Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Training: Hey, What's So Funny!?

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Training: Hey, What's So Funny!?

Article excerpt

A couple of library staff members came up to me the other day after taking training from an "outsider" (another department on campus). "We didn't realize how good we have it!" they exclaimed. So I asked them to explain the difference they saw in the training. "Well, you're so much more fun!"

Suddenly, I flashed back to 1993 when I took an ARL/OMS (Association of Research Libraries Office of Management Services) training course with George Soete. I was the world's first technology training librarian, where all I did was train--no reference, no collection, no systems support, I needed George's help to make sure I got things right in this newly created job. One of his many pearls of wisdom was a warning to not become the type of "comedian trainer" where participants remembered only the jokes, and not the training.

So I gulped and asked my colleagues to explain what really meant. And then I asked a few more to make sure that I hadn't become the kind of trainer George had warned me about. And I'm happy to say that I'm not! At least not according to the people I work with and train.

I'd like to share some insights into what kind of humor trainees appreciate in a trainer. And I should start by verifying that--based on my unscientific (and quite possibly biased) mini-survey--trainees do like a little humor, comedy, levity, light-heartedness, and even a laugh or two in the classroom. But not just by telling jokes! My feeling is that when people can laugh they can feel comfortable, and comfort leads to confidence, which leads to competence. Humor helps relieve the tensions of learning yet another complicated technology. It softens the hard work that can be both confusing and frustrating.

Look at the Funny Techman!

OK, some of you might be thinking, "The arrogance of this guy! He's pretty bold to set himself up as an example." I just want to let you know that someone else has already brought this to my attention. The Person-Officially-in-Charge-of-Keeping-Me-Grounded (otherwise known as Nancy, to those who have met her), asked if I was putting myself up precariously on a pedestal. To which I responded, in typical academic style, "I assure you, this is totally legit--like research." Besides, if you've seen me at conferences or workshops, you know this is just the way I am.

As background, I have to tell you I get my sense of humor from a combination of both my father and my mother. He tells the kind of jokes that have a little bit of a setup, and then wham!--he hits you with the punch line. She tells the kind of jokes that really exaggerate things. I think I've gained a strange hybrid of both, and I'm not afraid to use it! Many people over the years have said I have a funny streak running through me. Here's an example of my sense of humor in a training class:

      When I was a kid, my mother
   used to spout all these aphorisms
   and adages. Things like, "If wishes
   were horses, beggars would ride,"
   and "When it rains, it pours." One
   of her favorites was, "When in
   doubt, go to the right. "Now I don't
   know if she meant it in a political
   sense: Indiana is a conservative
   state, alter all. Or if she meant it in
   a practical sense: If you come to
   a fork in the road, don't hem and
   haw--just go down the right side.
   But I want you to remember this
   adage from Techman: "When in
   doubt, go to the right-click." The
   right-click menu is a context-sensitive
   shortcut to the commands
   most likely to help you in any given
   situation. When you get stuck while
   you're working in Windows, don't
   sit there and hem and haw, just go
   to the fight-click.

Another quirky aspect of my humor (or maybe just my personality) is the use of exaggerated voices when trying to be light-hearted. My musician friend Peter Janson says it's like The Muppet Show in my brain, and occasionally various voices come out whether I want them to or not! …

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