up with the person who wrote the recent TPL blog post, Spencer Bowman, a librarian who works in the Main Branch’s Northwest Room, which houses local archives and historical documents. I asked Spencer if there was any more information in the Northwest Room on a possible location for the library scene in this movie.

His response was illuminating:

As for the library in I Love You to Death, judging by the windows in the image capture below I’m fairly certain the scene was shot at the Collins Library at the University of Puget Sound, not a Tacoma Public Library.

Here’s the screenshot Spencer provided:

Library scene with distinctive paned windows

And here is where you can compare-and-contrast the windows in the movie’s background with the windows in this photo of Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound [UPS].

Comparison of windows in I Love You to Death (left) and at Collins Memorial Library (right). “University of Puget Sound- Collins Memorial Library” photo on right by Washington State Library via Flickr is licensed under a CC BY NC 2.0 license.

I also checked out a DVD copy of the movie through the TPL — so meta! — and rewatched the movie myself. There were some extra details in this scene that were very interesting!

For example, the door that Rosalie enters is an older style, with studded detailing.

Door with studded detailing & Tacoma Public Library sticker on computer

And while I watched Rosalie walk toward the Circulation desk, I spotted a sticker on the side of the (hilariously) large computer monitor… and I recognized the sticker! Yep, I live in Tacoma, and I am a library card-carrying member of the Tacoma Public Library, so I recognized the TPL logo and sticker! ๐Ÿ˜€

Below is the best closeup I could get of the sticker. It’s a little blurry, but I think you can make out the words “The Tacoma Public” along the top, and then word “Library” makes the shape of an open book. Quite distinctive!

Closeup of Tacoma Public Library sticker on librarian’s computer

If this scene was indeed filmed at the Collins Memorial Library — or any other library or location other than a TPL branch — then BRAVO to the prop buyer or set decorator who found and used a TPL logo and sticker to add just that little bit extra verisimilitude to this library scene. A perfect finishing touch! ๐Ÿ˜€

However, I cannot help but point out a few niggling details that may negate the possible location being the Collins Memorial Library, including:

  • There’s no record that I can find online in which the UPS claims its moment of fame as one of the locations used in a movie that was filmed in Tacoma — not in a Spring 2010 edition of their Arches magazine, and not even in a 1990 edition of its yearbook, in which they specifically highlight I Love You to Death in its list of “Celluloid Highs” (seen below). If they were going to highlight the movie for “Tacoma get[ting] a taste of fame” in 1990, the year this movie was released, isn’t it likely that they would also take the opportunity to boast that their campus was part of that?
“Celluloid Highs” excerpt from UPS yearbook in 1990. I Love You to Death is listed at the bottom of this list!
  • And finally, I (re)visited the Collins Memorial Library — library field trip! — and this smaller window that’s visible in the screenshot below doesn’t seem to be visible along the exterior of the library building.
That smaller window in the middle of this wall is a curious architectural detail — and a sticking point to pin down this locale for the library scene!

But even taking those contradictory details into account, I do agree with Spencer Bowman, that the Collins Memorial Library is the most likely setting for this library filming location — or at least another, similar building on that same campus. The distinctive tall, paned windows — plus the heavy, ornate style of door — are common architectural details visible all over the UPS campus.

And yes, I also looked over the TPL branches — almost all of which I’ve visited in person — and the only locations that have older architectural details like the studded door and tall, paned windows (potentially the older part of the Main Branch and the Wheelock Branch locations) don’t match the configurations seen in that scene.

Could this reel library scene have also been filmed at another, non-library-related location altogether, or just on a sound stage set? Sure. (But that’s no fun!) Also, this movie made extensive and purposeful use of locations in and around Tacoma… so it just feels right that this small but pivotal scene was filmed here, as well.

Overall, this was a super enjoyable exercise to revisit this movie and this pivotal library scene. It put a smile on my face to be reminded that this movie was filmed in the city I now call home… and I felt SO happy to recognize that TPL sticker on the librarian’s computer!

Have you seen this movie? Do you know any additional details about this library scene and where it was filmed? Please leave a comment and share! And if I find out more details, we’ll revisit this reel librarian movie again! ๐Ÿ™‚

Sources used

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