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Bring Back the Funny: Humor in the Library

Jennifer Koerber

Our work is usually very serious, and we tend to take ourselves seriously, but it is sometimes advantageous to take some risks and lighten the atmosphere, which will help keep us sane and relieve the tension.  Some people may be very funny outside of work, but they are quite different in the work environment.  Jennifer Koerber, Web Services Librarian at the Boston Public Library, gave a very entertaining and informative presentation that showed some of the ways that humor can be advantageously used in libraries.

There is a line when we talk about humor.  If you come down on the far side of it, people will come after you, but if you are too close, you will just look lame.  Don’t be lame, and take risks.   If you can handle complaints, you can handle people not getting the joke.  Work with what is appropriate for your constituency and your neighborhood.  Don’t scare people off, invite them in using humor.  And if you’re going to do a joke, have a plan and be able to respond if you get feedback.

Here are some examples of humorous signs used by the Hillsdale NJ library.


You can pull the humor from context and from what happens at the moment. For example, Hillsdale had a flood and made a sign about it. (See Ben Bizzle’s earlier presentation for other examples.)  Here are other examples..

Your Smartphone is the best tool ever for bringing humor into libraries.  As you are out in the world, have your phone with you and take photos of things that strike you.  We hate writing signs that say no, so bring a bit of humor to the message.

In the digital world, we have April Fools Day website hacks.  Are we too scared to do one for libraries?  There don’t seem to be any examples available.  Outside the library, here are examples from WholeFoods,, Groupon (wrote a patent for April Fools Day), Kodak (print your own live kittens), Webex (Angry Birds to invade meetings).  Google turned all its maps, even Street View, into an 8-bit arcade option (most of us do not have the money to do this!).


404 error pages are also very appropriate for humor.

You can have fun with website pages, and it doesn’t take much effort.  See the Lawrence University library pages on Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19).  They took it all the way by just changing the text,

and even provided a translator for many of the common phrases used in the library!

You can do video hacks.  For example, the Craighead County/Jonesboro Library has a whole series of hacks done as a comedy show set in the library.

Make sure you can laugh at yourself too.  Get used to being the center of attention.  Take a risk and put yourself out there, like Jennifer has done on occasion:


Congratulations, Jennifer, on a wonderful presentation!


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