Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Interview With Librarian Deborah Bigelow A Library Journal Book Reviewer

1.      Deborah, as a librarian, where do you see the future for libraries? Well, libraries, like many other institutions, are using more and more technological tools.  That means librarians have to stay ahead of the curve to learn and teach people how to download e-books, search for information online, and advertise our services in a number of online sources. On the flip side, as society becomes more automated, I think there’s a need among people to interact with human beings and have a sense of belonging.  Libraries are the perfect community center for all ages to come together in programs or simply to meet friends at the circulation desk.  We offer unbiased space in which to discuss all sorts of ideas.

2.      As a book reviewer for Library Journal what do you find is challenging about your job?  The most challenging thing is to select books that have quality, yet will be worthwhile purchases for libraries.  People might be looking for a highly advertised celebrity-written book, yet, compared with others on the same subject, falls short.  I also have to boil down the essentials – author credentials, book summary, evaluation -- into  90 words.  And instead of say, using the adjective “interesting” I try to summarize why it’s interesting.

3.      There are more books published each year than ever before – how do you keep up with them? It’s hard.  As a reviewer I deal with psychology and self-help, so that’s one segment.  Yet, there are thousands of life coaches, success coaches, financial coaches, etc. all feeling the need to write a book with their own particular gimmick – 5 easy steps to wealth, 10 building blocks to a great life, etc.  Once a given topic, how dogs are wonderful, for example, has jumped the shark, I try to anticipate the next new trend (e.g. mindfulness, although we’re seeing a glut of that now) and introduce that to the public.

4.      What do you love about working in the book industry?  Well, I’ve always loved to read, and working in a library and as a reviewer gives me access to a world of reading and new information.  I love the serendipity of finding a book or journal article that inspires me to look at things in a new way or teaches me about history for example, that I find fascinating. I also love enabling people to learn new ways of finding information or guiding them to books they might find interesting.

5.      What do you look for, as a book reviewer, that helps you determine what to write about a book? As you mentioned above, there are so many new books out every year.  Out of the 50 books I’m sent to choose from for reviews I look for authors who have a new take on issues.  For example, handbooks for families of returning soldiers, parents who’ve lost children, or women dealing with the breakup of a female friendships.  I also like books that are practical as well as philosophical. 

6.      How important is the library market to authors and book publishers today? Advertising and appearing on Oprah aside, I think that libraries provide a wide audience for the introduction of new books.  Libraries offer a free tasting, if you will, of authors and publishers.  Book groups too, often lead readers to borrow and purchase more books than they ever have before.  People will often get hooked on a series, whether it be Pinkalicious or a Harlan Coben novel, and often buy more as gifts. .

7.      What trends are you seeing in the library market? There are so many formats in which books are published – paper, downloadable, audiobook, etc. – that we have to budget accordingly. With shrinking library budgets, we also want to get our bang for our buck.  We count on reviews from journals and our knowledge of our particular patrons, to buy something that will fly off the shelf.  Do we take a chance on a new author, say, Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants) or choose another copy of Patricia Cornwell’s latest? One of the trends I don’t like is that of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities churning out books, as they often have no qualifications or real value to the reader.  Even reality stars are putting out books.  Really?  Another unfortunate trend is that publishing houses are reticent to try new authors as they need to publish definite good sellers.  That means the author has somewhat of a “name” and is good-looking enough to appeal to talk show hosts.  Unknowns who may be very quiet or physically not “star quality” may be overlooked. Hence, more self-publishing.  And there can be both good and poor books, all unreviewed, in this.   Also, there are more “famous” writers and series than ever before.  James Patterson puts out dozens of books, for example, and we usually purchase them all.  That leaves less money to try new authors.

8.      There are so many fan-based reviews posted online, from amazon and goodreads to so many others. Do book readers understand that a review from a trusted source like Library Journal is worth so much more than thousands of other such reviews? I would hope so.  Amazon reviews are written, primarily, by friends of the author.  Goodreads wants to put a positive spin on their books in order to sell them.  Reviews in sources like Library Journal have the libraries’ and readers’ interests at heart. 

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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