November 21, 2017

How to become an LJ reviewer

By LJ Staff

Library Journal Book Review is a selection tool used in both public and academic libraries. Each year it offers signed professional reviews of approximately 6000 current titles in a wide range of disciplines. Our service is thus an important one for libraries and their users.

Reviewing for LJ is a demanding and time-consuming activity, but one that can yield a good deal of professional satisfaction. To some extent, it is an acquired skill. The following guidelines are offered to help you write your review. Of course, reading the reviews in LJ will help as well.

The reviews are addressed to the educated generalist, rather than the subject specialist, and designed to present the information needed for the selection decision in a highly condensed form. Therefore, within 175-200 words, the review must include: a brief statement of the thesis or description of the contents, a critical appraisal of both substance and execution, and an indication of the book’s value for library collections. Our audience expects an LJ review to be based on a thorough, careful reading and on informed judgment.

Those are the basic requirements. Obviously there can be no single model for all reviews, nor would we want a programmed result. Ideally, the essential elements will be incorporated in a statement that reflects the reviewer’s own mode of thinking as well as the book’s individual character.

At the same time, we ask reviewers keep a number of points in mind:

Libraries are working with limited funds, so often the most pertinent feature in a review will be an evaluative comparison of the new title with one or two alternative choices. If little else is available on the topic, that fact should be noted, as should any virtue of the title under review. The importance of the topic itself, and the level of treatment in the book, should be pointed out, if not self-evident. A book that makes a significant contribution to literature, to scholarship, or to the understanding of contemporary issues should be identified clearly. In other cases, since libraries try to anticipate readers’ demands, it will be appropriate to emphasize the book’s popular appeal.

To a large degree, the book’s purpose will determine the reviewing approach. For example, a reference book requires a detailed account of its features and usefulness; a literary translation requires comment on its accuracy and felicity; a social science monograph, discussion of the validity and implications of the findings; while a work of fiction or poetry lends itself to their own terms; an illustrated popular history should not be expected to offer new insights to scholars, but neither should it contain inaccuracies, betray ignorance of current scholarship, or merely duplicate other library holdings.

Libraries must select materials to serve a broad spectrum of readers, so objectivity is important. The reviewer of a pro-censorship or anti-abortion tract, for example, should consider whether the author presents the case in a reasoned and responsible or disorganized and strident manner. Any bias detected in an essentially nonpolemical work should be noted, and its bearing on the overall value of the book assessed. Reviewers of scholarly works should resist becoming embroiled in parochial academic debates.

Even though only a few of the above considerations would apply to any given book, LJ contributors face some difficult choices in composing a 25+ line review. But their task becomes easier if the purpose of the review–library selection–is kept in mind.

In addition, we must ask for special attention to accuracy in the reviews: quoted passages should be checked against the text; dates and spellings of authors’ names should be given in full, the titles given exactly, and the publisher and year of publication cited (or date of LJ review, if known). An assertion that a book is filled with errors should be supported with examples. We ask our reviewers to check all factual statements (e.g., that the book is a "first" on the topic), particularly those that are difficult for us to verify.

While it is our policy to edit as little as possible, reviews are reorganized or condensed when necessary, and minor changes are made in accordance with house style; but the reviewer’s stated opinion will always be preserved. We can not guarantee that every review submitted will be published. In the relatively few cases in which we reject a review, we notify the reviewer once the decision is final. Because we appreciate the time and effort spent on each review, we do our best to exercise this editorial prerogative responsibly.

We do not accept unsolicited reviews. We do try to honor our regular reviewers’ requests for specific books or subjects to review (though not, of course, books written by friends, relatives, or associates). We ask our contributors to agree not to review for other publications the same books they review for LJ, and not to send copies of their reviews to publishers or authors.

There is no payment for reviews. When possible, the reviewer receives the book and a printed copy of the review. Our service to the library audience would not be possible without the generosity of over 1500 contributors. The quality of Library Journal Book Review ultimately depends on their expertise, intellectual integrity, and professional commitment.