Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


We all use Numb3rs every day

This morning on YALSA-BK, a member asked the collective brain for help in finding YA fiction involving math. Since I've been planning a Numb3rs post for a while anyway, I thought this would be the perfect time to write it.

When forced to balance my checkbook or calculate how much that purse is when it's marked "33% off," you can find me quoting Melissa: "I became a librarian because I was told there was no math." And day to day, most of that's true, at least as far as my job is concerned. The Dewey Decimal Classification system is about labels, not sums. Most of the math I use goes into figuring which books have the best chance at the Printz based on their number of starred reviews and the number of starred reviews past winners and honor books have received. I may not be good with numbers but I do love police procedural television dramas (much of the father-daughter bonding at my parents' home involved episodes of Law & Order) and the promise of a smart, interesting police procedural led by a talented cast hooked me. On Friday nights at 10, you can now find me watching
Numb3rs on CBS.

The show's main characters are Don Eppes
(Rob Morrow), an FBI agent, and his younger brother Charlie (David Krumholtz), a mathematician. They often work together to solve crimes. The best thing about the show, plot and writing wise, is the writers' ability to distill incredibly complex math into terms people like me who can barely add and subtract can understand. And to keep those of us that can't add or subtract watching the show, there's a wonderful ongoing storyline about the brothers' relationship and how their incredibly dissimilar and often estranged past affects their work in the present. Other regular cast members include Diane Farr as Megan Reeves, an FBI profiler and behavioral specialist, Alimi Ballard as David Sinclair, an FBI agent, Navi Rawat as math professor Amita Ramanujan, Judd Hirsch as retired architect and city planner Alan Eppes and Peter MacNicol as physics professor Larry Fleinhardt, who is Charlie's mentor. Every week the team solves crimes, often with the assistance of Charlie's math but while they usually catch the bad guy, math can't always account for human nature. Three seasons in, viewers have seen the team solve crimes using combinatorics, sabremetrics, probability, game theory, and many other higher math disciplines.

We All Use Math Every Day is a Numb3rs spinoff project of Texas Instruments and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. For every episode of Numb3rs, they devise a math lesson plan. As an example, the episode "Money for Nothing" involves the hijacking of a truck carrying 50 million dollars in medical supplies and relief. Don's team is able to apprehend two of the hijackers, but they don't know anything about the people who were transporting the supplies or the location of the truck. Don also doesn't know if the robbers will tell him the truth about what happened. Charlie advises Don to employ strategies that people use to solve logic puzzles. Teachers can download the Money for Nothing activities (available in English and Spanish) and apply the techniques Charlie talks about to different logic puzzles.

Some of the books people are recommending on YALSA-BK that fit with the math theme include:

Currently, seasons one and two of Numb3rs are available on DVD and season 3 is due for DVD release on September 25th. The fourth season begins September 28th. If you have patrons who love shows like NCIS, CSI, or Without A Trace, recommend this series. The evidence shows a 95% probability they'll enjoy it.

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  • At 2:35 PM, Blogger HCPL Techincal Trainer said…

    I am glad that PGTL has recognized numb3rs for the high quality of its writing and folding of interesting and sometimes complex math into the plotlines each and every week.

    And as a trainer, I also love watching how Charlie and the other "math geeks" use adult learning theory to relate math equations to everyday life and to the FBI cases.

    It also makes me feel less guilty about being home at 10 on a Friday night.


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