February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Much More Than a List | Editorial


For years, the December issue has celebrated the best of what has been produced in the preceding year—from books to apps to DVDs and much in between. This year’s package, from the anticipated Best Books to our Top 10 picks, provides an exciting tour, highlighting the cultural contributions of 2014. As I read it, I found myself also considering the power of human curation. This expert process is not celebrated enough in an era of analysis-driven recommendations.

Robust curation is central to the development of the lists here. Kiera Parrott took the helm of SLJ’s reviews team just over a year ago. As we finalized what is her team’s first Best Books list, we discussed what makes it unique among the slew of best lists published at year’s end. For her, it starts with our expert reviewers.

“The initial curation—the rising up of particular titles—came from our reviewers,” Parrott says. Of the almost 6,000 books we reviewed, some 250 emerge as star-worthy, and a star puts that title in contention for “best” consideration. “That gives the list credibility and a weight that is rare among best lists. It’s special because it’s a collaboration with front-line librarians who are seeing specific needs and trends in their communities. They bring hyper-local insights, and that gets filtered up through SLJ’s editors who are seeing the big picture across publishing. The balance between those two experiences fosters a rich, authentic list.”

Such thoughtfulness extends to our Top 10 lists—developed by subject and format specialists—they are delivered together to reflect the span of resources available. Librarians are increasingly working across formats—reflecting and supporting how patrons move between media. “It’s really because kids—when they are doing research—aren’t just print-focused,” explains Parrott.

In terms of format, libraries used to be very siloed, with separate criteria for different formats, says Parrott. “That’s shifting,” she adds. “Now, the thinking is a little more like how teachers think, across curriculum, not just buying by format in isolation. We’re building collections in a more integrated way. The DVDs may be in the DVD area, but the buying is more entwined.”

This is exciting—but there’s so much to choose from. This actually represents a sweet spot for libraries. Patrons want to know what to read, watch, and listen to; what is worth buying, giving, and sharing. “We want people to think of the library as a place to seek that kind of knowledge,” says Parrott.

The library might be a natural place for that, but the competition for patrons’ attention is intense. “Librarians need to be smarter, and more savvy” given marketing from Amazon and the big box stores, says Parrott. “And, we are—we are smarter than those mass retailers. We know our patrons. We know our communities.”

Absolutely. Libraries provide targeted, thoughtful curation. They can be proactive, anticipating what people are going to want when they don’t even yet know they want it. They provide surprises, create moments of serendipity, and foster new discoveries.

SLJ’s lists, Parrott notes, can help librarians do that important work. They celebrate the very best of what’s been produced in the year, enable those buying materials to make sure their collections are well rounded, and serve as a tool for supporting the use of complex or even controversial selections.

The lists also enhance programming such as storytimes and readers’ advisory, adds Parrott. Use them to showcase materials you already own through displays or signage.

Engage patrons, caregivers, and teachers directly, list in hand. Encourage users, for instance, to check out a Best Books title before they buy it as a gift. “When a grandparent comes in asking what a grandchild would like,” says Parrott, “hand them this list and help them make discoveries in it.”

SLJ’s Best Books is available as a PDF. “Get out there,” Parrott urges. “Work this list!”


Rebecca T. Miller

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.