Archive for March, 2008

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Change us! It’s LibraryThing Zen Garden.

Introducing LibaryThing Zen Garden!

Have you heard of CSS Zen Garden? It’s a legendary website (and popular book) devoted to showing the “power of CSS.” Every page, from the home page to the the military “Zen Army” to the charming old-fashioned movie theater stage set, has the same content, but has been “styled” differently with CSS. For many web developers, the first time they saw CSS Zen Garden was like an effective Zen koan—instant enlightment!

Best of all, most of the designs were submitted by regular web developers, not the site’s developers.

Well, why not let LibraryThing members change the site? Members have been agitating for a design redo for some time now. We’ve posted files for people to play with. Well, why not let them play with the site in real-time? We have been fooling with some designs too. Why not show them off?

Well, step on over to the LibraryThing Zen Garden. You can:

  • Sample different styles.
  • Set your preferred style and browse around the site with it.
  • Create your own styles. Every design you make is available for others to look at.

As a demo, I set five styles under my name:

  • timspalding-1. This is a design Abby, Sonya and I played with one afternoon. Set this to your style and browse around. The subnav on the profile page is different. You’ll also notice the tabs are slightly curved on some browsers.
  • timspalding-2. LibraryThing member existanai sent a few dozen alternate logos. Here’s one. Note the CSS to hide the normal image and use a background image.
  • timspalding-3. Another existanai logo.
  • timspalding-4. Don’t like the logo—kill it!
  • timspalding-5. Screwing things up is funny! But I’ve done it, so it’s not funny anymore. Bonus points for having a browser that displays the BLINK tag.*

Show us what you can do? We want comments on the designs we create, but we really want to see what members want. You don’t need to make a complete design. If you can change a few characters, you can show us a new background color.

I’ve decided not to award any prizes or hold any votes. Design is a very personal thing, and I don’t want anyone feeling left out. All ideas are good, even if they only demonstrate the terribleness of a particular style. Needless to say, if we end up using ideas from your design, we’ll shower you with praise and free memberships.

I’ve made a group for people to talk about designs, swap bits of CSS and so forth. It’s called Redesign LibraryThing.

Incidentally, has anyone ever heard of a site doing this?

Some weeds:

  • I am not a CSS true believer. I use tables for positioning more than I ought. I use <b> when I should use <em>. I torture kittens for fun. Chris is better, but not without sin. This limits what you can do somewhat.
  • Ones with changed logos will not work in IE6. This is about PNG24 transparency, if that means anything to you.
  • The easiest way to work on a design is to modify one of ours. timspalding-1 has comments in it.
  • The CSS you write is added onto our—very complex—CSS. (The main files are this and this, but we wish it were always so simple.) Something like Firebug will come in handy when editing
  • Your default style will not carry throughout the site. Some pages, like catalog, require special tweaks. Other pages just don’t have the code that adds custom CSS.

*Update: Incidentally, I also anticipated that someone would replace the logo with that of a competitor. Ha ha. :)

Labels: new feature, new features, openness

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Google Books in LibraryThing

The official Google Blog and the Inside Book Search Blog just announced the new Google Book Search API, with LibraryThing as one of the first implementors. (The others are libraries; I’ll be posting about what they’ve done over on Thingology.)

In sum, LibraryThing now links to Google Books for book scans—full or partial—and book information.

Google Book Search links can be seen two places:

  • In your catalog. Choose “edit styles” to add the column. The column reflects only the exact edition you have.
  • On work pages. The “Buy, borrow, swap or view” box on the right now includes a Google Books section. Clicking on it opens up a “lightbox” showing all the editions LibraryThing can identify on Google Book Search.

Despite the screenshot, of Carroll’s Through the looking glass and what Alice found there, relatively few works have “full” scans. “Partial view” and “book information” pages are more common. But the former generally include sthe cover and table of contents, and the whole text can be searched. The latter can also be useful for cataloging purposes. Members with extensive collections from before 1923—the copyright cutoff—will get relatively more out the feature.

Leave comments here, or come discuss the feature on Talk.

Limitations. The GBS API is a big step forward, but there are some technical limitations. Google data loads after the rest of the page, and may not be instant. Because the data loads in your web browser, with no data “passing through” LibraryThing servers, we can’t sort or search by it, and all-library searching is impossible. You can get something like this if you create a Google Books account, which is, of course, the whole point.

LCCN and OCLC. To get the best results, we needed to add full access to two library standards, namely Library of Congress Control Numbers (LCCN) and OCLC Numbers. We did so, reparsing the original MARC records where necessary. You can see these columns in your catalog now—choose “edit styles” as above. The two columns are not yet editable, but will be so in a day or two.

The Back Story. The rest of the first batch are libraries, including a number of “friends”–Deschutes Public Library, the Waterford Institute of Technology, the University of Huddersfield and Plymouth State/Scriblio. Google wanted help finding potentials and if there’s one thing I have it’s a Rolodex of smoking-hot library programmers! Once I’ve taken in all the neat things they did, I’ll be posting over on Thingology.

Some libraries have chosen to feature Google Book Search links only when Google has the full scan. This makes sense to me. Linking to a no scans or partial scan, when the library has the item on its shelves, seems weird to me.

LibraryThing and its members can also like to take credit for moving the API along in another way. Your help with the Google Book Search Search bookmarklet forced the issue of GBS data. The message to Google was clear: our members wanted to use GBS with LibraryThing, and if Google wouldn’t provide the information, members would get it themselves. After some to-and-fro with Google, we voluntarily disabled the service. But I think it moved the openness ball a few feet, and that’s something for members to be proud of.

Labels: gbs, google, google book search

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

We’ve added Paul Giamatti’s library!

LibraryThing has added the library of John Adams, the second president of the United States, played by Paul Giamatti in the upcoming (March 16) HBO miniseries John Adams.*

We’ve also added a new team member, Jeremy Dibbell (jbd1), the motive force behind the I See Dead People[‘s Books] group, dedicated to answering the question “What books do I share with Marie Antoinette and Tupac Shakur?” Jeremy, who works at the Massachusetts Historical Society, has become a “historical consultant” to LibraryThing. It’s an unpaid job, but signals our support for his work. If he can get some people to talk about topics like this, or needs airfare to deliver a talk on it, we’ll help out. The rest of this blog post is by Jeremy…

I am pleased to announce the LibraryThing debut of the library of John Adams, the second president of the United States. Thanks to the staff at the Boston Public Library we were able to batch-import** the books from John Adams‘ personal collection, now housed at the BPL.

I’m not quite finished enhancing the records … with notes, reviews, tags, transcriptions of Adams’ marginalia and links to digital scans of the Adams books*** … but since this week is a big one for John Adams fans we wanted to announce the catalog even if it’s not entirely operational yet. Call it the beta version.

In case you’re not up on your Adams events calendar, this coming Sunday (16 March) is the premiere of the mini-series based on David McCullough’s John Adams, with Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney starring as John and Abigail. HBO has arranged a tie-in marketing campaign with the US Postal Service which is highlighted at among other things, first class letters will be postmarked with a special cancellation in March containing a 1765 quote from JA: “Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.” One of my favorite Adams lines, and entirely appropriate not only for the mail, but also for our efforts here.

Beyond the virtual, there are two upcoming two physical exhibits of Adams letters and other manuscript materials. At the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston****, “John Adams: A Life in Letters” will be open to the public from 8 March through 31 (Monday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m.). And at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, “My Dearest Friend” will run from 5-30 April in the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library.

John Adams read widely, and was famous for responding (sometimes quite sharply) to the texts as he read them (check out his “40 Most Heavily Annotated Books“). I’m really delighted that we’ve been able to work out a way (using WikiThing) to make his transcribed annotations available – they’re wonderful to read, and complement the digital scans of the books very nicely.

Plus, as an added bonus, you can compare Jefferson and Adams’ libraries (here) and see the impressive number of works our second and third presidents (also probably two of the best-read) had in common. Right now it’s at 218, but that number is sure to creep upward as more combinations are made.

Much more to do, so I’m going to get back to editing. Stop by and browse awhile when you have a chance, and stay tuned: the BPL recently announced plans to take their excellent “John Adams Unbound” exhibit on the road, so in case you missed it in Boston you may still get a chance to see the show.

*Giamatti as John Adams is growing on me. But nothing will beat his performance in Sideways. [Tim]
**Incidentally, we’ll be offering batch-importing of MARC records to all members soon. [Tim]
*** You’ll also see some books currently in the catalog published after President Adams died in 1826. Those were added by his descendants, and are in the process of being removed from his LT catalog. Records for those books will remain available through the BPL’s John Adams Library site.
**** Where I am an Assistant Reference Librarian in “real life.”

Labels: dead people, jeremy dibbell, john adams, offbeat, paul giamatti

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

LibraryThing Local explodes

This morning, three days after its official launch, LibraryThing Local passed 9,000 venues. (UPDATE: 10,000 13,000 15,000 16,000.)

In this time some 700 members have entered more libraries, bookstores, fairs and other venues than our closest competitor in this space assembled in ten months of work, drawing mostly on chain bookstores and publicists.

Much remains to be done. New York City looks like it’s been attacked by a swarm of smurf bees, but Athens, Greece is still pretty empty. And events—while over 1,100 now—aren’t growing as fast as we’d like. (I blame a joyless, balky interface, which will soon be fixed.)

LibraryThing Local’s success follows on LibraryThing’s series project which, in two weeks assembled more book series data than the largest commercial supplier of this data.

Together, I think these suggest something important: The most powerful agents in the book world today are regular people.

LibraryThing is blessed with the most extraordinary members I have ever heard of. They’ll hunker down for hours adding information for fun and to help out their fellow members. They’ll engage in two- and even three-hundred message discussions over features. They make Facebook aps and browser enhancements on their own. They send us new logo designs. They send Abby postcards. They send us cookies.

They—and given the readership of this blog, probably YOU—are something else. It is a real surprise and honor to find myself developing software under these conditions. It’s up to us to keep you interested and happy, and think of new things to do with what you create. It’s up to you to tell us when we’re falling short of that.

Labels: librarything local, members

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

March Early Reviewers

This is, by far, our largest batch of Early Reviewer books yet. March’s batch includes 46 different books from 23 different publishers, totaling 1,172 copies, available to residents in 4 different countries! There’s poetry, literary fiction, chick lit, memoirs, mystery, historical fiction, travel books, cookbooks, history, biography, humor books, and non-fiction books ranging in topics from opera to crime to global warming to the Olympics!

Sign up to get a free advance copy, in exchange for writing a review. If you’re already signed up, make sure to check that your name and mailing address are correct (here). More help available in the Early Reviewers Frequently Asked Questions.

Then just go ahead and request books to read and review! The list of available books is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Wednesday, March 12th at noon EDT*.

Make sure to check the flags to see whether you’re eligible to receive each book. Most books are open to residents of the US and Canada, several are open to residents of the UK only, US only, Canada only, or US or Israel only. Only the flags will tell you which is which!

Thanks to all 23 publishers who contributed books this round.

Algonquin Books Andrews McMeel Publishing Ben Yehuda Press
Bloomberg Press Canongate Books Collins
Crown Demos Medical Publishing DK Publishing
Doubleday Books Ester Republic Press FT Press (Pearson)
Gefen Publishing House Kent State University Press King Tractor Press
LJW Publishing New York Review Books Profile Books
Shadow Mountain Shaye Areheart Books (Crown) Three Rivers Press (Crown)
University of Michigan Press William Morrow

Remember, if your favorite publisher hasn’t joined Early Reviewers yet, you can write them a letter and suggest it!

*Daylight Saving Time kicks in on Sunday. If that’s not a sign that warm weather is en route to us in New England, I don’t know what is…

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Introducing LibraryThing Local

Today we* unveil a major new section of the site, LibraryThing Local.

What is it? 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. Books still don’t fully “work” online; this is a step toward mending them.

LibraryThing Local is a handy reference, but it’s also interactive. You can show off your favorite bookstores and libraries (eg., mine include the Harvard Bookstore, Shakespeare and Company and the Boston Athenaeum) and keep track of interesting events. Then you can find out who else loves the places you do, and who else is going to events. You can also find local members, write comments about the places you love and more.

LibraryThing members rock. LibraryThing Local just opened, but for the past week we’ve let a few members in to check it out and add venues.** They went crazy!

Together, about two-dozen members added over 2,600 venues. The coverage is spotty, covering the members personal interests. So, Paris is a literary desert, but Chicago and Antwerp are a mess of little green and blue dots, and even frosty Juneau (pictured right) is done.*** LibraryThing Local would be boring without content, so everone owes a debt of gratitude to members like SilentInAWay (400), alibrarian (351), christiguc (302), Talbin (242), SqueakyChu (240), boekerij (217) and others for kicking things off so well.

This kind of passion give us hope that LibraryThing Local will swiftly become the web’s best, most complete source for finding bookstores and library—and for the events they throw. Unfortunately, we only got events working yesterday, so there are only 200 so far. Something to work on?

Authors! Publishers! Libraries! Bookstores! Right now, everyone can add events. But they won’t necessarily get to you, so go ahead and add your venues and events. We are experimenting with the concept of “claiming” a venue, so that a bookstore of library can assert control over its basic factual information. (You don’t control the comment wall, of course.) For now, you need to email us. Go to a venue for more details.

Beta, Forevah. LibraryThing Local is not “done.” It’s missing key features, like RSS. And it has a few bugs. For good or ill, that’s how we work around here.

The main planned improvements are:

  • RSS Feeds
  • Fine-grained privacy settings
  • Author and work integration
  • Enhanced features for bookstores and libraries that take part
  • More stats, like the most interesting events

I’ve started two discussion threads:

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what members think of it. We’ll do our best to make it as good as we can.

Use BookTour! (We do not.) LibraryThing Local was something I’ve wanted to do since visiting Ireland a year ago and not knowing where the bookstores were. But I didn’t get serious about the idea until approached by BookTour.

BookTour is a startup founded by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and the upcoming Free. Chris’ idea was to make a central site to collect information about authors on tour.

LibraryThing agreed to be BookTour’s first partnership. But along the way we ran into difficulties. We wanted strong venue information, so members could show off their favorite bookstores and libraries. BookTour is focused on the events more than venues, which include many duplicates. Eventually it became clear to me we were after different things, so we parted ways.

Although LibraryThing Local is now doing some of the same things, I hope blog readers will check out BookTour. I expect them to be adopted by other book-related sites and, at present, their data is more copious than ours. Certainly, no author should tour without first adding all their events there, and they have a very handy Excel-based upload option that will appeal to publicists with large numbers of events.

* Chris (conceptDawg), whose favorite bookstores include Bienvielle Books, built much of LibraryThing Local. Send praise his way!
**We released LibrayThing Local to a private but non-exclusive beta group two weeks ago. Later, after deciding not to use others site’s data (see above), we let members add their own venues, and later events.
***Best of all the Alaskan-adder, alibrarian, has no connection to Alaska whatsoever. He just got tired adding every library in New York City.

Labels: authors, book world, bookstores, librarything local, new feature, new features, publicists, publishers