Librarians and light bulbs

An image — an illustrated librarian/lightbulb joke — that came to me on Facebook via the page of the Young Adult author Roland Smith, though Smith was clearly not the creator:

Three things here: the genre of this image + text; the source of the this particular example; and the joke meme(s) exemplified here.

Image + text. In my posting of 5/30/14, “What are they?”, I looked at a Jane Austen quote on a card with a decorative background (quotation as an art form) and also an e-card (or ecard), and commented:

Texty creations. In both examples, text (rather than image) is the crucial component, and the result is intended as art, humor, or narrative (often two or more of these at once) — making these creations hard to classify, as I’ve often pointed out on this blog.

Other examples: one-liner jokes with backgrounds; captioning or titling of existing images. Above I put them together as texty creations, which we could call texties for short. On my “Language of the comics” Page, many texty postings are inventoried under the “ecard” Page under “Comics lists”, others in the “Captioning” Pages. There are also texty postings that will appear in a Page of “Art postings” still in preparation. As you can see, the categories aren’t crisp.

The source of this texty. Lots of people have posted this particular texty; they found it entertaining and passed it on, especially to librarian friends, without caring where it originally came from. The text above, or a variant of it (“How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb?”), appears (without the image) on many lists of jokes, especially librarian jokes. It’s intricate enough that it probably had a single source, but we might never track that down.

Then someone drafted the image and combined it with the text. Again, that was surely a specific person, but, again, we might never track it down.

You’d hope that the attribution “HCPL” would get us to the source of the texty, but HCPL is probably just another intermediate site, similar to Pinterest. In fact, “HCPL” surely stands for “H County Public Library”, for some value of H, but there are many possible values of H, among them:

Harris, Howard, Harford, Hancock, Henrico, Henderson, Hillsborough, Hardin, Hernando, Harrison, Henry

And in any case, the library in question probably just passed along something a staff member found on the net.

The joke meme(s). The immediate joke meme is the librarian-lightbulb (Q-A) meme, which starts with the Q

How many librarians does it take to screw in / change a light bulb?

and provides a range of As: the one above, or its variant:

Usually 645.5. Sometimes 808.882.


Only one, but first you have to have a committee meeting.

Just one, but she has to wait to see how the Library of Congress did it.

And the somewhat more complex

Q: Do you know how many librarians it takes to screw in a light bulb? A: No, but I know where you can look it up!

Q: How many academic librarians does it take to change a light bulb? A: CHANGE?!?!?!

Q: How many reference librarians does it take to change a light bulb? A: Well, what kind of light bulb were you thinking about?

The librarian-lightbulb meme is a special case of the larger lightbub meme with Q:

How many Xs does it take to screw in / change a light bulb?

Huge range of Xs here. For example:

Q: How many homosexuals does it take to change a lightbulb? A: Only one, but it has to really want to change.

(Other As for the screw in variant of the Q.)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: