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Did you hear the one about the Boolean operators?

Incorporating comedy into library instruction
Kristin Trefts and Sarah Blakeslee

Introduction
And, or, not; adjacent, near; records, fields; subject headings and keywords. Let's face it: library instruction can be boring to teach and boring to listen to. As librarians, we all know the value of library instruction and its importance to our students. However, we are kidding ourselves (no pun intended) if we think that most students will find the topic fascinating, or even mildly interesting. So what can we do to spice up our instruction? Are there creative and innovative approaches we can employ to make the topic more appealing to our students? What about being funny? After all, there is comedy traffic school, so why not comedy library instruction? Most librarians, and their students, would agree that a library instruction session that conveyed important information and was funny would be 100 times better than the normal ``dry'' instruction lecture. We agree, so we went on a quest to: study and learn about comedy; take what we learned and make ourselves funnier; find ways to incorporate comedy into library instruction; and share what we had learned with other librarians.

The authors Kristin Trefts (ktrefts@csuchico.edu) is an Information Literacy/Instruction Librarian and Sarah Blakeslee (sblakeslee@csuchico.edu) is the Head of the Library Instruction/Information Literacy Program, both at the Meriam Library, California State University, Chico, California, USA. Keywords Academic libraries, Humour, Innovation, Teachers, Librarians Abstract Most instruction librarians know that library instruction can often be boring to teach, and boring for students, but we also know the value of library instruction and its importance to our students. So what innovative approaches can we take to spice up our instruction and make the topic more appealing? The authors decided that using humor was the best approach. To this end, they went on a quest to: study and learn about comedy; take what they had learned to make themselves funnier; find ways to incorporate comedy into their library instruction; and share what they had learned with other librarians. The rest is history. Electronic access The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at http://www.emerald-library.com

Study and learn about comedy
Literature review Like good librarians, we began our quest by conducting some preliminary research in the form of a literature review. We quickly discovered that the search ``Hilarious and librarians'' did not yield any articles. But seriously, using more reasonable combinations of keywords, we discovered a number of useful scholarly and trade articles related to humor in education, humor as a communication device, and humor in library instruction. In addition, we identified some useful popular literature about comedy and humor, and its application to the business sector of society. Surmising that the comedy traffic schools such as ``Laughs Galore ± You Won't Snore,'' ``Highway to Humor,'' and ``Wheel Make You Laugh'' had a method to their madness, we decided to investigate. What we found was that by using humor these schools were trying to make an otherwise boring topic more appealing,

Reference Services Review Volume 28 . Number 4 . 2000 . pp. 369±377 # MCB University Press . ISSN 0090-7324

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ease tension (people dreaded having to attend traffic school), and increase retention of the subject-matter (Griffin, 1990; Zucco, 1997). In an effort to document the effectiveness of humor as a valid and reliable delivery method for the traffic schools in his state, Milton Grosz, Florida's administrator for driver improvement courses, went so far as to conduct his own literature search at the Florida State University library. He reports finding ``675 instances in primary, secondary, graduate, postgraduate, vocational and continuing education where humor was used as a delivery method. In each case, the information was successfully gotten across and learning took place'' (Zucco, 1997, p. 1D). In addition to comedy traffic schools, we also discovered creative uses of humor and comedy in the business world (Fisher, 1998; Machan, 1990; McKenzie, 1997; Mackoff, 1990). Comedy is most often used in a business setting to defuse stressful situations and to improve communication. In fact, former Monty Python funnyman John Cleese founded the company Video Arts, a business that produces videos and CD-ROMS geared toward business professionals. Cleese has been involved in writing, producing, and starring in these training videos that incorporate humor as a communication device (Fisher, 1998). The traffic school and business articles helped to validate our instincts that there were benefits to using humor in a classroom setting. What they did not provide, however, was conclusive evidence. For that we turned to the scholarly literature, which, as we expected, was saturated with articles discussing the physiological, psychological, educational, instructional, and interpersonal benefits of the use of humor. Many of these articles did address the need for more studies regarding humor and instruction and the difficulty of measuring the effect of humor on student learning. Overall, however, the research was promising, and we were encouraged to continue with our quest to study comedy and humor in order to improve our library instruction. The articles we found most useful were from the fields of education and communication. The educational literature tends to focus on the benefits that can be derived from the use of humor and the practical pedagogical

applications of humor as a teaching strategy. Seminal works include a recent article by Kher et al. (1999) and classic studies by Bryant et al. (1979; 1980). The communication literature is geared more towards measuring humor, including measuring the types of humor used in the classroom, as well as measuring the effectiveness of classroom humor use. The works of Gorham and Christophel (1990), and Booth-Butterfields ambo (1991) offer extensive literature reviews as well as studies that measure the effectiveness of humor and ways in which humor is enacted. The benefits of using humor, as discussed in the literature, include being used as an aid in teaching sensitive subjects, in reducing classroom tension, to make learning more personable and enjoyable, to mold a collection of individuals into a group, to cultivate spirit, to alleviate stress, to improve communication, to defuse conflict, to motivate and energize, to gain attention, to demonstrate relevance, to build confidence, to lessen the burnout of the instructor, as a memory device, and to clarify course content (Inman, 1991; Kher et al., 1999; McMahon, 1999; Tauber et al., 1993; Wallinger, 1997; Wandersee, 1982). Berk lists six positive findings from a survey he conducted regarding using humor as a teaching device, including ``A wide range of low-risk humor techniques can be very effective in reducing anxiety and improving learning and performance'' (1996, p. 88). Because we were interested in the practical applications of humor in the classroom, we found Berk's article useful for identifying techniques we might use in our own instruction. They include: . spontaneous humor; . humorous questions; . humorous problem sets; . humorous material on exams; . humorous material on syllabuses; . descriptors, caution, and warnings on the covers of handouts; . opening jokes; and . skits/dramatizations. Other forms of humor are suggested by Wandersee (1982), including jokes, puns, limericks, cartoons, riddles, anecdotes, skits, and parodies. Booth-Butterfields ambo (1991, p. 212) have compiled an exhaustive list

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entitled ``Categories of Humorous Behaviors'' that includes categories such an ``non-verbal humor'', ``impersonation'', and ``expressiveness''. Finally, Tauber et al. (1993) suggest a correlation between teaching and acting and offer practical advice for its application in the classroom including using acting as a humor device. Students view humor as an effective teaching tool as well. Brown and Tomlin (1996) identify ``sense of humor'' and using a ``variety of teaching methods'' as factors students use to identify their best instructors. Berk (1996) found that ``students view humor as an effective teaching tool to facilitate their learning.'' Kher et al. (1999) write about using humor to help teach ``dread courses'', meaning courses that students do not want to take or that they fear. Such courses include ``Sexuality Education'' and ``Statistics''. We think Library Instruction should be added to the list of potential dread courses that can benefit from humorous instructional methods. After all, if there are ways to add humor to statistics instruction (Lomax and Moosavi, 1998), there are also ways to add humor to Library Instruction. Last, but not least, was our review of the library literature. Articles specifically focused on library instruction and humor were not abundant. (Remember our search for ``Librarians and Hilarious''?) Warnken and Young (1991) offer suggestions for successful classroom delivery techniques in library instruction including the use of humor. Archibeque (1987) offers personal tips and examples for using humor in bibliographic instruction. An icebreaker in the form of a silent comedy film was the focus of Liebman's (1980) article. Sarkodie-Mensah (1998) suggests techniques for acquiring a sense of humor and offers pointers for applying that sense of humor in library instruction sessions. Osborne (1992) conducted a survey to determine how often humor was used at the reference desk and in library instruction, as well as librarians' perceptions of classroom humor and their reasons for using humor. Petry (1998) discusses spicing up OPAC instruction using humor and offers personal examples and anecdotes for doing so. Whyte (1996), winner of a distinguished professor award, reflects on her passion and humor for library work and the

resulting benefits as an instructor and for the students. Two articles in the library instruction literature related to humor stand out. MacAdam (1985) discusses the role of humor in bibliographic instruction, including negative and positive outcomes. Her article revolves around theory and research of humor in teaching. Fulton (1985) discusses the theory and practical application of humor in the oneshot lecture setting. Numerous practical examples of how to add humor to instruction are included. While useful in a general sense, most of the articles we located tended to focus more on whether or not humor in instruction was good, and less on how to be funny, which was what we really wanted to learn. Because information on comedians as teachers and academic treatises on how to be funny were scarce, to learn more about ``how to be funny'' we resorted to reading self-help comedy books and listening to selfhelp comedy cassettes. We purchased Greg Dean's College of Comedy Knowledge Audiotapes Secrets of Joke Structure and Fearless Performing and The Complete Stand-up Comedy Workbook (Dean, 1996). We pored over Judy Carter's Stand-up Comedy: The Book (Carter, 1989). This ``popular'' literature was much more rewarding in terms of practical advice regarding comedy and how to be funny. But reading about comedy could only take us so far, and we felt it wasn't far enough. We felt we needed more. Stand-up comedy workshop Since Chico is only a three-hour drive from San Francisco, the comedy Mecca of the world, we decided to go to the primary source of comedy by attending a stand-up comedy workshop at the Punch Line Comedy Club. The four-hour workshop was held on a Sunday afternoon and was taught by Neil Leiberman. Leiberman has dubbed himself the Comedy Coach; in addition to doing workshops like the one we attended, he does private one-to-one coaching with aspiring comedians. We had a lot of fun at the workshop and for a mere $59.99 we received a packet of information complete with glowing articles about The Comedy Coach as well as a pen with a mini-microphone attached to facilitate practice in front of the bathroom mirror. We

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also learned something about comedy and funny people. Comedy people have their own theories about funny people. The Comedy Coach told us that he believes there are two kinds of people: Fog People and Comedy People. He says that the Fog People are people who ``just don't get It'' (humor), and Comedy People are the ones who ``reveal It'' to the Fog People. From Greg Dean's comedy tapes we learned that there is a distinct difference between having a sense of humor and being funny, or, as he describes it, having a ``sense of funny''. Many of us probably feel we have a pretty good sense of humor, but that we are not particularly funny. Being funny, or having a sense of funny, is having the ability to make other people laugh; knowing what is funny in certain situations; and being able to look at the world, to observe, and to find humor in everything ± even libraries! Therefore, Comedy People, the ones that can make people laugh, have both a sense of funny and a sense of humor. The Fog People only have a sense of humor. In reality we do not believe it is as black and white as the Comedy Coach might have you believe. Most of us would probably refer to ourselves as ``Partially Cloudy People'', that is, somewhere in between fog and comedy. The distinction the Comedy Coach was trying to make in his workshop was that what makes comedians different from the rest of us is how in tune they are with their ``sense of funny'' and their ability to communicate that to an audience. So, after reflecting on funny people it was time to move on to the second, and possibly the most painful and revealing, part of our quest: determining if we could be funnier. Making ourselves funnier Now, before we could determine if we could be funnier, we first had to confront a critical element: if we were funny at all (this was the painful part); and, if so, to what degree were we funny (this was both painful and revealing)? We also wanted to assess how we already used (or attempted to use) humor in our teaching. This assessment came about during the spring semester through a number of informal methods.

We thought about how our students responded to our use of humor in the classroom, and we had countless conversations about humor with each other and anybody else we could get to listen. The reading we did, the cassette tapes we listened to, and the comedy workshop inspired these conversations. We were also able to conduct a more formal humor self-assessment using a scale we located in one of the communications articles we had read (Booth-Butterfields ambo, 1991). The scale measures an individual's Humor Orientation or, as we shall be referring to it throughout this paper, HO. The HO scale is a self-assessment tool that essentially measures whether or not you use humor regularly and effectively in your communication. More specifically, it measures how people differ in the production of humorous messages; how often they attempt humorous communication; and how they perceive that those attempts are either accepted or rejected. HO measurement is not to be confused with measuring a sense of humor. It does not measure how you respond to humor, but how you produce it, and how often you produce it. Figure 1 includes the scale questionnaire as well as an answer key to rate your HO quotient: High HO, Medium Hi HO, Medium Lo HO, or Lo HO. The scale is obviously not a complete assessment tool but simply a device to get you thinking about humor in a different way. Finally, after all the talking, pondering, reviewing of student evaluations, and soul searching, and, of course, taking the HO test, we felt we had our verdict regarding if we were funny. Our verdict was that we both had a sense of humor and that we also had a sense of funny F F F in certain situations. Unfortunately, like most people, we felt our humor came out more spontaneously in social or unstructured situations, but that when we got into the classroom it was much harder to be funny. Given that Part Two of our quest was to take what we had learned in order to become funny, we still needed more advice. Could we improve our HO? When asked if it was possible for us to learn to be funny, the Comedy Coach's answer was ``No F F F but you can learn to be funnier.'' What this means is you have to work with what you've got and go

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Figure 1 Humor Orientation (HO) scale

Incorporating comedy into library instruction
A lot of what we learned from the comedy experts, advice such as ``Don't use drugs or alcohol to boost your confidence,'' we determined did not apply to us. But we did glean five points that we thought we could use: (1) Do not give up after one try. (2) Practice, practice, practice. (3) Be yourself. (4) Think about your audience. (5) Keep a comedy journal. The first point, ``Do not give up after one try,'' refers to a comedian pulling a joke from his or her routine if it does not get a laugh the first time it is used. The Comedy Coach says you need to perform your routine perfectly five times in a row before you can pull a joke from it. Applying this to library instruction, if one of your attempts to use humor does not go well, do not say you're never going to use it again. You need to assess the situation to determine why it did not work. Was it the audience, your delivery, or the level of the humor? Many factors can affect how humor is received. Remember, although you may not get an audible laugh, your audience may still be responding positively to your attempts at humor. Try the humor a few more times to judge future reactions. This leads to the next piece of advice: ``Practice, practice, practice.'' Stand-up comedy is not ad lib. It is memorized and extensively rehearsed. To apply this to teaching, it stands to reason that the more we teach, the better we get; therefore the more we attempt and practice using humor, the better we will get at that as well. Plus, we will be more comfortable with the material. We have all heard the third point before but it is worth repeating: ``Be yourself.'' The Comedy Coach told us, if you want to do ethnic humor, you had better make sure you are part of that ethnic group, or the joke will not go over well with the audience. You can apply this to the classroom setting, as well. For instance, do not try to be ``hip'' with your students. Just be yourself and use humor that you are comfortable with. A fourth piece of advice we gleaned from the experts was to ``Think about your audience.'' Comedians generally have no

from there. Given our own self-assessments, and the Comedy Coach's advice, we realized we were never going to make it to Comedy Central. You could say it was at this point in the quest that we lowered our expectations a bit and decided we could probably do a little comedy and simply try to be funny more often in our classes. And if being funny more often did not work, well, we would be satisfied with using more humor in the classroom. And, hey, who are we kidding? We would settle for being more light-hearted and keeping the students awake. We also realized, however, that we had learned a lot of ideas during the last six months from the comedy experts that could help us make our library instruction better, even if we weren't going to do stand-up comedy.

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idea who their audience will be and, therefore, need to focus their humor on topics that have a mass recognition or appeal. Although that is a safe bet for anyone using humor, in the library instruction setting we usually have a better idea who our audience will be and we can be more successful directing our humor to specific age levels or interests. For instance, all of us know that the humor we might use with a group of graduate students would most likely fall flat with a group of freshmen. Along the same lines, if you give a library tour to student athletes, you might use different jokes than you would for a tour with an economics class. The final piece of advice we found to be useful was ``Keep a comedy journal''. Your comedy journal is where you record all the funny experiences that happen to you or that you see around you every day. This could include jokes, observations, a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) to a funny Web site, or a funny comment you overheard that you plan on using in your own words. When the time comes to write jokes or think of funny examples for topics, you can go back to your journal and look at the items you have recorded for inspiration. The Comedy Coach told us not to edit ourselves when we write in our journals, and to be spontaneous. Keeping a journal is a great idea, but it takes discipline. So how does this all come together? Can comedy/humor and library instruction enjoy a successful and fruitful union? What are some of the practical ways in which we can make this marriage work? We have attempted to synthesize some ways to bring humor into the library instruction process: jokes; icebreakers; the unexpected; lecture humor; using humorous writing; and humor in active learning. Jokes When people think of comedy, they think of jokes. Because our quest was originally a desire to bring comedy to library instruction, we started out by studying joke writing. We thought that, when we were finished, we were going to write some really funny jokes about libraries and research, like the one that became the title of our article, ``Did you hear the one about the Boolean operators?''

What we found was that jokes are tough to write. We worked all semester trying to come up with a punch line for the Boolean Operators joke, and we could never agree on one we both liked. At the LOEX-of-the-WEST 2000 conference, we awarded a prize to the librarian who came up with the best punchline. The winner and the punchline are revealed at the end of the article. After studying joke writing, and seeing how difficult it was to write good jokes and tell them, we realized that we probably would not use many jokes in our own instruction. However, the actual process of writing jokes can be useful as a way to ``get out of the box'', and look at libraries and library instruction from a humorous perspective. If you write jokes, your goal should be to write jokes about libraries that would be funny to anyone. Writing jokes from a patron's perspective helps you to view the library like a patron would see it, not from the librarian's perspective. Jokes are a great way to break the tension in a class and to help the students feel more relaxed. However, bringing humor into the classroom is a lot more than just telling jokes. Icebreakers Another way to bring humor into the classroom is by using icebreakers. The great advantage to using icebreakers is that the technique can be used by anyone. You do not have to have a High HO to be successful with icebreakers. Audio Since our instruction classroom has a good sound system, we like to pull up a funny audio file and play it while the students are coming into the room and waiting for the class to start. One example used in the past is Dana Carvey's ``Chopping Broccoli'' song. Having silly or funny music is a good conversation starter, as students will usually start talking about sites they go to for music or comedy on the Web. Questionnaires Many instruction sessions start with students filling out questionnaires to measure their previous experiences in the library. One librarian uses a library anxiety questionnaire but, instead of asking basic questions to measure students' attitudes toward the library,

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the students are asked if they have ever had any of the following thoughts in connection with libraries: . ``A little suffering is good for the soul''; . ``Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here''; and . ``Hours can be centuries''. These quotes are all from Star Trek episodes (Fulton, 1985). This device works as an icebreaker because it draws on popular culture and shows the students that the library not only has a sense of humor but also understands what it is like to be a new student in the library. Videos Humorous short videos can also be used to start off an instruction session. California State University, Los Angeles, uses a video that is a parody of a Charlie Chaplin silent comedy film where the patron keeps running into obstacles, both literally and figuratively, while trying to do his research. Like the questionnaire, it shows that the library can look at itself with a sense of humor (Liebman, 1980). Cartoons Cartoons are probably one of the easiest and most commonly used icebreakers. Even a fog person can use cartoons in his/her class. You can use cartoons on an overhead to start off the class or fit them in during the lecture. Always keep your audience in mind when you use cartoons. The unexpected The unexpected is a great way to bring humor into the classroom. The unexpected plays off the element of surprise, which is really what comedy is all about. It works because it startles or shocks the students to attention. It can also be a good way of challenging the stereotype of the librarian as a passive, calm, mild-mannered individual. One example of the ``unexpected'' we use on our library tours is to give one of the students a book and ask that student to walk out of the exit door, which sets off the book alarm. The other students seem to get a kick out of this, probably because they do not believe that a librarian would ever deliberately set off a loud noise in the library. The unexpected can, however, go too

far. As we learned from Judy Carter's comedy book, ``It's a fine line between funny and stupid. Being funny has nothing to do with acting weird or outrageous. The weirder you are, the less people will understand you and no one laughs when confused. Your goal is to communicate your ideas clearly'' (Carter, 1989, p. 33).

Lecture humor
Spontaneous wit The classes we both enjoyed most in college were the classes with instructors who seemed to make funny comments and observations throughout their lectures. But since this sort of humor requires a very High HO, we were originally discouraged about the possibility of being able to incorporate it into our own teaching. Additionally it seemed that it was hard to find opportunities to interject this type of humor. After all, spontaneous humor cannot be planned, it's spontaneous, F F F or is it? After researching comedy and humor we began to realize that perhaps waiting for opportunities to use humor in the classroom is not necessary, and that, in fact, maybe some of those ``naturally funny'' instructors actually created opportunities for their humor and spontaneity. For example, some instructors almost always pick on one student in the class. That student functions almost as a comic partner, either as the straight man if the partner is not particularly funny, or as the comic element if the partner is more gregarious and outgoing. There is no script, and no guarantees that it is going to be funny, so it is still a risk, but using this technique creates opportunities for humor that would not otherwise exist. Planned wit When you are into the major portion of your lecture, a little planned wit can add emphasis to the points you are making. If you are not a High HO person, or one who feels particularly spontaneous, this is a good device to spice up your lectures and demonstrations. Presentation software such as PowerPoint is a great tool for adding humor to a lecture. Using photographs, funny graphics, cartoons, sound files of music or voices, and animated text are all examples of

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techniques that you can use in a presentation to lighten up the mood and enhance the content. Analogies are another way to tie humor into teaching library concepts. For example, you would not use a chainsaw to pound a nail into a board any more than you would use the library catalog to look up magazine articles. This is an example of an analogy that teaches students the importance of how to choose the right tool for the job. (This chainsaw idea came from Evan Cornell of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and his LOEX-of-the-West 2000 conference presentation.) Another technique to add humor to your lectures is to use preplanned search examples that make use of humorous or unusual subject headings, book titles, and Web sites. Instead of teaching subject searching on the library catalog using the old standard terms, try using ``body piercing'' or ``banana research.'' Active learning Active learning activities are always more fun when they can be entertaining and humorous, as well as educational. For example, at the end of our freshmen library tours we divide the students into groups and give each group a different set of printouts from the library catalog. The groups then have to go to various places in the library, retrieve the items on their printouts, and bring them back to the librarians. We always make sure that the books and periodicals we select for them to find are offbeat or funny. One book that is always included and given to one of the groups to find is titled How to Be Your Own Butcher. Another favorite is a 1955 book entitled How to Be a Successful Teenager which advises teenage girls that boys like to date ``a peppy, wide-awake person who likes to have fun''. The students get a kick out of these books and are usually intrigued enough by the titles for them to have opened the books and looked through them before they bring them to the librarian. Another entertaining active learning assignment is to have students index a journal article to help them understand records and fields and what happens when you search a computerized database. Instead of having them index a scholarly article, give them an article from the popular press which might capture their attention.

One assignment we have used several times is to divide the students into groups, and then give each group a topic related to a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Each group researches their STD and then reports their findings back to the class, either in a traditional way or through improvising a skit based on the Music Television (MTV) program, Loveline, or as a radio counselor like the character on the television program, Frasier. The groups usually prefer to use a creative method which usually enhances the learning environment.

Conclusion
Since beginning our quest, it has become apparent that researching comedy has made us much more aware of humor, and attempted humor, everywhere we go. When we watch comedians, listen to someone telling a joke, or read a humorous story, we now dissect, analyze, and think if there is anything to be learned from it that we can apply to our teaching. While content remains the most important part of teaching, if our content can be enhanced through using humor to relay the message, we feel that everyone will benefit, especially the students. And now, for those of you patiently reading this article finally to reach the punchline of our Boolean Operator joke, thanks go to Colleen Bell of the University of Oregon, Eugene: . Question: ``Did you hear the one about the Boolean Operators?'' . Punchline: ``And & Or went to Vegas to tie the Not.''

***

References
Archibeque, O. (1987), ``Laughter in the library: the use of humor in bibliographic instruction'', Colorado Libraries, Vol. 13, December, pp. 26-8. Berk, R.A. (1996), ``Student ratings of ten strategies for using humor in college teaching'', Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 71-92. Booth-Butterfield, S. and Booth-Butterfield, M. (1991), ``Individual differences in the communication of humorous messages'', The Southern Communication Journal, Vol. 56 No. 3, pp. 205-18.

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