09 September 2012

The LibraryThing

Originally published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 35.1, March 2010

As library students, most of us probably took a course in cataloging.  As librarians, that course was probably the extent of our cataloging experiences; even if our institutions do original cataloging (and it seems that only major academic libraries do, now), it is usually done by specialists--catalogers, who do nothing else.  For the rest of us, copy-cataloging is the way to go.

Most libraries of any size have processes in place to address this, with services providing OPAC platforms, subscriptions to OCLC for catalog records, and the like.  But we're librarians, and even if we don't want to do original cataloging, we do want the access and inventory benefits of a catalog for our own books as well as those of our employer.

Enter LibraryThing, a Web 2.0 project that uses the same Z39.50 protocol as OCLC to import metadata from the Library of Congress, Amazon, and other resources, allowing users to add their books, either using a barcode scanner or by typing the ISBNs, and create a personal catalog.  To date, nearly a million members have used the site to add over 47 million books (more than five million unique titles).  More than just a catalog, though, LibraryThing provides a book-based social networking arena like Facebook or LinkedIn, with subject-specific groups like "Law Librarians" and "Librarians who LibraryThing", discussion forums, book give-aways, and live local events.  Members can see who else has a book, contribute or read reviews, add descriptive tags to entries, and get recommendations based on their collections.

Among these features are a few worth specific mention.  Once a catalog is created, users can control how the books are displayed; there are several views available, including lists that sort by author, title, or Library of Congress call number.  Books can be displayed as a list, or by using their covers to identify them, and each item carries social metadata as well as standard cataloging information: it shows how many other users have uploaded the title and whether reviews are available for it.  Even more fun, though, is the material under "Zeitgeist", which aggregates statistics about the entire LibraryThing collection to show what titles, tags, and authors are most popular; what is currently being read or wished for; and even published authors who also use LibraryThing.  Additionally, the LibraryThing Local feature, which includes a free iPhone app called "Local Books", directs users to libraries and bookstores, or book related events, in their area--making it that much easier to interact with other nearby book lovers.

Individuals can join LibraryThing for free, but these accounts are limited to 200 books.  An annual subscription allows adding unlimited books for $10/ year, but $25 will get an unlimited lifetime account.

This likely appeals to us on a personal level, but what does LibraryThing do for us professionally?  Two things, or one thing if the organization already has a catalog and another if (the horror!) it doesn't:  LibraryThing is available at an organizational level, allowing a small firm to create a library catalog, and can also be integrated into many existing catalog systems, bringing the interactive benefits of tagging, recommendations, and user reviews to patrons simply by adding a few lines of HTML code.  Best of all, organizational subscriptions cost the same as personal ones; a lifetime account for up to 5000 books is just $25.

You are welcome to begin exploring LibraryThing by starting with my own catalog.

No comments:

Post a Comment