SLJ Reviewer Chat Transcript from September 2017: Reviewing Multimedia (Apps, Audiobooks, & DVDs)

Check out the transcript for our last reviewer chat on SLJ reviewing apps, audiobooks, and DVDs. It took place on Thursday, September 28, 2017.

sklose [1:55 PM]

joined #slj-reviewer-chat.

dgrabarek [1:58 PM]

Hello, everyone. Daryl Grabarek, app editor here.

sklose [1:58 PM]

Hello! I’m Stephanie Klose, audiobooks editor.

Welcome, everyone! We’re excited to chat about all things multimedia with you! Would everyone like to introduce themselves?

jpoyer [2:02 PM]

I’m Judy from Annapolis MD

hwrittsljatsullivan [2:02 PM]

Hi. I’m Hilary from Lexington, KY.

sljdvds [2:02 PM]

And I’m Kent Turner, DVD editor.

shelf-employed [2:02 PM]

Lisa from St. Augustine, FL

jennie_rothschild [2:03 PM]

I’m Jennie from Arlington, VA

aebrownson [2:03 PM]

Ann Brownson, recently retired, but still reviewing both audiobooks and DVDs, from Charleston, IL

sklose [2:03 PM]

Hi everyone! I know that Daryl has some things she wanted to discuss about app reviews, so let’s start there.

We should have plenty of time to cover DVDs and audiobooks too.

shelf-employed [2:04 PM]


dgrabarek [2:05 PM]

Of course! Well, one of the questions I do get asked often is where to find app reviews…

You can go to under reviews, under apps and 3 times a year in print.

I also get asked what we review…

The focus of the Touch and Go column is book apps, reference apps, and some game apps. Since we review a limited number of apps, my job is to ferret out those that I think will be of interest to our audience. We lean toward iPad apps, but do include Android apps as well.  Our reviews include credits, prices, device needed, age range, links to trailers, and of course, an evaluation. Look for our app round-ups as well on topics ranging from STEM to Holiday apps.

I also get asked what we look for in an app review…..

jpaladino [2:07 PM]

Hi – this is Julie from North Carolina

dgrabarek [2:07 PM]

Hi Julie

SLJ reviews primarily story and nonfiction apps for ages 3 and Up and there is a whole list of considerations …some overlapping fiction and nonfiction, some not.

Starting with fiction, we ask reviewers to consider storyline; quality of the narration; audio, sound effects (do they add to the atmosphere, information, or are they distracting); navigation; and audience.

Visuals of course are primary including the type and quality (photos, drawings, artwork); animation (how much, how effective); originality; cultural appropriation

We also look at additional enhancements/special features, which can include embedded videos, 360-degrees views of scenes, multiple language options, Easter eggs, online supplementary information, games, quizzes….

sklose [2:10 PM]

Cultural appropriation is such a complicated subject–do you or your reviewers have helpful ways to recognize/address it?

sljdvds [2:10 PM]

Likewise, for DVD reviews, we consider many of the same things: the quality of the production, does it appeal to its intended audience, how appropriate it would for classroom use.

dgrabarek [2:11 PM]

We do, and we seek guidelines from media producers, developers, educators, and our librarian colleagues.

Fortunately many app developers are also concerned about these issues. The Diversity in Apps movement began a few years ago and you can learn about their goals in this interview: As we know, the definition of diversity goes beyond skin color and the group is committed to designing apps that is appealing to a wide audience—one that goes beyond race, class, or gender. Apps, too, must speak to different learning styles, language abilities, and other needs. Since this article ran the group has renamed itself KIDMAP.  Check out their website and subscribe to their newsletter here:

School Library JournalSchool Library Journal

Diversity in Apps | A Movement Grows

Sandhya Nankani and Kabir Seth, the founders of two independent app companies, teamed up to push the children’s digital media industry toward a



KIDMAP supports the creation of diverse and inclusive children’s media through research, best practices, and collaboration. We are committed to putting all kids on the digital media map.

shelf-employed [2:12 PM]

Why do you “lean” to iPad apps? IPad’s are more expensive, and Android is more common, no? Many apps are used solely on phones, and Android is more common.

dgrabarek [2:13 PM]

We try to look at all stories and nonfiction apps with the same critical eye. We, our reviewers, and many developers are, of course, concerned about representation and diversity. When the app for Seuss’s “If I Ran the Circus” app came out several years ago (almost 61 years to the day it first won a Caldecott Honor in 1951), we called it out. We have discussed how developers have portrayed Native culture, as well as gender representation. Our reviewer Mary Ann Scheuer, discussed the inappropriate use of a Native American headdress in the Mystery Word Town, and there are other examples. Must apps be marketed to only boys or girls?

hwrittsljatsullivan [2:14 PM]

Since iPad apps are the primary apps reviewed, can I assume that a potential reviewer would need access to an iPad to evaluate apps?

dgrabarek [2:15 PM]

Another question we get asked! Ipads, because originally that’s where many of the apps our audience was interested were being produced.

sljdvds [2:15 PM]

FYI, here’s info on a workshop that Library Journal is conducting, Diversity and Cultural Competency Training: Collections & RA

Online Course | Cultural Literacy: Collections and Readers Advisory

Strengthen your cultural literacy and a become a more effective advocate for your community in this course created specifically for library professionals.

dgrabarek [2:15 PM]

It is also a matter of being able to cover the field

Discoverability – as app developers will tell us – is a big issue in the field.

shelf-employed [2:18 PM]

As librarians, its our job to help with “discoverability.” :blush:

sljdvds [2:18 PM]

Also, here’s info on SLJ’s Cultural Literacy and Diversity Training for Librarians, which will be on October 5 in Nashville:

School Library JournalSchool Library Journal

SLJ Diversity Workshop

The editors of School Library Journal present a one-day workshop on Cultural Literacy and Diversity Training for Librarians. This immersive, interactive day of learning will focus on evaluation of

dgrabarek [2:18 PM]

Finding apps that we feel our audience would be interested in takes a huge amount of time….you have probably seen the stats on # of apps produced each year.

I completely agree! We are trying our best, and products you feel need a review are always welcome.

Suggestions that is…

We are also limited by space, of course, in print and online.

sljdvds [2:20 PM]

This question is for everyone: For DVDs, what type of material/subject matter do patrons and/or teachers request?

shelf-employed [2:21 PM]

One more point in apps: I agree. I served on ALSCs Great Websites for Kids (which is being expanded to include other digital media). We always tried to seek out media that worked on multiple platforms. I think parents, teachers, and other librarians look to SLJ and the profession at large to winnow the field for them.

jpoyer [2:22 PM]

We recently had a request for DVDs dealing with puberty and everything available was really old.

shelf-employed [2:23 PM]

On DVDs, teachers ask for materials that can entertain and help them fulfill standards. They also like informational DVD s on “celebratory” months, etc. And, of course, sharks! :wink:

sklose [2:24 PM]

When it comes to reviews of multimedia material, what’s useful to you?

jpoyer [2:24 PM]

We also buy a lot of DVDs for homeschooling parents.

sljdvds [2:25 PM]

Hmmm. I haven’t seen anything specifically on puberty recently, but a lot on bullying, social media, drug use. There was a DVD from Human Relations Media, I believe, on puberty and hygiene, but that was at least two years ago.

jpaladino [2:25 PM]

In reading reviews, I’m interested in suitability for what kind of audience.

aebrownson [2:26 PM]

Yes, Kent, I think I reviewed that one!

sklose [2:26 PM]

By that, do you mostly mean age group? Or more granular?

shelf-employed [2:26 PM]

DVD reviews for younger kids would be great to see more of … Community helpers, seasons, etc.

jpoyer [2:26 PM]

Useful information–length, age of audience, if nonfiction some indication of sources used or background of presenter.

hwrittsljatsullivan [2:27 PM]

Public performance rights information is helpful. Can that information be hard to find out from the piece you are given to review?

dgrabarek [2:27 PM]

Do teachers ask for those DVDs that stop and go? In other words, offer opportunity for class discussion breaks?

shelf-employed [2:27 PM]

Yes, @jpoyer ! Background of producer. Helpful in determining reliability.

sljdvds [2:28 PM]

@shelf-employed What sort of DVDs entertain and help fulfill standards, according to teachers? Would that be something like Weston Woods releases?

jpaladino [2:29 PM]

Age, any specific group it’s targeted for (particular classes for example). I love it when they say it’s a secondary purchase.

sljdvds [2:29 PM]

@aebrownson Yes, you did!

Does anyone use streaming services, such as Hoopla, in their libraries?

jpoyer [2:31 PM]

We are looking at Kanopy (I am in a public library)

shelf-employed [2:32 PM]

I would have to look at Weston Woods catalog to answer. In general, they’re often looking for BHM, WHM, etc. titles. As for entertaining, I simply mean DVDs that don’t put kids to sleep! And teachers often lookfor DVDs to use on days right before holidays, so they want it to be appropriate to the time of year, but also educational.

dsalvacruz [2:32 PM]

I’m at Suffolk Cooperative Library System – several of our libraries have Hoopla

shelf-employed [2:32 PM]

@sljdvds yes to Hoopla! Parents love it.

sklose [2:33 PM]

@shelf-employed @dsalvacruz Are people streaming video and audio equally? Or one more than the other?

sljdvds [2:34 PM]

@hwrittsljatsullivan We provide the public performance rights (PPR) price when that specific info is given to us by the distributor/producer.

hwrittsljatsullivan [2:34 PM]

Thanks @sljdvds! :slightly_smiling_face:

sljdvds [2:36 PM]

@hwrittsljatsullivan The PPR info can be found in the biblio of the review, when applicable. Roughly have the DVDS have a PPR price.

shelf-employed [2:36 PM]

@sklose I don’t have access to that statistical info. Anecdotally, I’d say video. Parents like to avoid the heftier late fines on video materials.

sklose [2:36 PM]

@shelf-employed Ah, makes sense!

dgrabarek [2:37 PM]

What topics would you like to see covered in DVD “Round-Ups?”

dsalvacruz [2:38 PM]

@sklose unfortunately I don’t have access to the statistics since they don’t go through our system for it, as far as I know.

sklose [2:39 PM]

SLJ will likely do a couple of sizable collection development pieces that are audio-specific next year. Are there any subjects you’d especially like to see?

sljdvds [2:40 PM]

For round-ups, would there be interest on any focusing on the environment and current events? Or another topic? We will be posting a round-up on animal documentaries (from the “Nature” series) next week.

shelf-employed [2:41 PM]

Speaking for myself, I :cupid: non-fiction audio.

sklose [2:41 PM]

@shelf-employed That’s a great idea, especially since our reviews are overwhelmingly fiction

shelf-employed [2:41 PM]

@sljdvds environment is great!

jpoyer [2:42 PM]

Animals are always popular

sstone [2:42 PM]

Anecdotally, we get asked for DVDs on language learning and social-emotional skills for youth who struggle with those skills. (And puberty, as someone mentioned above!) So a round up on those topics would be useful.

shelf-employed [2:44 PM]

@sklose Chow about audio PD titles? I’m reviewing Bruce Handy’ s Wild Things for Audiofile mag, and it’s great! Are there many audio titles of adult materials targeting teachers and librarians?

I agree with @sstone on language learning


sljdvds [2:46 PM]

@sstone Are they asking for bilingual DVDs. Is it material like “Super Why” and read-along DVDs?

sklose [2:46 PM]

@shelf-employed That’s interesting! There aren’t a ton of specifically teacher- or librarian-focused PD titles on audio that I can think of, but if we branched out into lit titles (like Wild Things or Pamela Paul’s recent book) and possibly some more general productivity, plus books about education, that could be really useful

shelf-employed [2:47 PM]


sklose [2:48 PM]

@shelf-employed now, if you’d just start reviewing audiobooks again…. :slightly_smiling_face:

sklose [2:49 PM]

That reminds me: if anyone here is not yet reviewing audiobooks for SLJ and would like to, please email me at

shelf-employed [2:49 PM]

I’ll think on it. :thinking_face: I don’t have the commute that I used to! And your turnaround time is pretty quick.

sljdvds [2:49 PM]

Given the range of prices, how much does cost come into play when purchasing DVDs?

shelf-employed [2:51 PM]

@sljdvds I’m not in purchasing right now. I know that in the past, we didn’t weed a lot because of the cost and general unavailability of good replacement options.

sljdvds [2:52 PM]

And if anyone would like to review DVDs, please contact me at

jpoyer [2:52 PM]

I just started purchasing DVDs for my system. If it costs more than $30 or so, I will look at it more carefully.  This is also one of the reasons we are looking at Kanopy.

aebrownson [2:53 PM]

On another topic, I’ve had a few audiobooks recently that were review only and I couldn’t add them to my collection. Any chance you could let those distributors that that’s kind of stinky?

sklose [2:54 PM]

@aebrownson I’m not sure what you mean by that. I’ve never had anything submitted with a notice that it couldn’t be donated to a collection. Or were they digital files?

Digital files are a whole other ball of wax, but physical audiobooks should be yours to do what you like with them.

dgrabarek [2:55 PM]

One last app/media question: I wonder if you have been asked by parents about app reviews … do they ask for them, or request lists of quality productions, or know about the AMA media guidelines for the various age groups?

aebrownson [2:58 PM]

@sklose they were Dreamscape titles and said things on the Discs like “no rental or no resale”

sklose [2:58 PM]

@aebrownson Huh. Even so, you should be able to donate, right? I think they just don’t want you making money off them.

shelf-employed [2:59 PM]

@dgrabarek  I think as a profession, we were to slow to move on apps, so we are not considered the definitive resource for app reviews. Only with sustained and concerted effort can we get the word out that we are a go-to source for adults seeking quality child-focused apps. We’re late to the party and have much catching up to do!

dgrabarek [2:59 PM]

Sorry AAP, American Academy of Pediatrics

sklose [3:00 PM]

@aebrownson I just opened up a Dreamscape audiobook on my desk, and those CDs have that message too. I never knew that!

Unfortunately, we’ve reached our time limit for today. Thank you for chatting, everyone!

sljdvds [3:00 PM]

Any last-minute questions?

shelf-employed [3:01 PM]

Thanks for hosting! :grinning:

hwrittsljatsullivan [3:01 PM]

Thank you all for your help and information!

dgrabarek [3:01 PM]

Thanks, all. It is always great to hear from others in the profession-we learn so much.

jpoyer [3:01 PM]


aebrownson [3:01 PM]

Thank you!

sljdvds [3:02 PM]

Thanks for the chat.

lonnastory [3:05 PM]

DVDs for award winners, like Freedom in Congo Square are popular in school libraries.

sljdvds [3:07 PM]

@lonnastory Hi Lonna,

Good to know.

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