The ALA Archives holds many treasures in unexpected places. The Issue Photographs files of American Libraries magazine in one such place, holding materials like original art and illustrations, such as original cartoons by Richard Lee. Lee’s cartoons for American Libraries are a treasure trove of classic and original library humor and were mostly published in the 1990s and 2000s, though many of the jokes are still relevant to libraries today.
Lee’s cartoons appear primarily alongside Will Manley’s column “Will’s World,” which ran from September 1992 to March/April 2014. The cartoon above illustrates a “Will’s World” column that references this patron interaction. However, Lee’s cartoons have also made occasional appearances in the Reader Forum department since the 1980s, and Lee had a brief cartoon series, “What Really Bugs Me!” in the Action Exchange department from February 1995 to February 1996. Lee also has a 1992 book, You Can Tell Your Kid Will Grow Up to Be a Librarian When: Cartoons About the Profession, and provided illustrations for Will Manley’s 1995 book The Truth About Catalogers.
Lee’s cartoons range from humorous cartoon interpretations of specific anecdotes from Manley’s corresponding column for the month, to standalone visual library jokes. Lee plays on classic stereotypes of libraries and librarians, as well as modern daily struggles and oddities in the library.
The cartoons below are from Richard Lee’s “What Really Bugs Me!” series. The cartoon on the left was captioned, “When they nominate you to say a few kind words for the children’s department recently departed pet goldfish Ike.” The cartoon on the right was captioned, “When the last person to use the copier leaves it on ‘enlarge.’”
Richard Lee was director of the Waukegan Public Library from 2003 until his retirement in 2017. Lee has also served as the Director of Pueblo City-County Library in Colorado (1999-2003) and an Administrator at Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center in Las Vegas (1988-1999).
One of my favorite pieces by Lee is this feature from September 2003, “What if Your Library Director Was a Baseball Fanatic?” which includes a patron in a Chicago Cubs shirt (September 2003 was an exciting time for the Cubs). Waukegan, Illinois (where Lee was library director) is in Cubs territory, so this piece deserves a revisit now that the Cubs have a World Series win in recent memory.
Lee’s other cartoons for American Libraries can be found in the ALA Archives in the Issue Photographs files (RS 13/6/16) and published in back issues of American Libraries (RS 13/6/10). Lee’s art is available online through the mid-2000s, when American Libraries’ issues went digital. A full run of American Libraries can also be viewed online through JSTOR.
You can find both You Can Tell Your Kid Will Grow Up to Be a Librarian When: Cartoons About the Profession and The Truth About Catalogers for sale on Amazon or search for them at your local library!
Sanchez Olson, Yadira. “‘Huge Shoes To Fill’: Waukegan Public Library Prepares For Retirement Of Influential Leader.” Lake County News-Sun, 2017,