However, for those books where you're quite sure of their popularity or their works in general or you're looking to find quality non-fiction materials, your best bet is to check out reviews. Especially if you're a library with a limited space or budget, you want to make sure that you're purchasing quality items that your users will enjoy and/or benefit from.
Types of Reviews
Did you know that there are actually three different types of reviews?
1. Summary reviews - these just offer a synopsis of what the book is about and do not give an opinion about the quality of the material or writing. They may provide a suggested audience range for the materials for children's books. Often times you'll find summary reviews in Library Journal, Horn Book and other trade magazines, as well as publisher websites.
2. Opinion reviews - a summary is often provided along with the reviewer's opinion on the quality of the material. These are usually found in newspapers and have gained immense popularity on book related social media websites such as Amazon and Goodreads which allows users to comment on what they've read.
3. Scholarly reviews - often referred to as "peer-reviewed," these works are on non-fiction topics reviewed by experts in the field. In university, students are often required to use only peer-reviewed journals and articles.
Have you heard of the term "starred review" and don't know what exactly that means? Personally, I used to think that it just meant it was rated on a scale of something like one to five stars! However, when an author proudly states they received a starred review, it means the reviewing publication deemed it worthy enough to highlight it and set it apart from all the other reviews. So, for author's receiving a starred review is a pretty big deal. However, they're not without controversy. Read this article from Horn Book discussing whether or not starred reviews are as valuable as believed, and the difference between whether a book is a good versus whether it's recommended for purchasing.
Reviews are everywhere! To help you start, here's a breakdown of some good places to seek out reviews to help you get started with your purchasing. In no particular order:
- GoodReads.com: People love to talk about what they read, and no other website on the Internet can compare. Users must register if they wish to post reviews, and have the option of just rating the book (one to five stars), and/or leaving a descriptive review. This can be an amazing tool for librarians to get a feel as to whether or not a book is good because it's written by the average person. GoodReads provides the average rating, i.e. 4.1/5 stars and gives you the context by telling you how many people have rated it. You can read all the comments/reviews that users have left providing an incredibly broad range of opinions. And don't worry, if you wish to read the book yourself, spoiler alerts are always posted before revealing anything crucial!
- LibraryThing.com: Very similar to GoodReads, only LibraryThing is not associated with Amazon.com. Registered users are able to rate and review what they've read.
- Amazon.ca/Amazon.com: Again, user provided reviews. On less popular titles it's not uncommon to find authors and authors' friends reviewing their own books. The nice thing about Amazon is they amalgamate official reviews (so you can see where the reviews have been published) and provide excerpts from them. Often, if I need to know if a book has been reviewed at all, I'll check Amazon and if it has, I'll go to the source of the review - be it a newspaper, journal, etc.
- CM Magazine: one of the most respected opinion review publications for children's literature. Books are reviewed by teachers, teacher-librarians, public librarians and university professors. Reviews will state whether a book is recommend, highly recommended or not recommended.
- NoveList Plus: While NoveList doesn't provide it's own reviews, it does (like Amazon) amalgamate existing reviews. The bonus over Amazon is that it will provide the full review, not just an excerpt.
- Title Source 3: Again, just as NoveList does, Title Source 3 brings together existing reviews to help you with your ordering. Just look for the tab that says "Reviews" when viewing the Detailed View of an item.
- Kirkus Reviews: Tons of reviews you can search for or browse without having to have a subscription. The reviews are an easily readable blend of summary and opinion.
- Quill & Quire: Over 8,000 opinion reviews of Canadian literature in various categories, including novels, graphic novels, and non-fiction. Fully searchable.
- Newspaper opinion reviews: the biggies - National Post, Globe & Mail, New York Times and it's Sunday Book Review.
- Booklist Online: if you're willing to pay, you can access over 130,000 book reviews provided by the American Library Association. A public library serving up to 15,000 people would have to pay $425 USD a year to access the reviews.