LibraryThing Local

March 3, 2008

LibraryThing’s been at it again. The social networking site for book lovers added another nice feature today. This one — LibraryThing Local — focuses on libraries, bookstores, and book festivals. As Tim Spalding explained in his blog, LibraryThing Local is:

“a gateway to thousands of local bookstores, libraries and book festivals—and to all the author readings, signings, discussions and other events they host. It is our attempt to accomplish what hasn’t happened yet—the effective linking of the online and offline book worlds.”

At the moment, any LibraryThing member* can add and edit their favorite locations. The entry form includes (or has the potential for) each venue’s address, phone, fax, email, and URL; a map to the place; amenities (like food and wifi); and RSS feeds for programs and events.

Retrieval is a snap. A user can simply enter a city and LibraryThing Local’s page will feed upcoming events to them. A clickable map [see the example above] populates all the nearby venues. Without checking a lot of different websites, readers can see what authors are in town and what’s happening at your library AND all the other book places nearby.

An independent book store owner I know had been wanting to share announcements of author events with other book stores and libraries. This makes the job much easier. An RSS feed might be all that’s needed. How do you suppose your library can benefit from this?

Great work, Tim. Again.


*I immediately added my county library branches, my university’s library, and three favorite bookstores. It’s easy. Check too see if your library is listed. If you’re a LT member, add your favorite book place.


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.


Snippets of PUG

October 6, 2007

Conferences dispense so many topics that it’s hard to pluck just one headline from the annual Polaris Users’ Group (PUG) Conference that wrapped up in Syracuse, NY today. I’ll mention a few snippets now and elaborate later.

Tim Spalding, founder of LibraryThing, delivered a good — often hilarious — keynote address yesterday urging libraries to make their catalogs more fun, and more willing to use data tools that discover book relationships not tied to standard subject headings. His Death Star metaphor for OCLC might be a tad over the top, but I’ll gladly follow him down the road of tags and tag clouds. He’s done amazing things with his database of nearly 25 million member-generated tags. (More on that in a future post.)

As a fan of social networking tools, my favorite news of the week came just after the keynote: Polaris programmers have written code exploring a connection with LibraryThing. About six months ago Tim started talking up the possibility of integrating catalogs with LibraryThing tag clouds and related books lists. (I remember this clearly because we tried to engrave our library’s name on his list the following day.) The Danbury Library has it working already. It’s pretty slick. In recent weeks, Polaris programmers were intrigued enough to start writing code to its ILS software to maximize all the bells and whistles that would come streaming in from LibraryThing. There’s no formal partnership between the two, mind you, and no certainty that the coding will go into a new release, but there’s enough written code that Polaris gave us a working demo. I’m a bit partial to the toolkit, mind you, but tag clouds and tag-generated book suggestions in the Polaris ILS looks fantastic. I’ll post screen shots in LibraryStream as soon as I get them.

I was also intrigued to learn more details about the Dewey-free Perry Branch in Maricopa County (AZ). They made news around the world earlier this year when they opened with a design modeled on contemporary bookstores. Materials are arranged by book industry labels (like “Pets” and “Cooking”) rather than Dewey Decimals (like 636 or 641). Cindy Kolaczynski, Maricopa’s Deputy Director, gave background and a progress report at PUG this morning. I’ve got my doubts about going entirely bookstore-based, but love the spirit of experimentation at Maricopa. If no one tries things like this, we’re all just flapping about theory. I’ll come back to this topic, too.

I gave a presentation at this year’s conference — “Training 2.0: How to expose and inspire your staff to the social web” — but I hope that this blog will give you the gist of that over time.

Finally, PUG reminded me the value of face-to-face, meet-in-the-hallway connections that happen so often at conferences. To the many new people I met in Syracuse: It’s a pleasure. To those I had met before: Our conversations seemed to simply pick up where we had left off. To those of you going to other conferences: Eat them up.