What’s so funny about your library? Hopefully humor happens throughout your practically perfect library. When I was choosing a blog title, I considered two ideas (“2Dark2Read” and “Outside a Dog”) based upon the quote attributed to Groucho Marx, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
In many ways that quote reflects my quirky sense of humor, love of reading, and love of dogs. I use humor to survive the four teenage boys in my house or I’d be crying every time I looked at that day’s grocery bill and the empty cupboards. Ever watched all your groceries disappear on the way in from the car? I use humor in my library. Ever spent hours setting up displays of new books then turn around after the first two classes to find every title is gone?
Anyone who thinks librarians don’t have a sense of humor hasn’t checked us out lately! If you can’t laugh at yourself, you shouldn’t be working with children, let alone administrators, legislators, and teachers! Try to build a collection with only $7.50 per child and meet everyone’s needs. Some school districts in my state provide $0 per child to purchase books. That’s laughable and lamentable. Still, when you visit those schools, they have active programs and excited learners. Laughter defeats trouble or at least helps us get through the tough times.
Despite all the good we do, look at how the media views school librarians – dull, quiet, standoffish, prudish, overly concerned with conventions. The recent discussion of censorship vs. selection arose not simply because of the use of anatomically correct verbiage (scrotum) in The Higher Power of Lucky, but also in consideration of whether the book and the intended reader were a perfect match. The press would have you picture in your mind a cartoonish version of librarians battling each other with one group carrying a flag of “Protect/Select for your community” and the other group waving “Protect Intellectual Freedom.” Through all the discussions in our blogs, our e-lists, LM_NET, and in print, the seriousness of the issue of selection vs. censorship intermingles with a sense of the absurd.
Instead of focusing on single words and phrases that can be twisted out of context, I think we should be looking at the issue of how to match resources and readers. Our current OPAC’s are not good enough to help us match our readers with their perfect books. Interest in social tagging and folksonomies is high because standardized terms alone don’t suffice. I expect to find students typing “scrotum” to locate the Newbery winner because that’s the part everyone is talking about in the press.
They won’t be able to find it using my OPAC (I tried), but they will be able to search Amazon.com and LibraryThing.com I checked Amazon and the title was 1st on the list. On a whim I added the tag of “scrotum” to my copy in LibraryThing and checked to see if there were other similar titles (none so far). I’ll probably go edit it back out, but I did savor the moment of power that I anticipate my students will feel if they ever gain the ability to add tags to their favorite books in our library. As soon as ten people add that tag to the book in LibraryThing, it will show up for everyone. I don't think that is necessarily a good thing!
Where did "funny" go?
Take an example of another mismatch between resources and readers that happened today. Four students asked for “funny books.” One of them even told me she searched the OPAC and our library only has eight funny books. She’s right. I watched her type in “funny” and only eight matches were found. Six of those weren’t even funny. I suggested she try “humorous” and she found 250 titles lumped together ranging from Dr. Seuss to Junie B. Jones. Those books would take 3 hours to locate, then time to evaluate whether the book actually was funny or not.
Fortunately, in our practically paradisiacal library, we have a highly efficient tool – the librarian – who was able to question more deeply the type of humor desired and was able to recall 5 different authors who might better meet the students’ needs. If you're put on the spot, how many types of funny books can you find?
While we were discussing this, one of the patrons suggested we add words to the OPAC and some type of ranking system for the degree of funniness. Can you picture this? What other rankings would you include? Degree of scariness? Maturity levels needed for comprehending the social consciousness of an issue?