In Hot Pursuit
Questions for the very busy Nancy Pearl, a lifelong reader, author, book reviewer, public librarian, and iSchool lecturer extraordinaire
Interviewed by phone on October 5, 2006 by The 'fish Editor

Nancy Pearl is no lollygagger. Sheís steadily acquired a slew of distinguished awards: 1998 Library Journalís Fiction Reviewer of the Year; 2001 Allie Beth Martin Award from the American Library Association; 2003 Washington Humanities Award; the Louis Shores Greenwood Publishing Award for Reviews, ALA (2004); Ontario Library Association Media & Communications Award (2004); and the Annual award from the Women's National Book Association (2004-2005). She originated the highly popular program ďSeattle ReadsĒ (formerly known as "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book") through the Washington Center for the Book at The Seattle Public Library, and moved to Seattle in May, 1993 to do so. This involves obtaining a major author for a series of free programs, and patrons participate by reading the featured selection, joining a book group discussion and attending the programs.
Pearl writes about some of her favorite books in a variety of genres from her bestselling titles
Book Lust, and More Book Lust, and continues in this vein with the forthcoming Book Crush. Nancy regularly reviews books on NPR, including a regular gig on 94.9 KUOWís The Beat on Mondays. She is the model for the popular librarian action figure which can be obtained through her website or at the extremely silly Archie McPhee in Ballard. Pearl teaches LIS 569 readerís advisory classes distance this quarter and on campus next spring. ĖThe Editor

JH: What do you call yourself now? Do you have a title? Are you still officially a librarian?

NP: I still call myself a librarian. Once a librarian, always a librarian.

JH: Have you received any more awards lately? I know the last thing was the award from the Womenís National Book Association.

NP: Yes, that was the last one. Culminating in that list was the Womenís National Book Award. I donít know if youíve seen the list, but other people who won it in their day were Eleanor Roosevelt and Pearl Buck so that was fabulous.

JH: Youíre in very good company.

What was your undergraduate degree in and where did you go to school for that?

NP: My undergraduate degree was in English from the University of Michigan.

JH: How was it that you decided to go to library school, and where did you go?

NP: I went to the University of Michigan. I knew when I was 10 that I wanted to be a librarian.

JH: What happened at 10?

NP: I came under the influence of some wonderful childrenís librarians, and it just opened up the world of books and reading to me.

JH: Is that what your specialty was and has been since you left school?

NP: Yes, Iíve always been a public librarian.

JH: And thatís pretty much what you did the whole timeóyou were a childrenís librarian?

NP: No, I got married and had children, and managed a bookstore for nine years where I had to do everything, and then I went backóor where I had to sell everythingóand I went back into the library world. I was the head of collections in Tulsa, at the Tulsa County Library System. Then I came to Seattle to be the head of the Washington Center for the Book.

JH: When is your highly anticipated book of recommendations for kids coming out.

NP: In April, 2007.

JH: Whatís the title?

NP: Book Crush. You know like what was the book you had your first crush on, Joyce?

JH: Well, that would be Nancy Drew, of course.

NP: In which case you have to readóthereís a wonderful, newish adult novel called, Confessions of a Girl Sleuth.

JH: I read it, I loved it.

NP: Wasnít it wonderful?

JH: I recommend it to everybody. Itís hilarious.

NP: It is. Itís so funny.

JH: Especially if youíre a Nancy Drew fan, you totally get it. And I was, and I guess Iíll always be because I still have my collection.

NP: Yes, I donít have any.

JH: Where are your recommendations coming from for this particular book? Do you have kids that youíre counting on?

NP: They come from all the reading that Iíve done in childrenís and young adult teen literature, and recommendations from people I met with kids. I talked to anybody I ran into, basically. In restaurants and airports. Anybody within the right age range from 7th through high school. So it comes from a wide variety of people, but in the end it was books that I read and loved.

JH: Have there been many books that will have this particular take on it? There have always been recommendations for kids, butÖ

NP: Jim Trelease does the Read-Aloud Handbook; heís done many editions of that. There have always, as you said, been books of recommendation. Iím just now doing the last copy editing of the copy Iím sending to the editor, and Iím kind of struck by the wide variety of books there are. I think I talk about childrenís and books for teens in the same way I talk about adult books so they sort of kept that enthusiasm that has to come through for me.

JH: Thatíll probably make it very popular. Youíre not talking down to kids.

NP: And the person that I address as you, are parents and teachers and librarians. So it isnít written for kids themselves although I donít think theyíll feel funny reading it.

JH: Oh, I see.

I know you have a rule of thumb for how many pages you recommend reading before the reader can just go ahead and put the book down guilt free. Whatís the ratio of books you start to books you finish?

NP: It depends on what Iím looking for in the moment, but itís not unusual for me start 10 books and put them down before I find a book I really like.

JH: And how many do you read a week or month or year?

NP: Depends on the book. If itís non-fiction, thatís always longer. Iím probably reading a little less when Iím reading non-fiction because it takes longer to read. If itís a mystery or a thriller or something like that, those go very quickly, or if itís a story-driven novel that I just want to find out what happens. I think that every book announces how fast you ought to read it.

JH: Thereís a certain amount of discomfort with the reader's advisory that can come when you donít have a lot of experience or confidence. What would you recommend to a student or new grad in that situation?

NP: Well, of course, (laughs) the first thing that Iíd recommend is that everybody whoís thinking about doing that should take the readerís advisory classes that I offer at the iSchool.

JH: Yes.

NP: Because those are so much fun.

JH: Well, of course, thatís a given! So is there anything on top of that?

NP: The major thing that I would say is to remember that what youíre doing is suggesting books. Youíre not guaranteeing that people will like these books. I think thereís a big difference between talking about recommending a book and talking about suggesting a book. I think that if we think about suggesting a book, it puts it in a whole different ballgame.

JH: I actually talked to some students who said that they felt uncomfortable giving suggestions because they feel like itís so personal, and the librarianís interests may be so specific that anything suggested might be biased.

NP: I think that thatís a sad response because I think what will keep libraries alive is that interaction about good books to read between library patrons and librarians. First they need to remember that when a person is coming to them for a book suggestion, it isnít about them at all. Itís not about the librarian at all. Itís all about what that person standing in front of them wants.

JH: You touched on something, the increasing availability of online resources and information. What will save the librarian from extinction? Is it becoming more interactive?

NP: The online stuff?

JH: As far as libraries and librariansówhat do they need to avoidó

NP: My background is the public libraryóthatís where my heart is. So there are three legs of the stool upon which the library rests, and one of those is providing information, and the other is what I like to think of as recreational learning because I think you learn from every book. The third leg is programming. The library is the literary and cultural part of the community and should be doing a lot of programs to bring people in. We always do a very good job with childrenís programs, but I think we need to think equally about adult programming and programming for teens.

JH: Was that the philosophy behind starting programs such as Seattle Reads?

NP: Yes, part of that was to increase the audiences for literature, but part of that also was my belief that talking about a bookóbook discussionsóare a really good way of building community out of a diverse population. One of the best things we can do as librarians is expanding the world of the reader by helping them find books by authors that they donít find in other ways.

JH: Do you think there are going to be some major changes for the roles of librarians in libraries, specifically, the public libraries.

NP: Well, I think that readerís advisory service is making a comeback in a rather dramatic way which I think is great. I think that libraries are recognizing that providing information, while thatís very, very valuable and certainly something that needs to be done, is not the only thing that libraries should be doing. There are those other two aspects, and I think that people are starting to see that in a real dramatic way.

JH: What do you think brought about that change?

NP: I think that what people are seeing is that there is nobody who does what a library does, who puts together books and people the way that a library can. There are many, many things out there that provide information, and I think that's where we are now, thinking about where the library fits with the world of information. There's a library school professor named Wayne Wiegand who was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and is now in Florida at a library school there, and he said the question is whether information is part of the world of library science, or whether library science is part of the world of information. That really defines a whole approach to getting a library degree and going to library school.

JH: Youíre in the final stages of editing the book. Whatís after that?

NP: Well, I started a subscription service. Libraries and individuals can subscribe to, if they wish, to Pearlís Picks. They get 12 reviews a month. For individuals, itís $25 a year, and for libraries, itís $1,000 and down depending on the size of the library.

JH: What a great idea.

You have lots of book reviews on your web site. Will those still be available? Is your web site going to change?

NP: Iím not putting any more book reviews on the website.

JH: Itís going to become part of the subscription service?

NP: Yes.

JH: And when does it start?

NP: I have started it. If you google Kalamazoo Public Library Nancy Pearl, you can see it on their website. Itís on Phoenix Arizona Nancy Pearl, and Louisville KentuckyóI have that one, too.

JH: Is Seattle (Public Library) picking it up?

NP: Supposedly. King County (Library System) did already.

JH: One last question...Do you travel a lot?

NP: I do.

JH: What sorts of things do you do?

NP: well, when I travel I do frequently public programs, and thereís a talk I give--that Iíve given now around the world called ďpleasures and perils of a life of reading.Ē Then I do in-service workshops for library conferences.

JH: How much are you on the road?

NP: Well, Iím usually gone I would sayóand this is too much, and Iím really trying to cut backóthree weeks out of the month Iím on a trip.

JH: Thatís amazing. Your husband must be very lonely.

NP: Yes, heís urging me to slow down.

JH: Politicians and celebrities have riders: the way they want things either back stage or in their hotel rooms: Dick Cheney wants Fox News on when he arrives in his hotel room, and a band, I think it may be The Rolling Stones, used to demand only green M&Ms. What do you demand on your rider when you travel?

NP: (Laughs) You know I wish I had the nerve to demand anything! Iím so grateful that they have asked me to come, so thrilled they want me there that I donít ask anything.

JH: well you might want to rethink that, Nancy. Thank you so much for taking time to talk to me.

NP: Youíre welcome, and Iím so glad you liked ďThe GirlsĒ as much as I did.

JH: I did. I finished it the other night in bed and had a hard time sleeping. I couldnít stop thinking about it.


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Page last updated: October 10, 2006