A blessed LibraryThing it is …*

I’ve already talked at length about the constant preoccupation of our profession with image, so rest assured that I’m not going to do it again (at least not in this post). Instead, I’m going to discuss the one love that binds us all together … the one word that gives our profession (and place) its name … the objects with which users will always associate us …

Books.

Despite all (misguided) attempts to portray librarians as sexy young things obsessed with the web and social networking (shudder), I think it’s pretty safe to say that most librarians remain lovers of reading. Derek mentioned to me once that a young librarian of his acquaintance isn’t particularly interested in books; that’s the only reason I hesitate to say ‘all’ librarians love reading. To be honest, I can’t understand people who aren’t passionate about books. Taking pleasure in reading is reflective of a thirst for knowledge. My own thirst for knowledge shapes a list of books I want to read in the future that is comprehensive enough to provide fruitful entertainment for my retirement (expected to be a minimum of 40 years away).

For some time now, I’ve pondered the use of LibraryThing for maintaining my reading wishlist, instead of Excel. I see that the 23 Things LibraryThing task requires me to add ‘books I own or books I have read’ to my LibraryThing account, but I’m going to rebel. After all, this program is about making technology work for me, right? My LibraryThing ‘bookshelf’ (I don’t like that metaphor; I already have enough books to fill a whole house so a single bookshelf seems pretty paltry) is populated not with books I have read, but with books I’d like to read, some of which I own, most of which I don’t. I have a list of over 700 books at home but at the moment I’m at work, so these are just a sample. Many of them are recommendations I’ve garnered from my other 23 Things colleagues’ bookshelves, while others come from the plethora of good book review blogs I subscribe to daily.

The best of these book review blogs is definitely Blogging for a Good Book, which contains a daily title recommendation from the Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, United States. They ran a theme on apocalyptic novels last week, but the content varies and even includes some films and audio books. You can subscribe to the blog in a feed reader (as I do), or visit the site directly and use subject tags like graphic novel, magic realism or literary fiction to find a good read. Blogging for a Good Book is a wonderful resource both for blog readers around the world, and the Williamsburg Library as an institution. It provides an inspiring book club-like atmosphere for daily subscribers to encourage reading, discussion and debate, but it also acts as a showcase for the Library’s collection by providing links to each book’s entry in the catalogue.

(‘Books’, from Matt Carman’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

I’m quite happy with LibraryThing as a personal tool; it allows me to quickly search for a book and add it to my bookshelf with a single click. It also provides an interesting feature called ‘tagmashing’, which allows me to conduct a search on more than one tag term and combine it with another similar or even completely different term(s), which makes for some interesting results. An example from iLibrarian shows what happens when you mash fiction, horror and vampires and exclude books by Anne Rice. Here’s another one I’ve garnered from things sitting on my desk: red + time travel (my red mouse mat and the book I’m reading, in case you wondered if there’s a portal to other worlds right here …).

There are certainly downsides to LibraryThing, like the 200 book limit on a free account, which will prove to be a real problem for me down the track as I start to upload my whole wishlist. However, I think it’s an improvement on my previous not-particularly-friendly Excel spreadsheet system. It’s worth mentioning that I also trialled the Facebook application iRead for this purpose, but while I like that it places a picture of books I’m reading in my Facebook profile, because of privacy restrictions I can’t share my collection with people I haven’t added as friends. I suppose I should point out that I’m happy to discuss books with complete strangers, but not my personal life (excepting obviously that post about Sinead O’Connor).

I’m not sure about the use of LibraryThing as a substitute for an OPAC (online library catalogue), but as you can see, Los Gatos Public Library is putting LibraryThing for Libraries to good use, providing additional functions such as tagging and book recommendations within a traditional catalogue entry structure. Many librarians don’t like tagging (or other user-generated content, for that matter); they’re worried about a deterioration in the quality of keywords, and about users introducing spelling errors, swearing and vandalism to the taxonomy. These are valid concerns, but not reason enough to abandon the idea of user tagging altogether. Library of Congress subject headings, a controlled vocabulary that looks like this: Commerce — Australia — Social aspects — 1900-1945, are frequently not particularly self explanatory. At a time when users are becoming increasingly proficient at using keywords to expand or narrow their Google searches, we should be making an effort to adapt our tools to match new trends in information-seeking behaviour.

Other good book review blogs:

  • Paper Cuts
  • BOOK reMARKS
  • * ‘A blessed thing it is for any man or woman to have a friend, one human soul whom we can trust utterly, who knows the best and worst of us, and who loves us in spite of all our faults.’ – Charles Kingsley
    Blogger’s note: only books and pets will ever fit this category. Kingsley’s a dreamer.

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    2 Responses to A blessed LibraryThing it is …*

    1. Sara Jervis says:

      Rebecca,

      When I was young like you are and in a library, I worked my way through the stacks library shelves from A to B. I remember reading Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer ( I think in B) and Martin and other sundry Boyds. I cannot remember the A s, in fact they may have been boring and I moved to the B s. I then discovered WW1 books and read my way through the classics from Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves’ “Goodbye to all that ” to studies of battles – the Somme., etc. Then I discovered Russian books and read Sholokov, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Dostovyesky. Then there was John Updike and the “Rabbit “books, Philip Roth and Sinclair Lewis, Doris Lessing. Periodically, I gave the classics away for new classics – the spy novels of Le Carre and Deighton.

      I have never had a wish list or books to read before I die. So many great books are published daily and favourite authors are waited for and new favourites are discovered, more often than not, serendipitously. Book lovers meet other book lovers all the time and the instant you chat to a fellow traveller who thinks like you do and who reads, your pathway becomes littered with new books to read and every book you choose will be perfect for you at the time. Indeed later on in those distant 40 years from now, you may be surprised at how little of your list you have read.

      I find that book reviews are as stimulating to read as books and I can become addicted to them.
      Eventually I learnt to mark out which books I would definitely read and I chased them down. To let chance take you to books may be the best option: if you calculate 40 years and 10 or 15 books a year, which is fast and constant reading, you still would struggle to get through your 700 books on your list now. And, no account can be taken of books you put on your list today and tomorrow and next week and month and…

    2. Sara Jervis says:

      Rebecca,

      I thought of you when I read this piece in Australian Higher Ed, Wed. 5/12/07

      reading

      The author queries doom and gloom assessments of the falling numbers of people who read books. He refers specifically to the world of reading done over the internet, including through access to blogs.

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