Continued from Trust Me, I’m a Touro Librarian.
If you didn’t know by now, I enjoy a good laugh. Joan Rivers was funny. George Carlin was funny. Chris Rock is even funnier, because he’s still alive. Comedians are not the only humorous people out there. There are other professionals who corner the market on giggles.
Perhaps you have heard a joke about a lawyer who works for the law firm of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe. The lawyer’s catamaran capsizes in shark infested water. As he hits the ocean, he sees the dorsal fin of a great white shark. He is terrified and fears for his life. The shark, known for its predatory ways, does not attack the lawyer, but instead cradles the lawyer in its fins and swims him to shore. Why, you may ask, did the shark not attack the attorney? Clearly, the answer is professional courtesy.
The aforementioned was a joke on a lawyer, not a joke by a lawyer. It therefore provides no evidence that attorneys are amusing. What about rabbis? Sometimes they can be very funny. Have you heard the one about the rabbi, the priest and the minister sitting in the rowboat? What about the shy and retiring accountant? He was $1 million shy, and hence, retiring. If that was a poor excuse for a joke, owe it to there being no accounting for taste. Here’s a punchline: “I don’t work for wages, I just work for tips”. Can you guess the occupation?
I decided it would be fun to write a post about librarian humor. The title would have been “A Librarian Walks into a Bar…Code.” I started to research the topic of library jokes, and discovered that librarians are none too funny. With the exception of a few knock-knock jokes, and riddles suited to six-year-olds, the world seems devoid of librarian humor. Nevertheless, librarians are encouraged to employ humor, particularly in the area of library instruction. I appreciate that a well-placed joke can win over the crowd. There is even a book or two on the topic, but, in my estimation, they are not filled with comic material. At best, they stress the importance of humor, at worst, they mock the “funny” things said by library patrons. (We always do!)
A reference course I took in library school highlighted a customer’s quip. Here it is. An exasperated graduate student approaches her science librarian. “I can’t find this item and I’ve looked everywhere. My adviser told me to read a book called Oranges and Peaches. It’s a classic in the field of biology, by a Dr. Charles. You don’t have it. What kind of lousy library is this?” The librarian, who heard it all before, deciphers the request. She inquires whether the book is about evolution, and when the answer is affirmative, she directs the reader to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species. Ha, ha!
Seriously? This sounds like a joke to me. I found the Oranges and Peaches saga repeated in no fewer than eight sources. (See references below.) The earliest citation I could find dates to 1972. It was reiterated in a NY Times article, and from there I imagine it was widely restated with the lightning speed of a salacious rumor. You would think On the Origin of the Species is currently topping the bestseller list, because it seems that every librarian under the sun has had a request for it. (At Touro, we have at least eight hard copies of it outright, more still in Darwin compilations, and even some copies as eBooks. As far as I know, they don’t circulate like gangbusters, and no one has ever asked me for it.) Oranges and Peaches is the librarian’s urban legend, and having the patron always appear clueless strikes me as mean spirited. It would be more equitable if librarians poked fun at themselves once in a while. So I will.
A student walks into a library and requests a book about the Bay of Pigs. The librarian, unfamiliar with the subject matter, replies “This is not an agricultural college. We do not own any material on animal husbandry.” How about this one? Una the Uninformed Librarian is asked for information on the Franco-Prussian War. She informs the patron that the library does not have it, because she is convinced it concerns a dispute between Mila Kunis and James Franco. Ha, ha.
Contributed by: Carol Schapiro, Librarian, Midtown Library
Cole, W. (1973). Turnstiles in the library? In W. A. Katz & J. Klaessig (Eds.), Library lit. 3 – the best of 1972 (pp. 26-32). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
Dewdney, P., & Michell, G. (1996). Oranges and peaches: understanding communication accidents in the reference interview. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 35(4), 520-536. Retrieved from Academic OneFile database. (Accession No. GALE|A18680106)
Richardson, L. (1992, February 13). At library, no inquiry too odd. New York Times, sec. B, p. 11. Retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newspapers database. (Accession No. 01642494)
Ross, C. S., Nilsen, K., & Dewdney, P. (2002). Conducting an effective reference interview. In Conducting the reference interview: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians (p. 27). New York: Neal-Schuman.
Smith, F. W. (2005). Access answers: A digest of listservs of interest to access services. Journal of Access Services, 3(4), 91-95. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J204v03n04_09
Smith, J. (2011). Librarian 2011: Using basic library science techniques to manage technology requests. Law Library Lights, 54(3), 12-13. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2085&context=fac_pubs
Smith, J. C. (2012). The laughing librarian: A history of American library humor. Jefferson, NC: Mcfarland.
Walshe, E. C. (2010). Conducting research in honors. Honors in Practice, 6, 17-56. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nchchip/126/