Lust for Reading: The Consummate Bookworm, Nancy Pearl Talks about Her Life as a Promiscuous Reader Whose Plucky Guidance Has Made Readers' Advisory More Fun Than a Barrel of Action Figures

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It did not begin with the Librarian Action Figure and its "amazing shushing action" (AL, Oct. 2003, p. 31). Librarian's librarian Nancy Pearl has spent a lifetime developing her readers' advisory skills. As author of Book Lust and its sequel out this month, More Book Lust, Pearl's true calling--to read--has made its most lasting mark on the profession. While modeling for the action figure may have given her more fame than a librarian has a right to, it is her contribution to the world of books that has made her a popular speaker at library conferences across the country.

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Recently retired as director of youth services and the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library, Pearl received her library degree in 1967 from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She regularly reviews books for local and national publications and does weekly book reviews on National Public Radio's Seattle affiliate. She is the mastermind behind the One City One Book phenomenon that has spread throughout the United States and abroad.

American Libraries interviewed Nancy Pearl by telephone and e-mail in late March.

AL: A recent survey of AL readers asked what topics they wanted to see more of in the magazine. To our surprise, the number one answer was "books." Any idea what's going on?

NANCY PEARL: I'm not surprised at all. The library community is finally getting wise to the fact that libraries, especially public libraries, are not just about information access, but about helping people find good books to read--for their leisure time and for the recreational learning that goes on in many people's lives. I think that finally we are seeing the pendulum swing back so that the two parts of library service--information provision and books and programming--are a bit more balanced.

The response you got is perhaps a kind of wake-up call to announce that if libraries put all their eggs in the information basket, we will find ourselves increasingly irrelevant in people's lives. Since the sea change in libraries--the introduction of the internet, the switch from library schools to "information" schools--all the attention has gone to technology and the important role it plays in libraries. Maybe now we can have some important and meaningful dialogue on the importance of books and reading in the library community.

I was delighted that I got to take part in the Arlington County (Va.) Public Library's staff day in December 2004. The whole day was devoted to books and reading. They had an all-staff read, Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake: I led workshops in the nuts and bolts of readers' advisory and another on running book groups. The response from the staff was great, even from staff who are not working directly with the public.

AL: Can you make any observations about the state of readers' advisory?

NP: Readers' advisory service is becoming increasingly important in libraries, and more and more administrators and front-line librarians are recognizing its importance in giving the public this important (actually, invaluable) service and doing it well. What concerns me is that at most graduate schools, readers' advisory courses are taught by adjunct faculty. (Three notable exceptions are the University of Oklahoma, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of South Florida, although there may be others of which I am unaware.) Even though I am thrilled that I get to teach readers' advisory courses at the I School at the University of Washington, and I think those of us who teach these courses as adjunct faculty do terrific jobs (because we see ourselves as performing a vital service to the profession), it saddens me that readers' advisory is not considered valuable enough to hire full-time, dedicated, and devoted people to teach classes in adult reading interests.

When I was at the University of Michigan library school way back in the 1960s, I took a whole semester's course in banned books. …