Help Wanted: Book Review Rescue

Scott McLemee brings to academia an issue that has been burning in publishing. The amount of space given to book reviews is endangered in newspapers. Many papers rely on a smallish number of canned wire service reviews that don’t reflect the local community’s interests, and with change at the LA Times, shrinkage at the SF Chronicle, and disappearance from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution extinction is a possibility.

Perhaps online media will take up the slack? Let’s hope so. But the destruction of the remaining “reviewing infrastructure” at American newspapers is a bad thing for authors, for readers, for booksellers, and for publishers.

So I am addressing academic librarians and university-press folks, now, because they – because you, rather – seem well-situated to grasp an important point.

We have something in common: It is very easy for others to take what we do for granted. As far as most civilians are concerned, printed matter is generated by parthenogenesis, then distributed across the land like the spores of a ripe dandelion, transmitted by the wind.

We know better. We do what we can with our shrinking budgets – secure in the knowledge that the work itself is worthwhile, if not always secure in much else.

He urges us – naming especially academic librarians – to act, and points us to the National Book Critics Circle blog on the crisis. Find more at the NBCC’s site on the crisis.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

3 thoughts on “Help Wanted: Book Review Rescue”

  1. There are lots of book review sites on the Internet (Amazon being perhaps the most obvious, but there are many more specialized ones). I think Scott means these online sites may help readers discover books (and help books discover readers) but he argues that books are such an important instrument of ideas and culture that they deserve some notice in the traditional press. Having an editor say “ah, they can go to Amazon if they want reviews” is sort of like saying “investigative reporting is too expensive; let ’em go to The Smoking Gun.”

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