Claims That Reviews Reflect “Liberal” Bias

Q: How can I respond to accusations that the review journals and other professional sources libraries turn to for book evaluations and recommendations are biased toward “liberal” perspectives?

First, it’s important to realize we all have implicit biases. As librarians and educators, we have a responsibility to recognize our own biases and to strive to overcome them in our professional work. 

Those who challenge books and the freedom to read may have no interest in looking beyond their own biases, or they may be struggling to do so, and that can impact not only their response to individual books but also their thoughts about how books are chosen for libraries, including their opinions about professional reviews and other resources. 

How, and even if, you respond to the accusation that the professional sources we turn to in materials selection show “liberal” bias may depend on the context in which such a claim is made. If this comes up in a conversation, or in some context that allows you to reply constructively, you can begin by asking more specific questions to better understand the concern or accusation. For example, “In what way do you believe the review journals show bias?” or “Can you share some specific examples?” 

It’s likely that the response will reveal concern or frustration with favorable reviews of materials they find objectionable because of content that does not align with their personal beliefs. For example, maybe the individual finds any review or recommendation of materials that affirm LGBTQ identities problematic. 

Here are some things you can point out:.

  •  It isn’t bias to favorably review a book about a topic or with content that some people find objectionable. 
  •  It is bias to approach reviews or recommendations with the idea that all books affirming the experiences of  X or about Y are unacceptable (e.g, affirming LGBTQ individuals, about racism).
  • Across various professional reviews and recommendation sources, responses to individual books often vary, and responses to books on a specific topic definitely varies, so not all books about X, or Y, are necessarily reviewed favorably or recommended on professional lists. 
  • Librarians often consult multiple professional reviews/sources as part of their decision-making.
  •  Recommendations in professional review journals and from other professional resources (as opposed to reviews on sites aimed at the general public such as Amazon, Goodreads, and others) are created with the needs and interests of those who are responsible for selecting materials for libraries and/or classrooms in mind.

Sharing these points may not change the mind of someone claiming the professional sources you turn to reflect liberal bias, but it may help someone else better understand how you evaluate and select materials following your library’s board-approved policies in order to provide books and other resources that will meet  meet the wide range of needs and interests in the community your library serves.

January 2022

Thank you to Monica Treptow for contributing to this response.