The vast majority of reviewers for School Library Journal (SLJ) are white (88.8 percent) and female (95 percent), according to a recent survey by the magazine.
While not surprising, the findings stem from an effort by SLJ to understand the demographic makeup of its reviewers with the larger goal of expanding diversity among these contributors, says Kiera Parrott, reviews editor of SLJ, a national monthly publication for school and public librarians who work with children and teens. The reviewers, primarily librarians, assess more than 3,500 print books annually for SLJ on a volunteer basis.
The library profession is largely homogenous: 87.1 percent white and 81 percent female, reports the American Library Association (ALA) in a 2014 national study. “Given that the overwhelming majority of SLJ reviewers have been recruited directly from ALA’s children’s and teen services divisions, I suspected that our survey results would look a lot like ALA’s,” says Parrott.
Of 250 respondents to the SLJ survey, 2.5 percent identified as Asian; 1.7 percent black/African American (non-Hispanic); 2.9 percent Hispanic (any race); 0.8 percent mixed race; and 1.7% indicated “other.” School librarians comprised 56.2 percent of this group; meanwhile 36.7 percent said they were public librarians. Most reviewers also reside in large cities or densely populated suburbs, reported the survey, which was sent to the magazine’s roughly 350 active reviewers in January 2015.
Other significant gaps were revealed. No respondents identified as Native American or Pacific Islander. “We also found that 12 states were unrepresented—Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming,” says Parrott. “This information provides SLJ with a clear focus on next steps.”
A goal for next year? Recruit Native American and Pacific Islanders reviewers. “We’d also like to see the overall numbers of non-white reviewers increase. Regional diversity is also important; I’ll be reaching out to library associations in those underrepresented states over the next few months,” says Parrott.
“SLJ reviewers are some of the most intelligent and articulate book people in the industry,” she says. “Understanding the diversity within that group enables us to get a better handle on the areas we need to strengthen and focus on for future recruitment.” Toward that end, SLJ plans to send a follow up survey each year to assess the makeup of its reviewer community.