Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Fifteen million books!

Going down, like the Titanic.

LibraryThing has hit fifteen million books.

Number 15,000,000 was a 1963 edition of The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton, added by dukedom_enough at 8:57am on June 15. For his luck, Dukedom earns a free gift membership.

Now begins the countdown to a major milestone: becoming the second largest “library” in the US, and with or soon after that, the second largest in the world, gulp.

LibraryThing is not of course a “real” library. You can’t take the books out, they do a lot more with them, and we have a lot more duplicates. We have only about 2.5 million distinct “titles.” But the comparison gives a sense of relative scale to the enterprise.*

Anyway, the tally is now as follows**:

  1. Library of Congress — 30,011,748
  2. Harvard University — 15,555,533
  3. Boston Public Library — 15,458,022
  4. LibraryThing — 15,081,543
  5. Yale University — 12,025,695

With luck, we’ll settle in behind the Library of Congress in 10-15 days. At 30 million, they’re going to take a while to beat.

When will we hit second in the world? Unfortunately, I can’t find a good list of world libraries by volumes. Everyone concedes that the Library of Congress is the largest library. The rest is foggy. Wikipedia has the British Library at 150 million items, and 22 million volumes. The Bibliothèque nationale and the Berlin State Library are at ten million volumes. (The German National Library is said to have 22 million items, but items aren’t volumes.) The stubby entry for the National Library of China speaks of it as:

“… the largest library of Asia and with a collection of over 22 million volumes (including individually counted periodicals, without these around 10 million), it is the fifth largest in the world.”

Which raises the question, does the ALA Factsheet also count periodical volumes separately?

Tim is dead. (Credit)

Surpassing the BPL in any way feels blasphemous; I love the place so much that comparing LibraryThing to the BPL—well, the lions should eat me for thinking it. But Harvard will be sweet. I lived most of my life in Cambridge, MA, but the bastards rejected me twice—undergrad and grad! So, in that spirit, and with Yalies protecting my back, let’s beat that little pile of books over at Widener.

*There are all sorts of problems with these numbers. In fact, libraries don’t really know how many books they have. LibraryThing has a small percentage of items that aren’t books, and a larger number that are “wished for” other otherwise ephemeral. At the same time, many of LibraryThing’s “books” are composed of multiple volumes. So, we’re in the neighborhood of 15 million anyway.

LibraryThing demonstrates something we always knew—that regular people have a lot of books—probably many times what all the world’s libraries hold. I’ve never seen the relative numbers discussed. It never mattered before, but now that regular people can put their catalogs online and engage in tasks, like tagging and work disambiguation, that bear on age-old issues of library science, it’s not entirely pointless to compare the two.

I want to underscore that, in making the comparison, we mean no disrespect to libraries. I think I’ve got some proof that LibraryThing has always been on libraries’ side. Our first hire, Abby, was a librarian. We have always favored library data, where our many recent competitors only care about Amazon’s data. We link to libraries extensively, something no competitor does. And we are grateful that our work has been of interest to the library world—Abby and I have become minor fixtures on the library speaking circuit.***

**Source: ALA Factsheet: The Nation’s Largest Libraries.

***My Library of Congress talk will be online soon, as will my recent keynote at the Innovative Users Group meeting in Sligo, Ireland.

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One Comments:

  1. Anonymous says:

    London has a public library system
    consistng of 17 million books according to the London Museum and Library Agency, these books being housed in London't 350 public libraries, with 95% of the nearly 8million Londoners being within one mile of a public library. There are also many extremely impressive public libraries such as Guildhall and Westminster Libraries.

    As well as London's 17 million public library books there are also a further 14 million books held in the British Libraries intergrated catalogue collection at St Pancras.

    On top of this London has a multitutde of specialist libraries such as the V&A National Art Library, Kew Gardens Horticultural Library one of the greatest horticultural colletions in the world and part of a UN World Heritage Site and the National Maritime Museum Library also a UN World Heritage Site and home to one of the largest specialist collections in the world.

    The British Museum Library also has a very significant collection as well as the original reading room used by Karl Marx to write his theories, there is also Natural History Museum Library, the Science Museum Library, Imperial War Museum Library, Wellcome Medical Library, Freud Library in Hampstead etc etc.

    Indeed London has over 250 museums, as well as professional bodies from a major free mason library and the Grand Temple in London through to the largest private library in the world and then there are the academic libraries such as the London School of Economics and Political Science which has one of the largest specialist collections related to politics and economics in the world. Whilst within the M25Consortia of Academic Libraries in and around London there are over 30million volumes, and there are numerous professional libraries such as the Royal College of Surgeons and British Medical Association Libraries.

    The University of London also has extensive Library stocks to rival most institions in the US.

    There are also National legal deposit libraries as already mentioned in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Oxford and Cambridge, whilst the John Ryland in Manchester holds A significant collection, as does the historic Cheetham Library in Manchester and medieval chained libraries.

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