ALA 2010: Everyone's a Critic

Booklist Online senior editor Keir Graff moderated a panel on the future of book reviews, featuring Goodreads CEO and founder Otis Chandler, Washington Post Book World deputy editor Ron Charles, director of author and publisher relations Jon Fine, and school librarian and blogger Jennifer Hubert Swan (Reading Rants).

Although there was much of the positive customer-reviews-and-professional-reviews-can-coexist-in-happiness! talk, Charles brought perspective. Graff said, “The pace of news is accelerating. Is technology working against the long-form book essay?” Charles: “Yes.” Later, he talked about his need to review general interest titles rather than a lot of niche discoveries to get more clicks on their site–newspapers need to be general in order to survive. He foresees a future of big city dailies continuing to die as five large papers live and syndicate book reviews to other publications.

Fine emphasized the effort required to use and read user reviews, and he values the engagement that comes with it as well: “More speech is better speech.” Chandler and Fine both discussed the difficulties of maintaining integrity–avoiding conflicts of interest and keeping people who are getting paid to write good reviews at bay primarily by an algorithm that orders reviews.

I felt a general sense of naivety about the public’s understanding of what could jeopardize objectivity and the general ability to read critically. Everyone’s spouting criticism, and, we, as readers, are expected to read it with a critical eye? As Fine said, “There’s no time to indulge in all the great resources out there.” I wish there had been more librarians on the panel to say, “But what if that’s your job?”

Visit ALA Annual Conference News for ongoing coverage of the conference by the editors of Library Journal and School Library Journal, and see LJ‘s Flickr page for pictures of various show events.

Anna Katterjohn About Anna Katterjohn

Anna Katterjohn ( is Managing Editor for the LJ Book Review and assigns books on performing arts, cooking, home economics, and crafts.