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Nancy Pearl: an interview with the 2011 Librarian of the Year

When Seattle super librarian Nancy Pearl was named 2011 Librarian of the Year by Library Journal her fans asked: "Why did it take so long?"

By Rebekah Denn / January 24, 2011

"Once a librarian, always a librarian," says 2011 Librarian of the Year Nancy Pearl.

Josh Armstrong – CSM staff/file

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Technically, the 2011 Librarian of the Year is retired. But Nancy Pearl, already the country’s most famous librarian when she left the Seattle Public Library in 2004, has only become busier and better known in the years since. She writes books and speaks on the radio about new and old titles that readers might love; she travels the country speaking to book lovers and helping train a new generation of librarians. Legions of fans rely on her encyclopedic knowledge and her informed intuition for what any given reader might want to check out next.

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“What took you so long?” fans asked when the honor was announced.

When I interviewed Pearl years back on her official “retirement,” national colleagues praised her for founding the nationally replicated “If All Seattle Read The Same Book” program and for her bestselling “Book Lust” series. She was already known for the “Rule of 50”, where she saw no point in any reader's continuing to read a book if the book wasn't enjoyable by page 50 (subtracting an extra page for each year that the reader is over 50), and for the sense of humor that allowed her to model for a “Shushing Librarian” action figure.

But what distinguished her even more to me was the passion for reading that any book lover can sense in another – but expressed, in Pearl, on an unprecedented scale that went beyond genre or age or personal likes.

“She is almost like a 'Jeopardy!' quiz person,” a librarian told me at the time. “You could throw out the most obscure book imaginable and not only would she know what that book was and who the author was, she also would know the other books in the series and five other books to read if you liked that book.”

Pearl is plain the most fun person I can remember talking with about books. Her recommendations make me run to the library to check out her picks, much like
my favorite school librarians did years ago.

I asked her via email this last week if she still thinks of herself as a librarian. “Once a librarian, always a librarian,” she replied.

Is her current career anything like what she imagined when she sort-of retired? She never imagined at the point, she wrote, that this would be her life. “It's been amazing, humbling, invigorating, and exhausting.”

Here’s what else she had to say. And for her ongoing picks, check her out (figuratively, of course) here.

Q: What are some of your favorite recent books?
A: Jo Walton's "Farthing" and her newest, "Among Others." I am a huge fan. I'm just starting "Tooth and Claw." Daniel Aaronovitch's "Midnight Riot" – great fun for those who love a little bit of dark fantasy with their mysteries. Edmund de Waal's "The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss." C.J. Sansom's "Heartstone" (historical mystery).

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