Penn State Director Launches Book Review Program with Local Newspaper

In an effort to push back against dwindling book coverage in American newspapers, Penn State University Press Director Sanford Thatcher has initiated a program to have university press books reviewed in the Centre Daily Times by the local and college community. After launching the program with his own examination of The Great Risk Shift (Oxford University Press) by Joseph Hacker, Thatcher has selected thirty titles by presses other than Penn State and solicited reviewers from among Penn State's faculty.

"It seems to me that there is likely to be no better market for the general-interest titles that we all publish from time to time than the college towns in which many of our presses are located," he said in an email to press directors. Thatcher, who had served as AAUP President for the 2007-08 year, noted that some books relevant to local topics had instead been reviewed by writers well outside the community, and suggested that the reviews would be more relevant and persuasive if written by someone from the area.

"My book review program is a natural extension of a general project of civic engagement," Thatcher said in a speech at the AAUP Annual Meeting in Montréal, "which has the further advantage of helping break down the walls between town and gown in our community."

To recruit local writers who are not members of Penn State's faculty, each Centre Daily Times review carries a sidebar with the headline "Be a Reviewer," instructing interested critics to contact Thatcher. For the purposes of the Centre Daily Times reviews content, the definition of "local" includes faculty at any of Penn State's campuses and anyone who has roots in the community even if he or she does not reside there at present. Also, reviewers other than those assigned by Thatcher will not be limited to non-fiction or university press books—which nevertheless benefit AAUP members by furthering the goal of expanded book coverage in local newspapers.

Thatcher has engaged the Penn State Bookstore in the effort by working with them to set up a display with the local reviews and stock additional copies of featured books. The store, which is managed by Barnes & Noble, will thus provide exposure for the books while hopefully netting itself a few additional sales from the promotion.

With the Centre Daily Times review project gaining steam, Thatcher hopes other university presses will establish their own working relationships with local papers. Much of his encouragement comes simply from a desire to see a good idea expanded, though there is also a bit of self interest—as reviews editor, he does not feel that it is appropriate to publish articles on Penn State books. But he is happy to send review copies of his press's titles to similar initiatives, should any arise.

Shaun Manning
Communications Coordinator, AAUP