April 28, 2017

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Survey Reveals Demographic of SLJ Reviewers

BehindtheReviews_smThe 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.

 

 

 

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Steve Clancy says:

    “SLJ reviewers are some of the most intelligent and articulate book people in the industry,” said Kiera Parrott, reviews editor of SLJ. Then why aren’t they paid?

    • Kiera Parrott Kiera Parrott says:

      Hi Steve. Good question. SLJ reviewers have always done their thoughtful and detailed work on a volunteer basis. Due to the volume of reviews we produce each month (over 600 titles including print and multimedia reviews), we are not financially able to pay our reviewers–no matter how much I’d love to.

      So why do our nearly 400 reviewers spend the time and energy to read carefully and write reviews for us every single month? It depends on the individual reviewer, but there are a lot of reasons. Some do it because we send the finished copies of the books they’ve reviewed; many librarians have told us that this helps boost their collections–always appreciated in lean budget years. Others review because they enjoy seeing the titles pre-publication and they like being “in the know.” Some librarians love the intellectual challenge of not only reading, but evaluating a title and then distilling that into a 250-word assessment for their peers. Many of our reviewers love seeing their byline in print and proudly add “SLJ Reviewer” to their resumes, profiles, etc. A good number of our reviewers go on to book award committee work and find that professional reviewing is a great training ground for the type of critical evaluation necessary to do that kind of work.

      Before I became review editor, I was an SLJ reviewer, covering mostly picture books. I would get giddy every time a new assignment came my way and I’d eagerly tear open the package when it arrived. Sometimes I’d spend hours, days even, perfecting my review. And I’d happily page through the new issues, looking for my name. It was quite exciting! I imagine the same is true for many current SLJ reviewers. It’s certainly not for everyone. But those who are interested and passionate about books often find intrinsic motivations for professional reviewing. And boy am I glad they do! There is simply no way we could review all the titles we do without them. It’s one of the many reasons librarians are simply the best people in the world–at least in my view.

      • Laurie Walters says:

        Great answer, Kiera! As one of the “unpaid” reviewers, I agree with all of your reasons! Monetary compensation is certainly not the biggest motivator for most librarians, as evidenced by our salaries. :)

  2. I applaud, SLJ for conducting this survey and releasing its numbers. The big takeaway for me was that even though the numbers were not diverse, positive, constructive things were learned from the running the survey and having the numbers. A more diverse reviewer pool will be a necessary asset as our books and our readers become more diverse.

  3. Any plan to address the gender issue? I didn’t see that mentioned in the article.