Librarians Have a Sense of Humor

Written By: Mary Dudman, Soutron Global Training Services Manager, MLS

Librarians and library staff have quite a sense of humor!  They even have their own genre of library humor, stories and events.  Anyone who has ever worked in a library knows a few good stories!

If a library’s lost and found could talk, it would certainly give you an earful.  Staff often find strange things on bookshelves, ranging from typical food and beverage items to lost mittens and stationery supplies.  You can even find cellphones and a few bizarre items.  Let your imagination run wild!

Reference librarians encounter a repertoire of interesting, strange, startling, and bizarre requests.  Patrons ask some very interesting questions and the Internet isn’t helping.   Yet patrons aren’t the only ones making unusual requests – even library administrators make odd requests or tasks.

Those tasks sometimes fall into the category of “They never taught us this in Library School or told us we’d be doing this as part of the job in the library.”  Here are a few examples of some real comical, but true, requests:

  • Can you set off the fire alarm with paper?Testing the fire alarm system by waving fringed paper on the end of a broomstick to see if it sets off the alarms. Seems they thought the wavy fringed papers could be like a plume of smoke.
  • Going to the 24-hour library in the middle of the night to remove a large fish head from the elevator. Who knows where that came from!?
  • Polishing the wooden handrails and counters before a critical visit by an accrediting organization or board member. Make sure it all gleams! Keep that Pledge handy!
  • Taking and maintaining an inventory of artwork on all walls of the library. Count ‘em and remember that Art Appreciation course you took so long ago!
  • Cleaning dust and mold off books with a mask, gloves, and Lysol spray. “Ahh-choo!!” Wear grungy clothes to help absorb the dirt, but keep in mind that the special board member or donor is coming by to see you today, so be ready for that too!
  • Shelf reading the book collection. (Oh boy, it’s fun to get down to those bottom shelves near the floor and read those spine labels because it’s so dignified!)
  • Weeding out the BooksWeeding the collection. And make sure when you discard those books, nobody is out there in the designated dumpster saying “Oh no! Why are they throwing this out?  I’m bringing it back to the librarian right now!”
  • Graciously accepting donated books and materials – even though you know those old tax books are useless and those old medical books are just plain dangerous!
  • Spreading plastic sheets all over the place to protect books from falling debris due to ceiling tile removal or pipe leaks. (Use your construction skills and lots of tape!)

For a history of “library humor,” go to the American Library Association Archives. The archives contain historical funnies from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. These funnies were regular parts of American Libraries magazine.

The University of Illinois has also archived a collection of cartoons from library humorist, Richard Lee. Many of his creations were also published in the American Libraries magazine. You can get started chuckling here at this post.