Editor’s Note: In need of inspiration? You are in luck! Hack Library School plans to bring back reviews to the blog – on books, technology, and other resources in the LIS field - and will even consider guest reviews! You can check out previous books reviews on the blog here.
By now you’ve probably noticed that here at Hack Library School we are really big on a little thing called professional involvement. Just recently, we’ve covered professional organizations, conferences, committee work, and more. It’s an excellent way to develop important skills, learn about issues and conversations in the field, meet people, and demonstrate to prospective employers that you’re proactive and engaged. Book reviews are one important (and fun) avenue of professional involvement that many students aren’t aware of. HLS alumna Annie Pho first suggested book reviewing to me, and I’m so glad she did. Now that I have a few reviews under my belt, I’m here to pass it on!
Book reviewing is a volunteer opportunity offered by numerous publications and professional organizations in library and information science fields. Reviews are often assigned based on specialized expertise, so if you have another graduate degree or a lot of prior experience, they can be an especially good fit. Your book reviews will become a public part of your professional persona, so think carefully about what kinds of venues are a good match. Don’t just apply to every available publication! If you are already involved in a professional organization, start there. For example, the Art Libraries Society of North America is an organization that closely matches my background and personal goals, so that’s where I started. Or take a look at the list of periodicals published by ALA.
Next, find out how they identify potential reviewers. Occasionally reviews are by invitation only, but the majority of review publications accept applications and inquiries. Some, such as Library Journal, will have a reviewer application online. You can submit a bit of information about your qualifications and interests, and they may add you to a reviewer pool. They will then notify you when a book becomes available for review. Others, especially professional organizations, will curate a list of books and put out an open call for volunteers to review those specific books. These calls are often distributed through the organization list serv or on their website. You can then email the editors to express interest in an available title.
Once you’ve thrown your hat in the ring, you may have to wait a while before being selected. Be patient, don’t bug the editors, and most importantly, don’t get discouraged! You will get to review something eventually, and that will give you the opportunity to prove yourself so that you’re a better candidate next time. Some publications, such as ArLiS/NA Reviews, have a short-list system where volunteers who are not initially selected are given first dibs on the next list of books. This has happened to me twice, and I received a title to review after being short-listed both times.
So you’ve received a book to review. Great! Now what?
Along with a copy of the book, you’ll receive a publication agreement that establishes copyright and licensing terms, plus guidelines such as the submission deadline, word count, the expected content of the review, and formatting requirements. Be sure to pay close attention and adhere to these expectations! First and foremost, respect that deadline. Remember that the review editor is probably a volunteer too, and don’t make their job harder than it needs to be. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your reliability, professionalism, and collegiality.
Read carefully and take notes along the way. What is the author doing particularly well? Are there gaps or inconsistencies? Are their arguments credible? What is the author’s background? How does the work engage with other literature on the topic? How does it feel to read the book? Is it durable and of high quality? What kind of audience is it suitable for? These are the types of things you’ll want to pay attention to. Don’t get too bogged down, though! On my first review, I took extensive notes as if I were writing a dissertation on the book’s subject. I don’t recommend this approach – you may lose sight of the big picture, have a hard time giving a concise assessment, and run out of time…
Before submitting, proofread the review thoroughly and check it against the guidelines one more time. Imagine that you are a librarian making collection development decisions; would this review help you decide whether to buy the book for your library? If so, you’re ready to hit send. The editor may contact you if further revisions are needed, but you can be confident that you’ve written a good review.
Do you have any experience writing book reviews? Leave your tips in the comments!