Librarians are smart cookies. Most smart people I've known have been pretty funny too. So, why are so many librarians not funny? I don't just mean that their sense of humor is different or odd, I mean just plain not funny? Is there something about library work that does not appeal to the smart and funny? I think yes, absolutely, of course, sure bet, and hell yes!
Libraries have difficulty trying new things, changing anything, and generally coming up with creative solutions to problems. I know this is a pretty broad statement, but judging from the number of tweets, posts, papers, and conference sessions on this topic I think I'll stand by it. I know that there are many very funny librarians, and that there are just as many libraries where change and creativity are welcome. The problem is that the combination of factors that bring smart, funny people to a profession often aren't welcome in the library world. This means that the people we get are people who already want to do the work. Therefore the funny one's are those who want to do the work and also happen to be funny.
Yes, I can hear you all saying, "But is it a bad thing to only attract people who want to do the work when there are already too many people out there getting their MLS?" My answer is yes. Being unfunny is just as much an ingrained part of library culture as preserving the cultural heritage for the posterity of human kind, which is not really knee-slapping stuff. One big problem that libraries run into is that the world is changing and we need creative solutions, but we've already been passed over as profession by so many creative people or due to our typical librarian/patron interactions creative people don't see libraries as a viable place to spend their working life.
Perhaps I need to step back a little and say you're right, that the problem with libraries may not be that there isn't enough humor. The issue is, most likely, that there is too much anti-humor. Yes, there are people who don't want humor associated in any way, shape, or form with libraries and the work we do. We've all seen these people on Facebook or Twitter chastising others for using funny pictures, jokes, or other modes of humorous expression in a professional setting. I've even heard about a conference committee member who would not approve any session with a pun, joke, or anything not 100% serious in the title of the program. I constantly hear comments and see tweets like the one below from librarian Jason Vance about his article "Staplercide!" in C&RL News, which is about his project The Lives and Deaths of Academic Library Staplers.
My stapler article has generated lots of notes and emails. The best: "The title of your recent article in C&RL News makes me want to puke!"
— Jason Vance (@jvance) December 5, 2013
Puke! Someone was so outraged by a librarian not taking everything 100% seriously that they wanted to puke. Have you ever found something so unprofessional it made you want to puke? I've seen things and thought maybe, "That's a bad idea." or, "Wow, I wouldn't do that." but I've never felt the urge to upchuck on my Converse.
So, in the end, this turns into another post about how libraries need to be more open. In this case, though, I think we need a very specific kind of openness. Creative people need an open environment to be able to explore, experiment, and thrive. Humor is one place where libraries are not very open, so it could be a good place to start. I understand that we're not going to change the entire culture of libraries with a few jokes. Maybe, though, if we begin to let a little laughter through the cracks in the doors to the staff only area of the library we'll bring in a few more of the people libraries need for the future. Perhaps, then, those folks will tell their friends who are smart and creative-types about the awesome libraries they work in and the amazing librarians they work with. Overall libraries need to be more open and funny--our lives could depend on it.