Book Review: Entertainment Labor: An Interdisciplinary Bibliography

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Entertainment Labor:  An Interdisciplinary Bibliography, by Jonathan Handel. Hollywood Analytics, 2013, 345 pages. Paperback, $95.00

Entertainment Labor: An Interdisciplinary Bibliography has something for everyone, but it is just that inclusiveness or comprehensiveness that could undermine the overall usefulness of the text. The book began as a compilation of sources Mr. Handel could refer to or choose as readings for his entertainment unions and guilds class for which he was an adjunct at UCLA School of Law. According to the introduction, “The bibliography grew and grew, and before long it became a project of its own.” Yet, because there is something for everyone in the book, it is hard to determine the intended audience or really latch on to a “best use” to which the book could be put.

The core of Entertainment Labor is an extensive collection of books and articles that address labor unions in the entertainment field. These books and articles are divided into chapters by subjects including Social Science Books, Selected Biographies (focused on notable individuals, like Ronald Reagan, who were heavily involved with entertainment unions like the Screen Actors Guild), Theses and Dissertations, Legal Books, and Legal Articles and Reports. Readers of Entertainment Labor may find the following helpful, depending on their very specific research needs:

  • The chapter Legal Articles and Reports is lengthy (approximately 40 pages) and would be handy for anyone conducting a preemption check before writing a new article on the union system.
  • The chapters Selected Biographies, Books About the Blacklist, Books about Depiction of Labor and Class, and Social Science Books would be handy if you’re building a historical picture of the relationship between unions and the entertainment industry.
  • Those negotiating against or on behalf of entertainment labor unions may appreciate chapter 16, Union and Guild Materials; chapter 9, Practical Books; and chapter 23, Union and Management Websites. Each of these chapters is very useful for someone unfamiliar with the entertainment labor union system looking for a bird’s-eye view.
  • Looking to leave library life behind? Check out the second half of Practical Books (Chapter 9) for texts on careers in the film industry.

Other chapters, however (particularly those that are only a page or two long), may become lost in the comprehensiveness of the rest of the chapters. For example, University Classes lists classes offered on labor unions in the entertainment industry. Software lists a couple of programs one could use to account for royalties and other earnings. Government Agencies lists four agencies (without providing contact information) that may make decisions affecting entertainment workers. It’s not that these brief chapters aren’t handy, but they seem a bit sparse compared to the other chapters.

Notable features described on the back book cover are quite useful for the most part: brief annotations, descriptions of legal cases, pinpoint pages and chapters, URLs, and a detailed chapter on materials available directly from unions and guilds. However, I found the 90-page index a bit incongruous and lacking in contextual clues. For example, WGA and Writers Guild of America are separate index terms, though they refer to the same subject. (The two terms do cross reference each other, however.) Also, there are no sub-terms to organize the material for the reader. The lawsuit Stone v. Writers Guild of America, West, is indexed three ways: under Stone v. Writers Guild of America, West; Writers Guild of America, West, Stone v.; and Writers Guild of America. Any dates used in the text are separate index terms (e.g., 1911, 1920–1960s, 1939–1953). Consequently, while the index is wildly thorough, it is not necessarily a tool one could use to get a sense of the material in the book.

Those issues aside, it is helpful that Mr. Handel has indexed his annotations. That indexing served as a handy cross reference among the various works. For example, if one looked up Aaron Spelling Productions, Inc. v. Society of Composers and Lyricists in the index, one would see the page on which the case is discussed (page 184) as well as the pages on which other works discussing the Aaron Spelling case appear. In effect, the index provides select secondary sources to refer to when reading about a particular case.

For any librarian looking for a comprehensive, very specific work on resources regarding guilds and unions in the entertainment industry, Entertainment Labor:  An Interdisciplinary Bibliography, could meet your needs...and perhaps even those needs you never knew you had until you've seen the unique scope of this work.

Ingrid Mattson is a Reference Librarian at Moritz Law Library, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University. She taught Media Law and Ethics to film students for five years prior to becoming a librarian.

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