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Since its introduction in 2003, the Librarian Action Figure has been one of our most popular items. After an initial backlash against it because some librarians thought it promoted negative stereotypes, it has become a symbol of exactly how cool librarians actually are.
The model for the action figure, Nancy Pearl, agreed to let us ask her some questions about how being an action figure has changed her life. In addition to having superior information science skills, Nancy also came up with the idea of having a whole community read the same book at the same time, has written three great books (Book Lust, More Book Lust and Book Crush) about what books you should read and regularly reviews books for NPR.
Archie McPhee: How has having an action figure changed your life?
Nancy Pearl: I don’t know that it’s really changed my life, but it’s certainly led to lots of conversations with strangers – people love to tell me (and I enjoy hearing about) who sent them the LAF, or how they first heard about it. I’ve also had the gratifying experience of walking into a library in a new town (or different country – I saw one in New Zealand!) and seeing the LAF displayed on the circulation desk.
AM: Has the controversy over the shushing stereotype died down? Do people still talk to you about it?
NP: Every time that I think that we’re finally done with that, I meet someone who wants to tell me how awful she/he thinks it was, but at least it’s happening much less often now than it did at first. Most librarians, and most people, I am glad say, see the LAF as what it was – a real tribute to librarians and the good work they do.
AM: What is your favorite thing someone has done with your action figure?
NP: I frequently get pictures from people with the LAF in foreign countries (shushing the visitors at a temple in Cambodia, for example), or placed lovingly in large mushrooms (at least I think it’s a mushroom), or dining with a dashing man in a dollhouse. The Michigan Library Association sent the action figure around Michigan to have librarians take pictures of it in different settings. It went from a leather store in Royal Oak to visiting the new library in Southfield. That was one example. The LAF has certainly traveled much more than I have. The LAF was also on a wedding cake, which I thought was perfectly wonderful.
AM: On to more serious issues, in a fight between the LAF and Sigmund Freud, who would win?
NP: Oh, probably Freud – he’d quickly analyze the reasons for all my behavior and render me speechless and completely actionless. Plus, I couldn't understand his German so would be unsure what to do next.
AM: Any advice for more recent action figure model Seth Godin?
NP: The biggest piece of advice is not to get the real you confused (in your own mind or others) with the action figure of you. It took me a while to get that figured out.
Nancy's Recommended Books for Archie McPhee shoppers:
A wonderful graphic novel called Alice In Sunderland by Bryan Talbot – it’s perfect for anyone who loves history, England, and Alice in Wonderland, not to mention being a terrific example of what we (wrongly) call graphic novels can offer readers.
Mystery fans might enjoy Tana French’s In the Woods – a police procedural set in a suburb of Edinburgh. The characters are appealing and fully fleshed out, the writing is smooth, and the plot is great. One warning – those who disliked the last episode of The Sopranos might not be as fond of this book as I was.