Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At the Faribault library: When a knock-knock joke is more than just a knock-knock joke February 7, 2017

What did one plate say to the other?
Lunch is on me.

What do you give a sick pig?

How do you count cows?
With a cowculator.

NOW YOU MIGHT EXPECT a third grader shared those knock-knock jokes with me or perhaps I read them in a joke book?




But you would be wrong. I read them on new furniture placed several days ago in Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. You read that right. The jokes are printed on easy chairs and loveseats. But this isn’t just any furniture. Minnesota prisoners crafted this furniture.

So what’s the story with the construction and the upholstery design? For the answers, I turned to Library Director Delane James.




In the market for the first new furniture since a library remodeling project in 1996, James looked to the state vendor approved MINNCOR Industries, a Minnesota Department of Corrections prison industry. Inmate labor is utilized for manufacturing products and for services. She likes the idea, James says, of prisoners learning marketable skills that may prevent recidivism.




James also knew that the quality, durable furniture will last. For the past 21 years, MINNCOR furniture endured in her library that today sees 500-700 daily users.

With specific goals, the library director started poking around on the MINNCOR website for fabric options. “I wanted something that was attention-getting and to promote literacy,” she says. “I wanted the unexpected, to get them (library users) to read.”




She found that in the Funnybone Collection, in a print labeled KNOCK KNOCK in a color tagged Class Clown.

Already, James has seen the positive results of her fabric choice. She observed two high school students reading knock-knock jokes to one another during a library Homework Help session.




Among jokes printed on the fabric is this one:

How do prisoners make phone calls?
With cell phones.

That joke is the favorite of prisoners and is the talk of the prison, James learned when $40,000 in lounge chairs, loveseats, computer chairs and 90 stackable chairs were delivered to the library late last week. Only the loveseats and three of the easy chairs are imprinted with jokes.




The KNOCK KNOCK design chosen by James is also putting Buckham Library in the spotlight. A MINNCOR marketing staffer photographed the furniture in the Faribault library on Friday to promote usage in other libraries. Perhaps more Minnesota library directors will take a cue from James and select prison-built Funnybone furniture that grabs attentions, promotes literacy and prompts conversation.

TELL ME: Have you seen this or similar inspiring furniture in a public place? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


25 Responses to “At the Faribault library: When a knock-knock joke is more than just a knock-knock joke”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Oh my goodness I love this! The PERFECT fabric for a library . What a fabulous idea to get some fun fabric for chairs that will be used by so many. And yes–I would be photographing them and reading the jokes as well. Sharing this post with a lot of my book and library loving friends out there. Thanks for the smile this morning.

  2. AMAZEBALLS!!! Jokes plus it gets people reading and connecting with one another – oh so cool. The one state I lived in the prisoners made mattresses, furniture, dolls, license plates along with moving and setting up offices in government buildings. Thanks so much for sharing. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    Don’t know whether to groan or smile…

  4. Littlesundog Says:

    I think this is a great idea. I’m not aware of any prison-built items in Oklahoma prisons.

  5. What an amazing idea–it’s a win-win situation all the way around. The fabric is priceless! Your blog entry is an amazing way to bring it to light. I actually think this would be a wonderful feel-good story for the national news. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Jackie Says:

    I really like this idea, perfect for a library! I also noticed the color pallet, I Love the colored stripes, beautiful! chairs.

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Ha ha great idea. They’d be great in a classroom too

  8. Valerie Says:

    What a great idea. The Faribault Library has always intrigued me from the outside…now I want to get inside to see this furniture too.
    It is interesting that we both wrote about libraries today!
    I have arrived safely in WI, waiting for my friend now. The Book on CD I listened to was a good choice…I’ll be able to finish it on the way home in a couple of days. 😉

  9. Marilyn Says:

    Audrey – you’ve sent me on a search. I’ve been trying to source where the fabric came from to no avail. But I sure have had fun and lots of laughs searching for: fabric, jokes, riddles, funny.

  10. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    Audrey, you have a knack for finding a story just about anywhere — even the library furniture! My branch library has some inspirational furniture in the children’s area, book-shaped couches and tables, with titles on the spines. Very appealing. My granddaughter loves them.

  11. That is a new one on me. I’ve never seen it before, thank you for sharing it.

  12. […] you were to turn over a chair in a Minnesota public library, like at the Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, you might find a tag noting the chair was manufactured by MINNCOR, a quasi public-private business […]

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