October 2013 Editorial

A-Changin’ Times

Photograph of Rebecca Bartlett

Choice first saw light of day in 1964, and hitting the 50-year mark is cause for celebration.  And at this moment in Choice’s history, we here have a particularly acute understanding that, as Bob Dylan wrote (also in 1964), “times they are a-changin’.”

Though Choice boasts a few reviewers who have been with us since the beginning, no one on the Choice staff can make such a claim.  Still, we’ve got some longevity under our collective belt: at the top of our seniority ladder is editorial director Fran Graf, who has been here some thirty years.  A couple of others follow Fran, and then comes a whole crowd who have been at Choice for twenty years—yours truly a proud member of that crowd.
Choice was a pencil-and-paper operation when we twenty-year folks joined the staff—though that was soon to change.  In 1993 the reviews came in by mail; we editors edited them with a pencil, using standard proofreading marks; the administrative staff retyped them, to include the edits.  Editors kept records of assignments on “reviewer cards,” hand-writing the author/title, date of assignment, and pertinent information such as the author’s affiliation.  When the review came in, we put a check mark indicating receipt.  And everything we reviewed was a book (the World Wide Web having been born at the beginning of the 1990s, the term “web site” would have evoked only barns and spiders; the term “e-mail,” as currently known, only bafflement).  If an editor needed to communicate with a reviewer (or vice versa), he/she typed (on an actual typewriter) or hand-wrote a letter or picked up the telephone.  Apart from the telephone, the most complicated machinery on our desks was a stapler.  We shared an OCLC terminal, which was in the open office area.  You get the point.
Now here we are in the fall of 2013, doing almost everything electronically.  Books are tracked internally by isbn; in addition to reviewing books, we review digital resources; reviews are submitted electronically; all editorial content is edited online (though we still keep a paper trail of reviews).  Every employee has a PC.  To facilitate editing, we editors have open before us e-mail/calendar; Word; our internal “publishing system,” which houses all our data and through which we edit, process, and export reviews; and several browsers (connecting us to OCLC, an online dictionary, publishers, and so on).  Telephones ring infrequently, and even many of our internal communications are by e-mail.  And, of course, Choice is now published online, as well as on paper, at Choice Reviews Online (CRO), which includes content back to 1988.
All of this reveals the huge change since 1993, never mind since Choice’s beginning.  And at this moment in time, we are engaged in some particularly dramatic changes—some accomplished, some imminent.  We have just launched the third iteration of CRO; we are about to update to a sophisticated internal “publishing system”; and there’s a new sheriff in town, editor and publisher Mark Cummings.  Mark has met personally with every individual on the staff, getting to know us and seeking input.  In his September editorial (his first), Mark reached out to Choice’s “friends and subscribers,” inviting them to offer “information and guidance” that will help us “reimagine this wonderful publication.”
Long story short: we here are engaged in looking both backward—at our 1964 roots—and forward, to a future in which we plan to remain vital and to expand our offerings in directions as yet only contemplated.— RAB
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