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Luann Toth's “Great Adventure” | Editorial

Best wishes to SLJ's reviews managing editor in her next chapter. 

Every time you have used a School Library ­Journal review to help make a decision about a book for your collection, you’ve gotten a taste of her ­editorial acumen and benefited from her vast expertise. Or perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to attend an SLJ Day of Dialog in the last decade. Then you have enjoyed her mastermind event skills, in which she devised a knockout program each year. Now, SLJ’s Luann Toth is retiring after some 30 years. I sat down with her to reflect on her tenure.

Toth was 10 years into her library career, working in children’s services at the Summit (NJ) Public Library and the Queens Library, when head of SLJ book review, Trevelyn Jones, reached out. Editor David Gale was departing for a job in book publishing. Would she come have a look around?

“I was extremely nervous and thought, ‘I don’t know how to do this job,’” Toth recalls. But the SLJ staff was very welcoming. “‘The stuff we can teach you is easy peasy,’ they said, ‘but the expertise you bring is everything.’” That acknowledgment of the work that librarians do was powerful and affirming. “We continue to try to do that today as we bring in new reviewers,” she adds.

Over the years, Toth has seen a lot of changes, but one of the biggest has been the radical expansion of the scope and reach of children’s publishing. “It used to be a sort of cottage industry, but now it is a multimedia, international enterprise and is much more diverse. It’s a very exciting time. We all remember the dire pronouncements that reading is dead, the picture book is dead, print is dead, and that is just not so,” she says. “To see the enduring value of libraries and what they bring to communities is just awesome. They ­remain my heroes.”

This year, she’s glad to see that inclusivity has been further integrated into the Best Books selection process, which is now committee-driven, bringing in working librarians where possible. Toth chaired the picture book committee and is bullish on the list as a whole.

“It’s exciting that we’ve been able to highlight small presses, own voices, and new emerging talents,” says Toth. “Where we all worked collaboratively in the past, this new process opened it up in an expansive, engaging way to shape a broad list.”

Toth is grateful to several supporters over the years: Jones, for giving her a dream job; Brian ­Kenney, former SLJ editor-in-chief, who launched Day of Dialog (modeled after a successful program hosted by Library ­Journal) and encouraged her to take the helm (which she will contribute to in 2020); and ­Kiera Parrott, SLJ reviews director, who she says is both fabulous to work with and is a visionary and powerful leader for the reviews team and the field.

Toth won’t be far away. The Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library remains her go-to spot; her partner will be volunteering in the ­garden there as well.

Toth told me she sees her time at SLJ as a great adventure and an opportunity she took at the right ­moment, and encourages emerging librarians to do the same. “Don’t ever sell yourself short,” she says. “You can learn and grow; your voice can be heard.”

Take it from Luann. She knows her stuff.

 

 

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Rebecca Miller

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

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