[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.
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!
- Open a LibraryThing account. (It only requires a username and password. You aren’t even asked an email address!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”
- Explore the LibraryThing tag cloud.
- Look up a few titles in Search and read some reviews.
- Try the BookSuggester a few times and see what comes up.
- Add info to your profile page. Be as public or as private as you choose.
- On your profile page you’ll see links to other members who share your books. Click a few and visit their catalogs.
- Maybe someone shares your favorite book. Leave a message on their profile page.
- Partner with someone else doing this exercise and add each other as friends.
- 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.