The Librarians and the Rule of Three

IMDB : aired January 11, 2014 : previous episode 
John Rogers (executive producer) answers questions about this episode
index and explanation of these posts


Science fairs are complicated places. Especially when you have both technology and magic at play.


There are a lot of things I love in this episode, but one of them is pointing out how different kinds of knowledge, different skills, have different benefits. I think you see that both with the exhibits themselves, and with the different ways the characters react to what’s going on.

Also fascinating: the reactions of ‘smartest person in the room’ (Cassandra) versus people who try to hide their intelligence from those around them (Stone) versus ‘using intelligence for not-academically-approved purposes’ (Jones)). And then various other characters in the episode and how people see the hierarchies of skill and talent and hard work.

The scene with Dashell and Stone in the chemistry lab makes me think a great deal about education and the role of education, and adults. And about how – well, when it’s done right – we give models for people who are learning about themselves, what they want to be like. And how one of those skills is “How to fit in, when you want, without losing who you are.”

It’s a hard skill. Librarians don’t have a monopoly on getting it right, but I think sometimes we have a slightly easier time, because when we listen to the stories we hear, when we listen to the questions the people we’re talking with are asking, they’re telling us about themselves and what they care about, and we can either reinforce that (and I try to!) or we can smack that down, make someone feel like they shouldn’t have asked.

(I suspect it’s also why so many people have ‘I had a bad experience with a librarian’ stories, because when those conversations go wrong, when we’ve opened up to someone about something we’re nervous about, and it goes badly, we feel it so much more than most of us do with a chemistry teacher or a language teacher or whatever. We might if that’s a teacher we really care about, but we don’t let ourselves be as vulnerable there, and libraries and research and reaching for knowledge often open us more and make us more raw about our emotions than other classes, other academic settings.)

Now that I’ve said that, it’s a lot more reason to keep getting it right, all the times we can.

Also, I want icons and gifs with “You wanted another adjective” because yes, oh, I have been there. (And I bet a lot of people reading this have too.) I also love Cassandra’s honesty here, that it wasn’t magically better after high school.


Russian. The cards are the lanthanoids (15 elements of the periodic table beginning with lanthanum).

Science fairs are indeed a thing, though not usually quite like that. Here, have some info about the real world Chicago Public School ones to get a sense of the thing.

Robots. Semiconductors. Virtual reality. Baking soda volcano.

Enhydra lutris is the sea otter. We’ll come back to the sea otters. Multistage ultraviolet treatment with hybrid silicon nitrate materials in water filtration (see also here for more background). Molecular cloning. Extremal combinatorics. Nonradioactive isotopes.

The toy is a Newton’s cradle. (And again, I am reminded of the quote about Newton I quoted in one of the pilot annotations, where John Maynard Keynes apparently said “Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians” (see over here for more.))

Free will. (Incidentally, go compare this to other statements that Jenkins has made about choice, for example the tail end of  The Librarians and the Apple of Discord.)

Coven. (People have misconceptions about the origin of the term) Also, I really sort of adore this scene, and the way your expectations get turned on their heads.

It is hard to identify bugs in this next bit, but the traditional guess would be locusts.

Rule of three. (Also a number of other variants.)

She walks in beauty like the night” (click for the full poem)  is by Lord Byron. Romantic poetry (era, not content). Gothic literature.

MIT. Dartmouth (for people not up on their US major educational institutions.)

Algorithms. (Vertical compliance is a real term in several engineering fields including phonograph records and bicycles, but not like Jones is using it.)

Monkey’s paw.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is from Arthur C. Clarke (did you know it’s the third of three laws he proposed at various points? Law in the scientific sense, not the legal one.)

Morgan le Fay. (Pretty much any Arthurian character has a complicated and multi-layered history. Her’s is more so than most.) Galeas is a name sometimes used for Galahad. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, most relevant his Idylls of the KingI adore that she’s wearing green (see here in specific).

(I suspect I am going to apply one of my undergrad majors (Medieval and Renaissance Studies, including a class on Arthurian Literature) to a larger analysis and explanation of Arthuriana at some point, but not this week.)

Faraday cage. Pentagrams have a very long tradition as a symbol of protection, in a variety of cultures from ancient Greece to medieval Christianity to modern Neo-Paganism (Gawain’s shield, in Arthurian legend, is often depicted as having a pentagram.)

There are many symbols on the table. You might find the info on alchemical symbols, sigils, and astrological symbols helpful.

Tachymeter. Sea otters (this apparently came out of a running thing in the writer’s room.)

Fay lands. Mirror lands has been used in a variety of sources to describe something like going through the Looking Glass in Alice of Wonderland: a world like ours, only not.

Noli timere malum, sed time heroa. (As Jenkins translates later: Do not fear (the) evil (one), but fear the hero.)

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1 comment to The Librarians and the Rule of Three

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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