By: Rebecca Slocum
Nancy Pearl, otherwise known as America’s Librarian, turns 73 today.
Born in 1945 in Detroit, Pearl’s love of books started early, as she spent the majority of her childhood at the public library. She earned her master’s degree in library science from the University of Michigan. Armed with her education and her voracious love of reading, Pearl served as a children’s librarian in her hometown of Detroit. She then moved on to work in Tulsa, OK, and finally, in Seattle, WA, where she became somewhat of a local celebrity. In her position as executive director of Seattle Public Library’s Washington Center for the Book, Pearl developed what is now an internationally known program: One City, One Book. This program encouraged everyone in Seattle, children and adults alike, to read the same book at the same time. The popularity of her program spread across the country and eventually catapulted Pearl into the national limelight. She even has her own action figure, y’all.
Though Pearl retired from her position in Seattle, she continues to promote books, reading, and public libraries. She is a regular commentator on National Public Radio; hosts a monthly TV show, “Book Lust with Nancy Pearl”, where she interviews writers from around the country; and maintains an online Book Lust series, where she recommends a wide variety of books. In 2011, she was recognized as Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year for her extensive and passionate advocacy for the necessity of public libraries. She has also authored several books, including her debut novel George & Lizzie, which was published in September 2017.
However, in spite of her well-deserved celebrity status as a librarian, Pearl emphasizes that she is first and foremost a reader. She loves reading, writing, and recommending books to readers of all ages. With her wide ranging knowledge of the written word, she definitely does not shy away from recommending a diverse and varied list of books. Of course, she understands that not everyone will agree with her book suggestions. And that’s okay with her. In an article featuring Pearl and banned books, Public Radio International (PRI) reporter Allison Herrera quotes Pearl: “The point of a library is to represent everything, all ranges of the human condition.” She even extends that idea to herself. There were books that she came across in her career with which she disagreed, but in the pursuit of intellectual freedom and open access, she added them to her collection anyway.
As librarians, we will inevitably come across a book during our career that will make us hesitate. We, like Pearl, might not agree with the subject matter, or we know that the book might garner objections or challenges from patrons. Either way, we must follow Pearl’s lead in challenging censorship and supporting intellectual freedom for all. After all, as Pearl states, “It wouldn’t be a library if there weren’t books that annoyed people.”
Happy Birthday, Nancy Pearl!
Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last 5 years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running, and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.