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Funny Things People Say in Libraries

A librarian through and through, Virginia Allain writes about book topics, researching, and information for library users and librarians.

Shelving in the Wakefield Library in New Hampshire.

Shelving in the Wakefield Library in New Hampshire.

Librarians Treasure the Amazing Things People Say

I don't want to make you paranoid about talking to librarians, but sometimes we had a good laugh about something a library user said to us. Librarians love their library patrons and sincerely want to help them.

Funny situations do happen or someone says something without thinking it through. Here are the resulting humorous things people say in libraries. I hope you get a laugh or two from them (quietly, of course).

If you have a funny library story to tell, continue down to the guestbook at the very end. I'd love to hear it.

The Library Tour

One day while giving a group of students a tour of the library, I led the class down the hallway past the staff room. The door was open and several library staff members were taking their lunch break. One was heating something on the stove and several others were eating at the table.

Gazing in at this domestic scene, one young student asked,

Where do the librarians sleep?

Understanding the library's new security system is difficult for some people.

Understanding the library's new security system is difficult for some people.

Grown-Ups Say Funny Things Too

Another true library story

The library, where I worked in Maryland, installed a new security system for the books. Each book had a security device attached. The device would set off the security gate's alarm at the library's exit doors, if someone tried to sneak a book out without checking it out. This is similar to the security attachments and gates at many shopping malls.

A sign at the checkout desk informed library users of this new security feature. One library patron seemed puzzled by how the device would work. She asked,

Will it start beeping when my books are overdue?

Mouse in the Library

We had evidence of mice in the library kitchen where I worked in Reisterstown, Maryland. It had been nibbling the staff lunches. Finally, one got caught by its leg in the old-fashioned snap trap that the janitor placed under the sink.

No one could figure out what to do with the injured mouse. The simple solution would have been to drop the trap with the mouse into a bucket of water. Perhaps all the cute mice stories that we used for storytimes kept them from this easy solution.

When I arrived at work, I saw the branch manager putting an open box into her car. I asked if she was going to a meeting. "No," she said, "I'm taking this mouse to the vet." I think the unfortunate mouse was put to sleep and out of its misery by the vet, who probably had a good laugh about how soft-hearted librarians are.

YouTube Thinks Librarians Are Funny Too

Thinking of a Library Career?

Many people think a library is such a nice place to work that librarians should volunteer their time. In fact, librarians in university libraries or public libraries are required to have a Master's Degree in Library Services. Usually the check-out staff are clerical positions and some very small or underfunded libraries hire para-professionals in place of librarians.

A random remark by a library user, brought this misconception home to me. The Library Director told several staff members that the paychecks were ready for pick up in the office. The library patron, overheard the remark and in an amazed tone, said....

You mean you get paid to work here?

Should Libraries Arrange Their Books by Color? - Enjoy these short videoes of animated bookshelves

If I only had a bookshelf like this and the books would rearrange themselves by colors. Sometimes people struggled to remember a book title or the author. Oddly enough, they would remember the color of the book's binding, but not the other essential information.

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At times library patrons complained about books being on the wrong place on the shelf. I suspect while the library is closed, the books all move around like the ones in these videos. Some don't make it back to their correct spot before the library opens in the morning.

I can't remember the title, but it had a red cover.

Library Bookshelves Rearranging Themselves

If you like humor and libraries, take a look at these fun sites I found. Laughter is the best medicine, they say.

  • Funny Library Stories - Book lovers need never go to bed alone. Funny Things Found in Returned Books Library Book Returned: 99 Years Late Library that lets you take out people (go to the site to read more library humor).
  • Library Humour - International Federation of Library Associations' collection of library humor.
  • The Merry Librarian - True stories from a library near you.

More Librarian Humor - Tax Money for Books

I never did this, but I always wanted to do it. I'll set the scene:

The library patron, with book in hand, indignantly approaches the information desk. "This book is a disgrace, and I can't believe the library has it." The librarian makes soothing sounds and takes a quick look at the offending book. The upset reader continues her tirade, "I don't want my tax money going for filth like this." After explaining the concept of intellectual freedom and that the library stocks books for all tastes, the librarian gives up on getting the irate woman to understand why the book won't be removed from the shelves. Handing the woman 25 cents, the librarian says,

OK, here's your tax money back.

Oh oh, evil alcohol in the library.

Oh oh, evil alcohol in the library.

The Case of the Missing Magazine Ads

The first library I worked in had a problem with sections being scissored out of magazines. Staff kept an eye on patrons in the magazine area hoping to catch the culprit, but the problem persisted. It seemed to be advertisements that were missing, not articles or recipes.

We were really surprised when the janitor told a staff member that he was removing the alcohol and cigarette ads from the magazines because he disapproved of those.

More Library Humor and Jokes

Did I Make You Laugh

Closing Time at the Library

We locked someone inside the library once when we closed for the night. The usual procedure was to blink the lights at a quarter to closing time so people would have time to check out their books. Then we went around making sure the stacks and the reading areas were empty.

This time, we missed someone. It was before the time of cell phones. They couldn't figure out how to call for help, as you had to dial 9 for an outside line. Finally, they were rescued by tapping on a window to catch the attention of someone walking by.

Mr. Bean at the Library - Funny library video from YouTube

Sex Books in the Library Booksale

The president of my Friends of the Library group showed me several donated books. "Why do people give these to us," she complained. I glanced at them and one was a sexy novel and the other a sex manual. I wondered what her concern was.

"I can't put these in the book sale," she said. "What would people think if they saw them there?"

Puzzled, I asked what she intended to do with them. "I'll just put them in my garage with the other donated sex books," she replied. I imagine in her years of volunteering with the library booksale she has accumulated quite a stack of these.

When you die, what will your children think when they find your garage filled with books about sex?

The library book sale had some funny stories occur there.

The library book sale had some funny stories occur there.

Large Sale of Used Books

The Friends of the Library volunteers kept our library used bookstore stocked and helped customers find books there. One day, a puzzled volunteer asked me to help a buyer.

He wanted to buy ten shelves of books and was requesting special pricing for his bulk buy. It seemed that he didn't care what books were on those shelves, he just wanted a big batch of books at a very cheap price.

Being curious, I asked why he wanted such a large batch of books. Most people carefully select one or two or even an armload of books, not a random selection of hundreds.

He told me that he was going through a divorce and the judge was awarding his wife one half of everything he had. Knowing that his wife, soon to be ex-wife, didn't give a hoot about the books but would still take half of his carefully accumulated collection, he came up with a plan.

She would get half the books, but not his precious ones. She would get the assorted books from the library bookstore. The judge's order would be met, the disgruntled wife would have the satisfaction of carrying away half of her husband's collection, and the husband would preserve his collection.

Of course, the library was happy to make a big sale, so it worked out fine for everyone.

I Want to Buy These Books

I worked for ten years at a library in an area of Texas with a heavily Hispanic population. Many people spoke Spanish as their first language and English as a second language.

Once in a while, this led to confusion on what the role of the library was. We had a big sign outside saying LIBRARY, but in Spanish, the word "la librería" meant bookstore. It was easy to see why sometimes people would select a stack of books and try to pay for them. The Spanish word for a library was la biblioteca.

Visitors for This Web Page Come from Many Places

People everywhere appreciate a funny library story.

People everywhere appreciate a funny library story.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Virginia Allain

You must have a funny library story to share... - so go ahead and tell us about it here

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 26, 2014:

Those are some cute stories that you have collected. You could undoubtedly write many more! I am old enough to remember when we located books by using the Dewey Decimal system. Times have certainly changed! I have donated many books to our local library and no one would have to hide them in their garage. Ha!

Shorebirdie from San Diego, CA on November 20, 2014:

I work in a library, too. A lot of people are amazed that librarians are required to have a master's degree. They don't realize the complexity of the job. They also think it's always quiet and we have little stress and read books all day. We have to deal with a lot of issues with the public that many people don't know about and it can be stressful.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on November 19, 2014:

Thanks for the chuckles. Who knew that life as a librarian was so hilarious.

Fay Favored from USA on November 19, 2014:

Have to admit this made me smile. I think of you when I go to the library and all the things I've learned from your articles. This one is a keeper! So really ... they do pay people to work there? :)

gottaloveit2 on November 16, 2014:

I had a mouse with one leg caught in a trap - caught just his toe. I decided that, since he'd already cheated death that I'd let him go outside. The next morning, there he was - dead - in the trap again. I guess the lure of peanut butter was just too much for him.

Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on November 05, 2014:

Thanks for the giggles. Loved the stories. One of my favorite people in the world was the high school librarian. She knew her students so well that she maintained mental lists of books they'd like. She's the one who recommended Gene Stratton Porter books to me.

Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on October 17, 2014:

I enjoyed this article very much. The human thought process or lack of can be so entertaining in a library it appears! And, by the way, WHERE DO those librarians sleep? :)

Donna Cook on April 05, 2014:

Terrific lens! I envision Donald Duck's nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) inventing the Dewey Decimal System.

Cheryl Fay Mikesell from Mondovi, WI on March 27, 2014:

I use to work in a Library. This is great!

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on March 27, 2014:

@kimberlyschimmel: What a great idea, though some book jackets have a variety of colors, so there could be a multi-colored category.

Kimberly Schimmel from Greensboro, NC on March 27, 2014:

I have often thought we should add a "color of cover" to the MARC records because so often that color is what people remember rather than the author or even a fragment of the title!

norma-holt on June 01, 2013:

Had a good laugh with some of these stories. You must have had some great times in the libraries, Virginia, and thanks for sharing with us.

Rosetta Slone from Under a coconut tree on April 19, 2013:

I love the mouse story!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 17, 2013:

The Librarian who shushed me hard in the library became later in life one of my friends. I had her child in school.

Othercatt on March 17, 2013:

The story about the mouse reminded me of the first time I hit an animal with my car. I accidentally struck a rabbit and was so mortified, I rushed it to the vet. Even though I'm sure the rabbit was dead when we arrived, the old country vet put on a good show before declaring there was nothing he could do. lol

Rose Jones on February 21, 2013:

Oh, and the image of the mouse in the bucket of water is one I could have done without. I wonder what the vet did with the mouse, probably just a little ether.

Rose Jones on February 21, 2013:

All I remember is the most fun job I had ever - working in the periodicals department in the University library where I worked. Perhaps I had less of a work ethic than I do now, I remember being told : "Rose has a real social life at work." I love to have a social life where I work now, but unfortunately it is more serious. I love libraries and librarians.

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on December 29, 2012:

@RhondaAlbom: If you think of that story later, stop back and share it. I'd love to hear it.

Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on December 28, 2012:

I would imagine I have a funny library story, but I can't think of it now. I did love yours. My favorite being: âWill it start beeping when my books are overdue?â Thanks for the giggles. Blessed

alphatraduk on November 26, 2012:

I like the "I can't remember the title but it had a red cover" Lol it's great when you work with the general public, they do say some funny things lol! Great lens thanx :)

Paul from Liverpool, England on October 28, 2012:

@hntrssthmpsn: "I think it was set in the US. Or Europe."

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on October 07, 2012:

I cannot believe that someone took the time to film the book shelf video - what a job that must have been. Gosh it has been years since I was at the library.

anonymous on September 28, 2012:

@Mickie Gee: During my first year after getting my MLS, I worked in a little town near a hospital. I got a call: "I'm a nurse with the 'Transitional Care Unit' of _____ Hospital. Someone just donated an organ to us. We don't really know what kind of organ it is, but there's a key missing, and we think it needs tuning."

Once I heard the word "organ," my mind went immediately to: How could they not know what kind of organ it was? They're medical professionals! Someone donated it - did they at least put it in one of those little Igloo coolers on ice? Wait... wait... she said it needed tuning... Oh... THAT kind of organ.

anonymous on September 23, 2012:

@anonymous: Old people crack me up! Sure wish I could have been there to field that question...

TeacherSerenia on September 20, 2012:

@anonymous: OMG I cant stop giggling over that one. It's Hilarious!!!!

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on September 19, 2012:

@grahamcox lm: Not to worry, librarians need a goofy question now and then to brighten their day.

grahamcox lm on September 19, 2012:

Fantastic lens! I feel bad about asking stupid questions in my library as a kid now

Spiderwebs on September 09, 2012:

Oh, I could go all day! A little girl was at the desk with her father, and she was singing something to herself -- turned out it was the word "pachycephalosaurus" over and over again, set to a tune. Never did get an explanation of that one, though I commend her on her choice of dinosaur.

Another time I heard a mom at the self-checks admonishing, "No, we don't *ever* stand on books!" Some sound advice there. :D

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on September 05, 2012:

@Frischy: The little library that I go to in New Hampshire has a taxidermy coyote one section. I admit that I don't like getting books in that one corner just because of that dead animal.

Frischy from Kentucky, USA on September 05, 2012:

My daughter was a young 3rd grader when she started at the school for the blind. One evening she was playing in our basement family room where I have several bookcases full of books. She said to me, "Mom, you should start a library down here with print books for sighted people and braille books for blind people, but no dead animals." I couldn't figure out what she meant, and when I asked her to explain the part about the dead animals, she just said she didn't know. Some time later I visited the school library, which had print books for sighted people and braille books for blind people, and a large collection of dead, taxidermied animals sitting on the tops of all the shelves. The animals are used so the blind children can see what different animals look like. My little girl wanted to be sure I didn't start filling up our basement with them, along with all the books. Please, no dead animals!

anonymous on September 05, 2012:

A patron recently asked me to help her find the book that was advertised on TV the night before. She didn't know the title, the author, or even the channel she had been watching! (I found it!) The funniest, though, was the old man who spent a long time looking through our audiobook collection, then came and asked me if the "little rectangular ones" would play in the player meant for the "round flat ones".

anonymous on August 14, 2012:

I work in a library myself and we have had mice in the past. We actually purchased humane traps and I freed the mice in a wooded area at the end of the day. That would've been the most soft-hearted thing to do, rather than allow the mouse to suffer with an injured leg.

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on July 01, 2012:

@robertzimmerman2: Too funny, Robert, but you're right about the cell phones.

robertzimmerman2 on July 01, 2012:

These days the big problem is the cell phone. "ring ring, Hello, I'M AT THE LIBRARY, WHAT, THE LIBRARY, WHAT . . . ."

Welcome to my world.

Adele Jeunette from Colorado on April 24, 2012:

I like the story about the person who asked for a "life-sized" globe.

The librarian thought for a moment about a diplomatic thing to say, then replied "It's in use."

Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on April 22, 2012:

What an entertaining read. I haven't spent real time at a library in too long. When I was a kid, I was in awe of all the books. Loved the library stories you've shared. :)

mockingbird999 on April 10, 2012:

I was in my local library a few weeks ago and there was a woman looking around for a book that she had check out and then promptly lost. The librarians were helping her look for it. They checked the return bins, the bathroom, etc. The book was called HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR MIND.

bibliophile1 on March 13, 2012:

I heard one member of the public tell a library assistant: "My taxes pay your wages." The assistant replied: "Well in that case, I'd like a raise."

hntrssthmpsn on March 11, 2012:

"I can't remember the title, but it had a red cover" Hah! My mom owned a bookstore while I was in my teens, and we heard similar things ("I'm looking for that book about a kid who had a dog"...) We love our library, and our wonderful librarians!

Ann Hinds from So Cal on February 21, 2012:

I would imagine we have plenty of stories but none come to mind. As the child of a librarian I was oblivious to the other patrons, the library was my playground. This is funny and delightful to read. Angel blessed for putting up with some of those people.

curious0927 on February 14, 2012:

I love the Library. As far as Funny--I'm usually the one who is cruising through, without a clue as to where the Author I like is placed and bug the Librarians to death! However, they are always so cheerful and nice, no matter how much I pester them!

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 30, 2012:

@sybelle: I disagree with the internet killing library services. It will be a long time before every home has access to the internet (despite smart phones). Libraries play a key role in providing information to low income citizens. A trained librarian can provide resources that the average person might never find online. Also more and more online info is charging for use. Libraries can subscribe to many of these for their patrons to use for free.

My niece is having a hard time getting full-time library work with her MLS degree. That's the bad economy and local governments cutting services. Very sad, but librarians do retire or go off for internet information jobs, so openings happen. It's harder if you are wanting to stay in one place. She might look at a wider area for jobs, not just locally.

sybelle on January 29, 2012:

I have two daughters who have Masters Degrees in Library Science. One has been working with the country library system since she began as a "page" while still in high school. Although she is 29, she IS the youngest of all staff in the county.

Library positions in this county seem to be "lifetime" careers, which means in order for her to get a full time position, someone has to retire AND the county will have the money to keep the position open. Unfortunately every staff member feels like the librarian career will disappear with the advent of the internet, and my daughter feels frustrated that she chose a career path leading nowhere. She loves her job, but she has not been able to move out of home because she cannot afford a life with her salary.

What do you think? Will libraries be a thing of the past?

agoofyidea on January 16, 2012:

This lens is so true. I worked at the library and then at a bookstore. The number of people who thought I could find the "red" book for them was huge! It always amazed me that people who could obviously read could not remember to bring a list of the books they needed with them into the store. For some reason they thought I would know what they wanted. And most of the time I did. Great lens. Blessed!

anonymous on January 09, 2012:

Countless students have said, " You mean you have to get a college degree to be a librarian?"

gottaloveit2 on December 26, 2011:

I too love this Squidoo lens. You've presented these stories in such a personal fashion. This is a great read, Virginia! I've bestowed a blessing too.

Gayle from McLaughlin on December 22, 2011:

Because I was a librarian, I absolutely love this article! Squid Angel Blessed!

traveller27 on December 22, 2011:

As someone who worked in libraries for many years, this was quite entertaining.

AlleyCatLane on December 22, 2011:

What a great idea fo a lens, Virginia. People do say the darnest things ( to quote Art Linkletter - oops, I'm showing my age!). Blessed.

Zut Moon on December 22, 2011:

Not me ... I use to go in once in awhile but they don't allow me in anymore. I can't read anything without drinking beer and they won't allow me to bring it in with me.

I need to take a look at the rest of your lensography but first, I gotta buy me a case of beer. You have written some interesting lenses and I need to find the time to read some more and I will.


Susan300 on December 21, 2011:

"amazing shushing action!"... ROFL :)

KniftyKnitter on December 21, 2011:

Beeping books! He he!

Jim Sterling from Franklin, Tennessee on November 05, 2011:

I wish I had spent as much time at the library as I claimed. I loved your stories.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on November 03, 2011:

I don't have any personal library stories to tell, but I can just imagine the odd things some of the eccentric visitors say. Blessed and linked from The Daily Joke Collection.

Debbie from England on November 03, 2011:

Hee hee hee... loved the line about where do Librarians sleep :) Blessed by a Squid Angel,

mrducksmrnot on October 20, 2011:

Very nice lens and a reminder to treat librarians with respect. Never have seen a librarian reading a book while at work (:>))

Mickie Gee on August 20, 2011:

One day a young patron called the fiction desk to see if there was a copy of a book available. My friend, who answered the phone, thought the young person was looking for a book with the title "My D*mn Ovary". Bet you can guess what the classic book was! My friend just laughed at herself for misunderstanding what she was hearing. I am not sure the student patorn did.

Karbyn on June 28, 2011:

What a fun lens to read, very entertaining. I'm inspired to make one about Funny Things That 4 Year Olds Say, based on my 10 years teaching Pre-K. Coming soon to a squidoo near you!

anonymous on June 25, 2011:

I recently had a patron using one of the computers come over and ask me where on the computer he should enter his credit card, as he wanted to buy something on the internet. After I realized he was not joking but was dead serious, I explained it wasn't something we offered. Wish I could have thought to say, "Oh, we don't have the app for that yet."

smithlights on June 13, 2011:

Great stories! Thanks for sharing!

jenokson on June 02, 2011:

I had a display in my junior high school library that featured an old rotary telephone. The students loved playing with the phone (unplugged, of course!), but many had a hard time figuring out how it was used as they had never seen one before. I really laughed when they asked, âWhereâs the pound (#) key?â, and âHow do you get call display on this?â

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 27, 2011:

"will it start beeping when my book is overdue" lol now that is too funny. We are a strange lot us humans.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on May 03, 2011:

Great lens, Virginia!

pkmcr from Cheshire UK on April 16, 2011:

Shhhh don't tell anyone but this is a great lens!

MargoPArrowsmith on April 15, 2011:

Well, I don't have a funny story, but I liked the lens

cdevries on April 11, 2011:

How about a book store quote? On asking the clerk to order me "The Autobiography of Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun" he asked, "Who wrote that?"

Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on March 17, 2011:

This is great, clever and original. Blessed. Please add a link to which ever category you think fits best on my humor angel lens.

ChrissLJ on March 05, 2011:

A grandmother was recently upset I didn't know the exact book she saw last week but didn't check out. It was about disciple and MIGHT have had the word "challenging" or "challenge" in the title of one of the chapters. She didn't know the author, any word in the title of the book, the color of the cover, if it was new/old, geared towards parents or teachers, etc. I tried explaining we have nearly 500,000 books at the library and so needed a little more information. She was convinced I wasn't trying hard enough.

darciefrench lm on February 24, 2011:

"I can't remember the title, but it had a red cover" -too funny! I just about lost my coffee out my nose -:)

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