Devour a book

July 27, 2008

Eat a Book

I just felt like tinkering with a variation on READ posters.
I loved this author’s first book and was reading this one when I met him at ALA.


Dead People’s Books

February 10, 2008

Meant to write about this a month ago

Last September, jbd1 (his screen name) embarked on an intriguing project to enter all of Thomas Jefferson’s books* into a LibraryThing profile. Jefferson would become, in essence, on online persona on the popular social networking site. We could browse his catalog and compare** it to our own as easily as that of any other LibraryThing friend. It’s as if we were running our fingers across the spines of books at Monticello [right].

I friended Jefferson and joined in on the cataloging project with jbd1 and about fifteen other people during that first week. My sections were astronomy and natural philosophy (personal interests of mine). I started with enthusiasm but got bogged down after entering about three dozen titles. These were pre-1815 volumes, after all, and required time-consuming searches for precise editions in academic library catalogs; no small task. The small group of collaborators finished the entire project a month ago. Check it out. It’s a wonderful resource.

Jefferson’s collection isn’t the only historical library of interest, however. Members of LibraryThing’s I See Dead People['s Books] group have completed or started working on the catalogs of about twenty other famous people ranging from Samuel Johnson and James Joyce to Marie Antoinette and Susan B. Anthony to Mozart and Tupac Shakur. I applaud this imaginative collaborative effort. It places a scholarly resource within a user-friendly environment and brings dead people’s books back into view. Oh yeah: It’s also just a cool concept.

* Specifically all the books Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress in 1815.
** I share 27 titles with Jefferson, it turns out. Newer editions, of course.


Back from vacation

January 2, 2008

Hope you enjoyed the holidays. I went back to work today for the first time in two weeks and the place looked eerily familiar.

I’ll post a new “Learn More” installment early next week, but thought I’d restart LibraryStream now by joining in on a meme popular with other bloggers this week: a personal reading recap of 2007. Here’s my freshly compiled statistical list.

Books read in 2007: 62
Non-fiction: 53
Fiction: 5
Other (drama/graphic): 4
Male authors: 48
Female authors: 15
Most read months: January & February (9)
Least read month: June (2)
Book reviews published: 29

I’ve kept a personal reading list since 1993, and enjoy the list of titles far more than these dry numbers. Still, the numbers proved 2007 to be among my least-read years. That’s probably because so many other interests caught my attention. Photography, cycling, and social web projects ate away at precious reading time. I’m fascinated by far too many subjects to trim my non-fiction habit, so it was fiction that took the biggest hit when reading time got squeezed.

The low number of female authors on my reading list this year surprises me, too. It’s not normally that lopsided and probably has more to do with pure chance than anything else. The sex of the author means less to me than the topic and writing style.

In a previous post I showed you my shelf portrait of some of the books I appreciated last year. I won’t/can’t pick a favorite.


A Shelf Portrait

December 16, 2007

These are some of the books that I enjoyed this year: a little humor, history, fiction, and science — with a little biking, birding, wilderness, and library stuff thrown in. I’m a voracious reader so I had to leave a lot out. What books remained aren’t necessarily the “best”, but they became part of me.

What would be in your shelf portrait this year?


Learn More: LibraryThing

December 10, 2007

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

There have been many software attempts to help people organize their books, but recent social networking sites have finally made the job convenient and — believe or not — fun. LibraryThing is only one of several social cataloging sites, but it is probably the most consistently innovative of the lot.

A member of LibraryThing can enter her titles or ISBNs and let the cataloging muscle of 140 large libraries around the world provide the bibliographic detail. Then she can tweak the content, add tags, browse cover art, rate the books, or write her own reviews. She can even search her books (or anyone else’s) from any Internet connection.

In many ways LibraryThing works like a standard library catalog. But it’s a personalized catalog; they’re YOUR books, after all. How cool is that?

The social side of LibraryThing lets members browse other catalogs, find members who share the same books, chat in book discussion groups, and swap recommendations. Since the site was designed for book-lovers, readers can engage in all the socializing without the pressure to buy anything.

Meaning for libraries

I’ve taught two-hour LibraryThing for librarian workshops, so filling this space could easily get out of hand. I’ll limit myself to just three broad ideas:

  • Rethink the catalog. Library catalogs have always been tools to find resources. Social cataloging sites breathe an element of fun into the old tool. Sure, a patron can find specific books quickly, but he can also write and read reviews, discover titles recommended by thousands of other members who share reading interests, and interact with those readers. Tim Spalding and his team at LibraryThing are always tinkering with new features that the library world would be remiss to ignore. You’ll see features here and wish your library’s PAC could keep pace.
  • Book clubs. Encourage members of your book clubs to get accounts. They could leave messages for each other between meetings or might enjoy writing their own reviews when the big monthly group discussion is over. The group might even use the recommendation tools within LibraryThing to find future club titles.
  • Reader’s advisory. Librarians could track the books they read and tag them based on reading level or interest. When asked to recall a good book, their personal lists will be at their fingertips. Some people list books they own; others track all the books they read. Many (myself included) do both.

Learn more by participating

If you love books (you work in a library, don’t you?) you might get carried away with this project. That’s all right. Go at your own pace. Three or four 20 minute visits to LibraryThing might be enough for you to do a little of everything listed below. Of course, if you get the cataloging bug you might burn through all your free time for the next month in LibraryThing. Hey, I’ve seen it happen!

  1. Open a LibraryThing account. (It only requires a username and password. You aren’t even asked an email address!)
  2. Start adding books. Entering ISBNs will help you find exact editions, but title and author keywords work, too. (You might even be able to use a CueCat barcode scanner.) It’s not impossible to enter a dozen or more books in just 15 minutes.
  3. The cover art visible on “Your Library” page is usually supplied to LibraryThing by Amazon, but you can benefit from other members’ covers, too. Upload your own cover if you’ve got a rarity.
  4. Add tags to your books. (Remember tags from the previous lesson? LibraryThing’s tags number in the tens of millions and uses them well.) These don’t need to be precise subject headings. Use whichever words are meaningful to you: “dogs, pets, beagles, love, funny, favorite, read, bedroom bookcase”
  5. Explore the LibraryThing tag cloud.
  6. Look up a few titles in Search and read some reviews.
  7. Try the BookSuggester a few times and see what comes up.
  8. Add info to your profile page. Be as public or as private as you choose.
  9. On your profile page you’ll see links to other members who share your books. Click a few and visit their catalogs.
  10. Maybe someone shares your favorite book. Leave a message on their profile page.
  11. Partner with someone else doing this exercise and add each other as friends.
  12. Wander into the discussion groups and read some entries. Join in, if you want.

Most of all: Have fun with your books! It’s your web now.


Mashing LibraryThing and Polaris

October 8, 2007

The other day I mentioned computer code with which Polaris was toying to add more “funability” (Tim Spalding’s word) to the library catalog. Here’s how it would work:


Let’s say you bring up Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The first part of that bibliographic record is straight out of the library’s PAC, but nicely tucked below is a tag cloud piped in from LibraryThing‘s database of 25 million tags. Catalog users would get great visual cues about the book from the few thousand readers who tagged their own copy of the book in LibraryThing.

The words are not fixed LC subject headings. They were entered by readers of the book. That means the words will more likely relate to the readers browsing your catalog. There’s real benefit to that. (LC subject headings are still available in the PAC’s detailed view, mind you. For The Giver, they lead off with “Euphemism” and “Euthanasia”. Yawn.)

But the fun doesn’t stop there…


Click one of the tags and some LibraryThing javascript (inspired by LightBox) generates a long list of books that best match that particular tag. Who made that list? Everyone who tagged their own books. It’s an example of social website collaboration.  Tim Spalding has done such a remarkable job finding relationships in all his data crunching that the results are eerily good. What’s more, the titles returned from LibraryThing seamlessly filter out books not in your library’s catalog. Your patrons won’t be bogged down with stuff they can’t readily get their hands on. They can also continue clicking and browsing.

Tim described this concept months ago and has been able to tack it onto the catalogs of a few individual libraries already. I previously mentioned Danbury as the first example but, as far as I know, Bryan Rubenau at Polaris is the first to write code toward fully implementing this stuff into the guts of an ILS software package. His preliminary code rocks. If it goes into a future upgrade*, catalog users might soon search the reader-contributed tags (like “chick lit”) just as easily as they search titles, authors, and subject headings.

Impressed? Join the club.


*At the moment, Polaris is looking into the specific requirements for integration and asking its customers if they’re interested. There’s no formal partnership between LibraryThing and Polaris.


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