Librarians are regarded as figures of fun by society as a whole. Or rather should that be easy targets of derision for cliché minded comedians and writers. We all know the archetypes of the stereotypical librarian – prim and easily shocked, or likewise sexy and dynamic, but hidden behind glass, comfortable shoes and a 1950’s hair-do. Yes, these are the tropes we see played for cheap laughs time and again in film, television and related media (c.f. Ghostbusters, Attack of the Clones, The Mummy etc). But that’s not what I’m thinking about right now.
I’m thinking about how vital it is for librarians to have an innate sense of humour about themselves and their profession as a whole. Call it a natural defense against the slings and arrows of outrageous media fortunes if you like, call it rising above puerile mudslinging if you prefer; but whatever you do as a librarian make sure you do it with a wry smile.
I’ve been teaching workshops over the last couple of years advocating the importance of humour as a communication and education tool. It sweetens the pill, it makes the audience more receptive and it can even be used to illustrative tricky or controversial topics. It’s the number one weapon in my professional arsenal, even if i know sometimes it’ll be a dud and not a delight when I use it. But do you know what, I don’t let this bother me.
Why? Because I have a sense of humour about everything I do. If a session goes disastrously wrong (and they do, let’s be honest) I don’t rage, I don’t fume, I don’t kick the cat. I roll my eyes, and laugh at the situation. Though I usually wait until the audience has left, as they might be quick to call the men in the white coats to come collect me.
Sadly, if you read most of the librarian literature, or listen to the great (and the not so great) speak on the profession, you’ll hear words like “Crisis”, “Challenge”, “Professionalism” and the like bandied around. Honestly, every time another speaker gets up and in grave tones explains about the problems and issues that the profession faces, or the struggles they’ve personally faced in their quest for unquestioned excellence; I just want to tell them “Hey, lighten up!”
Humour builds relationships, it protects one’s psyche and generally makes one a much more likable person. When a speaker makes me laugh, I want to talk to them more, find out what makes them tick and learn more about whatever they were actually talking about. When they drone on about professional issues without a single hint of self-mocking I generally avoid them like the plague.
So next time you catch me smirking in the middle of one of your conference presentations, don’t take offence. On the contrary rejoice – you’ve tickled my funny bone, captured my attention and imagination.
And I’m 10 times more likely to buy you a drink later. And if you don’t want to take my word for it…