I think the most important question to deal with regarding book reviews, reactions, etc. is the audience for which they are intended. For example, I read reviews with at least four different hats on: 1) as a professional teen librarian, where part of my job is to purchase books for my community, 2) also as a professional librarian, but in my (to my mind very separate) job of Reader’s Advisory, 3) as a passionate reader of YA literature who likes to have a nice argument about the merits of books, and 4) as a fellow reviewer and blogger, who knows (perhaps) a bit more about how reviews are written and edited than the average reader. If I talk about all four of these roles, this post will go on forever, so I’m going to focus on roles 1 and 3.
In role one (collection development) I was a little baffled by this question Carla, Francisca, and Angela posed:
- What is the role of the professional book review now that social media outlets serve as book information resource channels?
because for myself, the answer is so clearly: exactly the same that it’s always been, which is as a collection development tool. While I flatter myself that at least some of my reviews for VOYA and SLJ are a little heavier on critical analysis than perhaps the average review, the fact is that the professional reviews are not primarily about analyzing literature, but about helping librarians decide which books to purchase for their collections. And this is exactly how I use them as a librarian. I collect YA Nonfiction for my local branch, and YA Fiction for all eight branches in my County, and when I do my ordering, the first thing I do is to look through the latest issues of Kirkus, Booklist, VOYA, and SLJ. I’m not reading these reviews for their deep insights but for a snap judgement–is it for my library or not? And to tell the dirty secret of many librarians out there, since I’m usually reading them in big batches at a time, I frequently only read the first and last lines of a review to find out what the reviewer thought of the book–or in the case of VOYA, sometimes I only look at the Q/P score. I suppose there may be librarians out there who are eschewing professional reviews in their collection development, but my sense from my colleagues here in Solano as well as my friends in other systems is that the professional journals remain the backbone of collection development.
Of course, book blogs and other social media communication have added an extra resource for collection–for example, I usually spend a lot of time with Adult Books 4 Teens mid-year and end of year best-of round ups–if our adult selectors haven’t already bought them, I almost always pick up everything on those lists. I use other book blogs for similar purposes, picking up on things that might have slipped through the cracks at the professional journals, but these are *extra* tools, that do not affect the professional review backbone.
Which is why, in my second hat, as a reader, I’m actually not much interested in professional reviews. I love my work as a reviewer and I have nothing but respect for my colleagues at VOYA and SLJ, but if I am looking for a place to get some truly interesting critical feedback about a book, I am going to awards blogs like For Those About to Mock, Someday My Printz Will Come, or Heavy Medal; or book blogs like Bookends, Monica Edinger’s Educating Alice, or Sondra Eklund’s Sonderbooks. Those blogs can all be useful tools in my first hat, but I primarily read them because I like to talk literature with other smart people who read a lot of the same books as me.
It is definitely this second category that drives the way I think about this blog. When we write about books we didn’t like so much (or even books we’re incredibly passionate about) here at Crossreferencing, I don’t think it does (not do I think it should) affect the way other librarians build their collections (on the other hand, when I write a 1Q review for VOYA, I am very much hoping that other librarians read that review and think twice before purchasing the book). Most all the books we discuss should be in the collections of any medium to large sized library, so it’s not about persuading or dissuading purchases. Instead, I hope what we do here is to contribute to the overall critical discussion of YA literature, and especially, I hope that we do a good job of providing frameworks and mental models for discussion rather than simply saying, “yes, we liked this one, hope it wins the Printz.” You mentioned my (what seems like a long time ago) life as a literature major: when you’re reading 20 or 30 blogs a day (as some do) it may seem like the world of YA Literature analysis is thriving, and in some ways it is, but when you compare it to the kind of complex theoretical work that has been going on in adult literature for at least 80 or 90 years, it is clear that we have a long way to go in creating appropriate critical models for understanding and discussing YA Literature, and I hope that that is where this and other blogs are pointing.