Distributed reviews by public librarians

In an article in Forbes.com, Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More , David Vinjamuri considers the problem of readers dealing with the tsunami of e-books available to them with little or no in the way of finding aids or reviews. He suggests that public librarians take up the task of reviewing e-books in a distributed manner, one that reminds me of the way libraries have distributed the task of cataloguing for many years:

Those numbers are astonishing (harken back to the 11,000 books published in 1950), and their magnitude explains why eBook users have difficulty finding the next book to read. Once we abandon the bookstore for the virtual world we find that it is a primeval forest, dangerous and uninviting, replete with frauds and scams looking to scrape a quick buck off of unsuspecting readers. There are a few sites like Goodreads and Indie Reader that offer alternatives to the untrustworthy online review, but for the ordinary reader, there is no single source available to sort the diamonds from the coal.

Now let’s do some simple math: there are 16,000 library buildings in the United States. If each library were to review just one unique book a month, as a group they would cover 192,000 titles in a year. That’s 58% of the total books published for 2010. Many of these books could be reviewed quickly: they are poorly written, unedited and lacking any redeeming virtues. Perhaps one in ten would be worthy of a detailed review. Yet if each library discovered just one interesting book a year – and shared that result with other libraries who could review and rate those interesting books there would be 16,000 interesting books for libraries to review. If we assume that just one in one hundred of those reviewed books are “great” libraries would still have discovered 160 great new books to recommend to library patrons each year.

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