Pearls of Wisdom – by Charlotte Canelli

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Nancy Pearl has written half a dozen bestsellers, has appeared on national television and can be heard regularly on National Public Radio. Her appearances at local and national conferences and bookstores often draw standing-room only crowds. She certainly is not a household name, yet you could say that she’s a ‘rock star’ among her following of librarians and readers across the country. This year Library Journal, the publication for everyone involved in any aspect of libraries, chose her as the 2011 Librarian of the Year.
So who is Nancy Pearl and why does she have an action figure doll in her likeness?
Ms. Pearl is a voracious reader, an infectious and enthusiastic speaker, a bestselling author and a now-retired librarian. That description might be too simple, however, for such an amazing woman.
Ms. Pearl was a 48 year old librarian in Tulsa, Oklahoma when the Seattle Public Library lured her to Seattle, Washington to become deputy director. She had already earned two master’s degrees, had raised two daughters, had worked at a book store and as a librarian both in Detroit and in Tulsa. Nancy’s husband, in fact, did not join her in the Northwest until he retired four years later but they both knew she had made the perfect career choice.
In her fifth year in Seattle, and as Director of the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library, Nancy became well-known for developing and implementing the popular and successful “If All Seattle Read the Same Book” project. At the time, Pearl’s dream was deemed a pie-in-the-sky idea. 47 book discussion groups across the city were planned. 10,000 buttons were purchased and distributed to participating readers.
In the end, the project was a huge success, mainly due to Pearl’s hard work and enthusiasm. (Granted, the Center for the Book had received an $180,000 grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund to carry out its plan.) With the exception of the year 2000, Seattle has participated in what is now called Seattle Reads each year. This year they are reading “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave. The one-city, one-book scheme has now spread across the nation; it was Pearl’s original idea that has been copied and modeled in community after community.
Nancy Pearl won many awards for spreading the love of reading across the country, including the Humanities Washington Award in 2003 and others from the Women’s National Book Association and the American Library Association.
In 2003, Accoutrements, a Seattle company specializing in novelty products, designed an action-figure doll of their local celebrity, Nancy Pearl. (Accoutrements makes other quirky action figure dolls such as the Crazy Cat Lady complete with feral felines and the Lunch Lady complete with counter.)
With its hair in a bun and its ‘shushing’ finger, the doll was both loved and hated at the same time. Some librarians disliked the stereotypical representation of the Pearl, the quintessential librarian. Yet, the doll was a hit. Nancy herself commented that “the shushing aspect of the action figure would determine which librarians have a sense of humor”. Humor notwithstanding, 100,000 of the Nancy Pearl dolls have been sold.
Ms. Pearl’s appearances in libraries, book stores and at workshops and conferences are filled with laughter and smiles. Most important, however, they are filled with her love of reading and books. Her message is simple and that is that everyone should be reading books that they enjoy and everyone’s reading should be pleasurable and infectious. Pleasurable is the key word. At a conference I attended, Nancy shared with us all her Rule of 50: “If you still don’t like a book after slogging through the first 50 pages, set it aside. If you’re more than 50 years old, subtract your age from 100 and only grant it that many pages.”
Ms. Pearl herself actually confesses that she starts 15 books for every book that she actually reads.
Pearl wrote her first book, “Book Lust: Reading Recommendations for Every Mood, Moment and Reason” in 2003 while she was still working for the public library. The book includes lists covering reading for every occasion and personality including lists of Techo-Thrillers to a list of those books Too Good to Miss. Her first book was a success because readers are hungry for recommendations.
In 2004 Pearl retired from the Seattle Public Library and began appearing more often across the country. She now continues to teach courses at the Information School at the University of Washington where she has endowed a scholarship for library students who will become public librarians.
In 2005, Pearl followed her earlier success with “More Book Lust” and in 2007 with “Book Crush For Kids and Teens”.
I love travel writing so late last year I was thrilled that she published “Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers”. What you’ll find in this book, however, are recommended reads for everyone who wants to travel the world in an armchair at home. These books either do the traveling for you, taking you on adventures or journeys around the world or accompanying you on your trip.
Nancy Pearl is a regular contributor to NPR and can be heard recommending books for summer, for the holidays or those that are “under the radar.” Her podcasts can be listened to or read at She also has a website and blog at
Nancy admits that many of the books recommended on her Book Lust lists, are out of print. This makes for a great opportunity to visit your library. For help searching in the Minuteman catalog for these titles or for placing requests for all library materials please visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website,

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