COLUMN: Shhhh! Superhero action figures at your library

"Librarians don’t exactly sit around reading, and your library-social hub of the community-has a hard time staying quiet," writes DeGrace.

One Christmas I received not one but two Nancy Pearl librarian action figures (with Amazing push-button shushing action!) It seemed that everyone thought that a librarian action figure was something all librarians would find hilarious.

The truth is, librarians are the original action figure, and that shushing thing? That’s cliché. Librarians don’t exactly sit around reading, and your library — social hub of the community — has a hard time staying quiet, as you can imagine (although we do try).

As for Nancy Pearl, well.

Ms. Pearl is the Wonder Woman of the library world. This Seattle librarian credits books with getting her through a hard childhood and inspiring her vocation. “Reading saved my life,” she states simply.

She spent her career inspiring others, spearheading One Book programs for Seattle and appearing regularly on National Public Radio. At the University of Washington she taught a course called Book Lust 101, and from there went on to publish the bestsellers Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason, its follow-up More Book Lust, and for teens and children, Book Crush. (We have them all.)

An Australian tribute band called The Nancy Pearls gave their debut performance on a library rooftop in her honour. Pearl became so well known and won so many awards that, yes, an action figure follow-up was almost a no-brainer.

Some called the Nancy Pearl action figure (which depicts Ms. Pearl in a frumpy dress and sensible shoes, hair in a bun) as shameful stereotyping. Ms. Pearl herself suggested it would determine “which librarians have a sense of humour” according to the Seattle Times.

There are days when Nelson Public Library librarians feel like superhero action figures, if not leaping buildings in a single bound, then certainly multitasking through impossible odds to reach pinnacles of good service. Last year we welcomed you in more than 141,000 individual visits and circulated 220,000 items. We ran programs, troubleshot eBook issues, and answered 10,000 reference questions. It was a normal year for us, with 2015 shaping up to be the same, if not busier.

We do it all smiling (most of the time) and we hardly ever shush. We know that books really can save lives and we don’t want to get in the way of that (although we are always grateful when we hear a mom or dad say: “please use your library voice.”) But mainly, we want the library to be a comfortable place to meet, chat, read and learn.

There are those who miss the good old days of quiet libraries, and we do understand. Sometimes folks need a quiet place to tutor English learners or hold Skype interviews and not bother other people. Students need a place to study for that final exam; writers need to finish that novel.

Nelson Public Library to the rescue — with some help from our friends. Thanks to generous donations from the estate of Don Flood and from the City of Nelson, we now have two small glassed-in “quiet rooms” available for use at the back on the non-fiction section.

Right now, for the sake of sign-up, they’re called Room 1 and Room 2, but your Nelson librarians — who enjoy a sense of humour worthy of Nancy Pearl — are throwing out suggestions for better names. Who wants boring old Room 1 and Room 2?

How about (from popular culture) Abbott and Costello, or Mutt and Jeff?  Or (from literature, of course) Griffin and Sabine, Jekyll and Hyde, or Thing 1 and Thing 2?  Or, (closer to home) Stanley and Victoria? One librarian suggests we call them “Shush” and “Be Quiet.”

Or perhaps we should call our new quiet rooms Nancy and Pearl. After all, they come with built-in shushing action, no push button required.

Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.

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