Q: How can I support the inclusion of small press books in the school library and curriculum when there are not professional reviews? We are making an effort to purchase more diverse materials, but the absence of reviews is proving to be a barrier.
First, good for you for looking beyond traditional, mainstream publishing outlets to find materials to reflect your students and the world in which they live. And you are right–it can be hard and even impossible to find reviews of small press, or self-published works.
Commitment to building a collection that reflects our diverse population demands being open to including materials beyond what is reviewed in professional journals. It may be time for a review of your district’s policies and procedures, if current language demands professional reviews without exception, to reflect the fact that professional review sources have a bias toward mainstream publishing, and to allow for alternative assessment sources in the case of materials outside the mainstream. Like all resources, the consideration of titles from small presses or that are self-published should be made based on how the book or other resource supports the needs and interests of students, and/or supports the curriculum. In the case of small press/self-published materials, perhaps a written justification of how the specific resource does this could be provided in lieu of professional reviews.
We want to make sure you are aware of the “Indie Voices” column in School Library Journal, which is an initial effort to begin to address this issue in professional reviewing. It’s a quarterly column, and a small start, but a start nonetheless. Midwest Book Review also includes reviews of small press and self-published works. You may also find reviews of some small-press and self-published books on blogs from various library and education professionals who are committed to highlighting diversity in publishing.