How This Librarian Uses (Paper) Reviews

Despite the fact that the standard "librarian reviews" are available online in a variety of locations (e.g., in Baker & Taylor), I still use paper copies when I'm ordering. Why am I still tied to this physical construct? There's something about a big stack of periodicals that says: "Hey, you. Were you thinking about checking Cute Overload? Maybe you should order some books?" I also appreciate the tactile nature of a magazine (I like to authoritatively check off things I'm ordering with a nice colored pen) and the fact that the reviews are adjacent to the articles, advertisements, and other related material with which they were originally published. Sure, you can read a review out of context, just like you can download one song--but sometimes the album is more cohesive if you take it in all at once. It's also nice to give my eyes a break from the computer screen for part of the day.

In every library I've worked in, there have been multiple subscriptions to various review sources (Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal are the three I use the most) which are shared between staff members. As a very junior staff member, it can be a while before I get a copy of Library Journal in particular, as very few people observe the "please do not keep longer than 3 days" rule. When I get them from my co-workers, they arrive in bunches, allowing me to 1) to a flurry of ordering in a deeply efficient way . . . or 2) let them stack up until there's a critical mass that I can't possibly ignore.

1. The mass market paperback bestseller list. I know I could get this online, but when I get my review copy of PW I go through the list and see whether we have a hardback or whether I've ordered the paperback of each of the 15 items. This doesn't take that long, since the list doesn't change too much from week to week. If there's something that's been on the list a few weeks and we don't have either format, I usually add it to my cart, figuring that it will be in demand. I sometimes check the other western Massaschusetts libraries to see how many holds are on the item, just to confirm my reasoning.

2. The 2-6 mass market reviews per issue. The best ones are those that are very enthusiastic, or brutally honest about how bad the books are. I generally ignore middle of the road reviews. However, if a review is super enthusiastic about a book that's sixth in a series and I haven't purchased the previous five, that's not going to sway me at all. The well-reviewed items I place in my cart and may or may not end up ordering, depending on how much leeway my monthly budget gives me.

3. Graphic novel reviews and nonfiction reviews that cover books in my Dewey areas.

How I use Booklist:

1. Nonfiction reviews. I love that they have a suggested Dewey number for each book reviewed, but since that doesn't always mesh with what Baker & Taylor might have for that book, I skim to make sure I haven't missed anything that might be in one of my areas.

2. The occasional mass market paperback review--most of the Fiction review section is over my $9.99 limit. For example, there were three reviews I could use in a recent issue. One I had already ordered, one I wasn't going to get because it was 7th in a series that I didn't have the rest of, and one I put in my cart for later review.

3. Graphic novel reviews.

How I use Library Journal:

I READ IT FOR THE ARTICLES. In reality, I read most of them online before the paper copy ever filters down to me.

1. Prepub alert, just to get things on my radar that are going to be coming out in the future. Strictly for nonfiction.

2. The semi-regular romance review sections that include mass market paperback titles. Many times this is just a confirmation that I already ordered something that I should have ordered, but once in a while I come across something to add to my cart. I generally make sure that something with a good review has either been ordered by me or for one of the branches. It is particularly difficult to sort out which romance novels to buy because there are so MANY and I do get some via donation. If I'm lucky the donations show up in time for me to take the items out of my cart and put something a little more interesting in. I can skip a bunch of things because I don't buy fiction with a list price over $9.99.

3. The occasional mass market paperback review in the Mystery section.

4. Poetry reviews. Narrowing down what poetry to buy is almost as hard as narrowing down romance novels.

5. Nonfiction reviews, particularly Literature and History.

How I used Kirkus:

My library didn't re-subscribe to the paper edition of Kirkus when it was resurrected, but I used to use them to augment my nonfiction order. I enjoy reading their bad reviews, but the reviews are so long that you really have to set aside time to digest them. I do appreciate having a Kirkus review in the record when I look more closely at an item in Baker & Taylor.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I do, of course, use a lot of other sources when I'm trying to figure out what books to buy for the library. But I'm curious as to whether other librarians are still using paper and, if not, how that works for them. Please feel free to share in the comments!

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