Wednesday, September 07, 2005


LibraryThing is an online book cataloguing website and it's GREAT. I discovered it via LibraryStuff and have been gradually cataloguing my collection ever since.

I've been getting bugged to catalogue my books for years now and I'm finding that LibraryThing makes it really fast to add in a book. All you have to do most of the time is type in the title or most of the title of a book. The service then checks in the Library of Congress' z39.50 bibliograpic information gateway to retrieve the nearest relevant information, as well as looking up Amazon. It then returns the books that match, and you just point and click. If there's only one book that matches, it just adds it in straight away. Fast and easy.

Adding up to 200 books is free, after that you need to pay a $10 lifetime subscription. I'm at sixty-something now, and will endeavour to imitate Eve Halliday this weekend, subscribe and (try to) do the rest this weekend in a feverish burst of cataloguing activity.

Cool features:

* Sort your books by author, title, date published or the tags you've used to describe them.

* An excellent search tool to see what's already in your library.

* See who else in LibraryThing has the same book in their catalogue.

* I love it that you can see the LoC classification. This sounds really dorky, but I miss the P selection of the library...all the linguistics and languages books!

* You can export your catalogue as a CSV file. This is a big big big big plus!

* New features are always being added. When I began cataloguing a few days ago, the service used only the Library of Congress z39.50 interface to get book information. Now it collects info from Amazon as well. And you can tell what's going on by checking out the LibraryThing blog.

* The site owner/builder, Tim Spalding, is really open to suggestions.

So here's my wishlist:

* Advanced tagging behaviour: It would be nice if we could select a bunch of books by checking them in the library and apply a bunch of tags to them. And if we could search for books with tag X but not tag Y.

* What about some suggested tags based on their LoC classification? I like to provide some rough tags for my books like "history" or "geography" that should be more or less deduce-able (deductible? Nah.) from the classification.

* A warning if the book you're adding is almost identical to another you'd entered previously. I'm finding that I sometimes forget where I stopped cataloguing and I enter the book twice, but the system doesn't let on. In case the user accidentally adds books with different ISBNs, maybe xISBN can help to resolve them?

* I think it would be really cool if a bunch of people could get together and pool their bibliographic resources by each building a catalogue and creating a collective library. With one search they could then see whether the book is available among their circle of friends and if so, who owns it. Then they can beg, borrow or steal it. Quite a few of my books are (to my knowledge) almost unique to Singapore since I can't find them in the national library system or any of the university libraries. OK, so I know that my friends wouldn't have those books anyway, or I'd already be asking them! I guess it'd be cool if you could specify where you lived and say that you're willing to loan books to people in the same city or within a certain radius (the latter wouldn't work for Singapore, I'm sure) and then search all available libraries to you, and e-mail the relevant person.

Of course, this would require that quite a lot of people find out about LibraryThing and start using it. But this service deserves to have a lot of people find out about it. Hence this public service announcement. Thank you.

P.S. It looks like LibraryThing is getting pretty popular. LanguageHat has blogged about it too! LH currently has one of the 20 largest libraries within LibraryThing. I want to be up there too! Alas, I think my collection, even with all the books catalogued, will never inhabit the same rarefied heights...


Anonymous maryb said...

Hi Callosum,
LibraryThing is a blast, isn't it? BTW I keep seeing your name on my Similar Libraries lists.

1:58 PM  
Blogger C. Callosum said...

LibraryThing is indeed a blast. I see that we do have books in common - in fact, some of my favourite books! (That's right, folks, you can compare your library with other people's and see whose reading tastes gel with yours!) "How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs" by Collier (one of the first books that pops up on our shared list) is how I taught myself to read names, which wowed everyone no end at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo!

8:51 AM  
Blogger Twerpette said...

Thanks! I will try it out (cool!) but in the meantime link to you on Twerpette.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Ukiah said...

I like your blog site.
I have one too, but I can't figure out how to reload it:)

10:59 PM  

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