Last Tuesday, myself and many other librarians and readers had the pleasure of hearing Nancy Pearl speak at Park Tudor School. My former boss lady at the Indianapolis Public Library Shared System wrote a wonderful summary about Nancy’s visit below:

From Sarah Batt: Manager of Development for Indianapolis Public Library’s Shared System

Quintessential Librarian Visits Indy 

Introduced “as one of the first Amazon recommendation engines,” Nancy Pearl (center) spoke at Park Tudor Tuesday as part of their Speaker Series sponsored by the National Bank of Indianapolis. It is true, no one knows books like Nancy Pearl. She’s written several books about books (Book Lust, Book Crush, among others). She reviews books regularly on NPR. Her home office is awash in advanced reader copies sent to her by publishers hopeful of her notice.

Her reliance on reading began in childhood, where she didn’t feel safe at home. She spent every afternoon after school in the children’s room of the library. On Saturdays, she packed a lunch and headed to the library. The librarians there “showed her through books that there were different ways of living than how I lived.”

Nancy is known for having begun the One Book, One City movement in Seattle. She said her vision was that someone would get on a bus and discover everyone else on the bus reading the same book and that spontaneous conversations would ensue. While she doesn’t think that actually happened, she knows that the books got people talking with each other in ways they might not otherwise. She calls this “talking about yourself refracted through a book.”

To illustrate this point, she told about a program sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia where all the seventh graders in the country read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. While she thought it an odd choice for Bosnia, she agreed to train the teachers to lead the book discussions. In the book, Junior describes the tribes to which he belongs, as an adolescent Spokane Indian attending an off-reservation private school, he found he belonged to several tribes. Nancy asked the teachers at the training to introduce themselves by the tribes they belonged to. The first teacher said she was in the tribe of children with Serbian fathers and Muslim mothers. A voice in the back of the room spoke out “I’m in your tribe!” (If you’re not familiar with the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, you might substitute the names of any two groups who have gone to war against each other.) Nancy’s point is that without the book, the teacher might not have thought to introduce herself in terms of the cultural conflict, nor would she have discovered someone with similar experiences.

Other Pearls of wisdom:

  • The library is more than just the books, it’s the heart of the community.
  • We could encourage kids to read more by setting aside family reading time at home, and by continuing to read out loud to them long after they’ve learned to read. (There’s a teacher at the IPS Newcomer Program who still reads aloud to his teenagers.)
  • We need to make it easier for people to talk about what they’ve read when they finish. (I think the best way is to ask, before you say anything else, “So. What’d you think?”)

There’s so much more! We hope Nancy Pearl will visit Indianapolis again soon. When she does, you can count on reading about it here!