Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Interview with Keith Goddard at Books Matter

LT members who’ve been around for a year or so may remember our partnership with Books Matter, an organization dedicated to providing books to needy schools in Ghana. I caught up with Keith Goddard—founder of Books Matter—this week, who was kind enough to update me on their latest projects!

Interested in donating to Books Matter? Drop me a line at loranne@librarything.com to donate books, or visit their website for monetary donations.

Can you tell us a bit about how Books Matter got started?

Basically, three things happened. First, my wife was sending some items to Ghana (that’s where she’s from) and she suggested we send some books and other things that my kids no longer used. The second thing is that she had always told me that many school in Ghana have no books. That really shocked and amazed me. The third thing is that I am a teacher in the Toronto public school system and I noticed that a lot of books are lying around in schools and not being used. So, I gathered up about 800 books and that was the start.

What is the process involved in getting a shipment of books sent? How many books can you send to Ghana at once?

We don’t have a lot of room at our house, which is where we store the books. Once we get to about 2,000 books our sunroom becomes unusable, so we are encourged to clear them out. Then we have to scan them, pack them, and raise enough money to send them. There’s no limit on how many we can send at a time, but due to the storage issue, we think around 2,000 is a good number.

In its first year, Books Matter sent 6,000 books to Ghana. That’s great! Did you anticipate that you’d have this much success?

I didn’t really know what to expect. Sometimes I think 6,000 is great and other days I feel that it’s nothing. I wish we could help meore people, but that being said, I know that the people we have helped are appreciative.

How many schools/libraries have received books from Books Matter now, and where are they? (Click map to enlarge)

So far, five institutions have received books from us: Bright Future School, in Keta; a library in Keta; a college in Ho; an elementary/junior high near Ho; and, an orphanage near Kumasi.

You recently ran an Indiegogo campaign, and set out to get another 2,000 books sent. Have those reached their destination(s)? Will you be running another Indiegogo campaign any time soon?

We ran an Indiegogo campaign just before the New Year, and with that money we shipped 1,700 books to five schools, two of which have separate buildings for the junior high and elementary schools, but on the same land. So, those books were cataloged into separate libraries. So, it’s five schools, but seven libraries. I hope that makes sense. Those books should arrive in late April. Since then we’ve received more books and would like to send about 1,500 in April. We’ve packed about 1,000 and scanned about 700. We scan the books we send to most of our recipients, but not all. Probably over 80%.

What are some of your and/or the students’ favorite books that Books Matter has sent?

We’ve sent some great books so far, but I hope we can get more book donations, from publishers, once we are an official charity. One thing that is difficult to do, but that I want to do, is get more feedback from the students about the books and their reading
habits, and how those habits are (hopefully) changing. I’d probably have to check some of the catalogs on LT to remember what we’ve sent! Good thing I cataloged them. We’ve sent a lot of great science and non-fiction picture books, fact books, and there are very few books like that in most Ghana schools. I think those will have a big impact on a lot of younger kids, even if they are reluctant readers, because the topics are so diverse and often relevant. We also sent a first edition And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street… lots of Dr. Seuss. It would be wonderful if any LT members thought there were certain must-have books for youngsters, that they wanted to donate, and maybe write a litte note in the front; they would just have to ship it to us in Toronto.(1)

What’s your personal library like? What sorts of books can be found on your shelves?

My personal library is really nothing to talk about… a fair number of biographies/memoirs about people in developing countries overcoming extreme adversity. Lots of non-fiction.

What have you read and enjoyed lately?

I like having about five books on the go at once, partly because I have trouble sticking with things sometimes! Also, because I enjoy such a wide variety and that’s the big reason I think kids should have a lot of books at their disposal to check out and become interested by. Having an e-reader is great, but that’s different than browsing through shelves of books, and touching them and flipping through them. That’s how kids catch the reading spark. That, and being read to. I just finished 12 Years a Slave and am now reading a modern day slavery account, called Slave by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis. I’m also reading a book on how to use YouTube for marketing.

What’s next for Books Matter? Do you have the next milestone, upcoming projects/shipments, etc. in mind?

We’ve always got shipments in mind. We’d like to hear from some of the schools where we’ve donated and make subsequent donations based on their likes and needs. I would love to go back to Ghana sometime in the future and oberve the kids, talk to them about reading, read with them, and talk to the teachers about reading/teaching strategies. It would be great to give more support than just putting the books in front of people. That’s not always enough, especially if they haven’t already developed the reading bug. That’s why sending the picture books and easy readers for the very young children is so important.

I’d like to thank Keith for taking the time to chat with me! Books Matter is doing excellent work, and it’s a joy to work with them!

—interview by Loranne Nasir


1. As mentioned above, if you have books you’d like to send to Books Matter, be sure to send Loranne an email (loranne@librarything.com).

Labels: books for ghana, gifts, member projects

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Books for Ghana: LibraryThing teams up with Books Matter!

Between November and April, LibraryThing members raised nearly $2,600 for needy readers by adding events to LibraryThing Local!

When we announced this initiative we asked for your help in coming up with the best way to use this money to put books directly into the hands of readers who would benefit the most from them. We wanted to find a project where our contributions can really make an immediate, tangible difference, and one with which LibraryThing and its members can build an active and ongoing relationship.

We’re very pleased to announce that we’ve found just such a project!

Books to Ghana

In February we donated donated $600 of the funds raised to Keith Goddard’s Books4Ghana campaign on IndieGogo, enough to put that effort over the top. Keith, who’s been a public school teacher in Toronto for the past fifteen years and has family connections in Ghana, began collecting books last summer for the Bright Future School in Keta, Ghana, a K-9 school with 600 students and thirty faculty members.

The first batch of 200 math textbooks and 500 children’s books were sent in August 2012, and arrived in October. Another 3,100 books Keith collected from schools around Toronto (and stored in his house!) were shipped this February after the successful IndieGoGo campaign, and arrived just a couple weeks ago. They will be delivered to the school later this month. You can browse the catalog of these books at http://www.librarything.com/profile/booksmatter. As the project expands and books arrive at additional libraries, we’ll be separating these out into separate LT catalogs for each library, so that they can be optimized to fit the specific needs of each school (and so that they can be updated as needed, of course).

Keith has now launched a new website for the Books Matter project at http://www.booksmatter.org, and is in the process of registering as an official charity. He’s currently rounding up the next batch of books to ship over to Ghana, and identifying the schools there that will benefit most from books we send.

Phase One: How to help now

Right now the major need is funding for shipping already-donated books to Ghana: payment for a shipping container, sea transport to Accra, Ghana, and then transportation from Accra to the schools in the Volta region). It costs approximately $1 per book to pay for shipping (as Keith says, “$10 sends 10 books, $50 sends 50 books: the math is simple, but the effect is profound”).

We’re going to be giving more of the money members raised by adding events to LT Local for this, and we invite you, should you feel so inclined, to head over to Books Matter and donate directly to the cause as well. If you donate, make sure to mention you’re a LibraryThing member!

Phase Two: Collection Development

This is about more than money. Books Matter is cataloging everything they send to Ghana.

Having everything cataloged allows us to do more than send random books. We can get involved in collection development—sending the right books to the right schools to fill gaps or to focus on areas of interest. We can do this site-wide or in groups. So, for example, wouldn’t it be cool if the “Green Dragon” and “Science!” groups could collaborate to make sure they’ve got a good collection in their area? And teachers and children at the schools can also participate, telling us what they need and how we can help!

That’s our idea. We’ll support it with some money and with features. But members will have to drive it. Let’s see what we can all do for readers in another country.

Come talk about phase two here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/153515

Why we’re doing this.

We’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time. We feel it’s important to give back when we can, and we want to give our members an easy way to contribute to a worthy project that puts books in the hands of readers who need them. By working with Keith and Books Matter, we’re in on the ground floor of a new, exciting project with lots of growth potential, and will be able to work with him to make sure that our contributions get where they need to go.

We’re really delighted about this, and we hope you all will be too!

Labels: events, fun, gifts, librarything local

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Edit and reorder sources in Add Books

Good news: We’ve improved the sources system within Add Books a lot.

Bad news: We had to transition to an entirely new sources system. Most members kept their sources, but some members and some sources couldn’t go into the new system easily. If you lost sources, you may need to choose them again. Fortunately, the new system’s a lot better at that.

You can find the new options on Add Books:
searchwhere

Everything now happens in a light box. The “Your Sources” tab allows you to reorder and delete sources.
yoursources

You can browse and choose sources, divided into “Featured” and “All Sources” on the other two tabs.
featured

As you’ll notice, a fair number of our sources are currently down. We’re working to get as many up again as possible, and add new ones. If you’d like to help and know something about Z39.50 connections, you’ll find we give our current connection details when you click the yellow warning marker.

You’ll also see other, very significant new stuff. But that’s a matter for another blog post!

Three cheers to our developer Ammar for the add-books changes!

Labels: cataloging, new features

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Books received in Ghana!

We are very happy to report that nearly 3,000 books for the Bright Future School in Keta, Ghana have been successfully delivered and were happily received by the students there earlier this month!

Keith Goddard at Books Matter posted a short video on Facebook of the students saying “thank you,” so check that out if you can (it’s almost guaranteed to make you smile!). Keith reports that the school was actually on break when the books arrived, so there will be more pictures of the students with the books soon.

Earlier this month, another hundred books were presented to the library of the University of Health and Allied Sciences: Ghana TV was even on hand for the arrival of the books!

All of the books sent to Ghana this spring are cataloged on LibraryThing in the Books Matter account, and members have been helping out by adding tags to the library.

Keith is planning on sending the next batch of already-donated books to an orphanage in Kumasi, located in northern Ghana. The orphanage houses some two hundred residents ranging in age from six months to 20 years. The books will be cataloged and tagged on LibraryThing prior to shipment.

If you can help out by making a donation to help ship the books, it would be greatly appreciated! A gift of $1 basically funds the shipment of one book to Ghana, so every little bit helps! Head over to the Books Matter site and you can make a donation today. LibraryThing will be giving a $800 donation as well, from the funds raised by members adding events to LibraryThing Local over the winter.

For more on our Books to Ghana project and our partner Books Matter, see our announcement blog post. To help out with tagging the books or to discuss the project generally, chime in on the Talk thread.

Labels: books for ghana, gifts

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Apple highlights Local Books

Apple’s iTunes store has LibraryThing’s Local Books app. (see blog post, direct link) given us a rare honor—a spot among their featured apps.(1)

The exposure has shot us up in the books category, such that we are now—unbelievably—running third in the free section.(2) No matter how long it lasts—and we have no idea of that—it’s great news. The more people grab it, the more become invested in its success. We’re already seeing a pick up in entries to LibraryThing Local. And it puts pressure on us to improve Local and the app too.

Most of all, we hope the success of Local Books can inspire physical bookstores and libraries to embrace the digital world more fully—to put their basic information, events and holdings data out there for us and others to use. Their customers and patrons are eager for it. Only by embracing what the digital world can do for the physical can they compete against the continual advance of ecommerce and ebooks.

So, thanks to Apple for highlighting us, to Chris and John for making the app.(3), and thanks to all the members who entered the data to make it possible.


1. To see it, go to iTunes and click “App Store.” We’re in the third row of apps., next to “Puppy Park” and “Roadside America.” We only appear if the screen is wide enough to hold six icons. We go away if you’re only showing five or fewer apps.
2. The only downside has been that wider exposure has put the app in the hands of people who were, I think, expecting something different. Our ratings have shot down. Fortunately, they’re very much on par with other top apps. It seems iTunes reviewers are a finicky bunch!
3. They will be getting every dime the free app makes us!

PS: If you have an Android phone, check out our Layar app.

Labels: iphone, itunes, local book search, local books

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Find LibraryThing an employee, get $1,000 worth of books.

We need to find two excellent employees, a PHP hacker and a systems/database guy or gal, so we’re offering $1,000 worth of books to each of the people who find them. Think of it. $1,000 in books. What would you buy? Everything.

Rules! You get a $1,000 gift certificate to Abebooks, Amazon, Booksense or the independent bookseller of your choice. You can split it between them. You don’t need to buy books with it (but why do that?).

To qualify, you need to connect us to someone. Either you introduce them to us—and they follow up with a resume and etc.—or they mention your name in their email (“So-and-so told me about LibraryThing”). You can recommend yourself, but if you found out about it on someone’s blog, we hope you’ll do the right thing and make them the beneficiary.

Small print: Our decision is final, incontestable, irreversible and completely dictatorial. It only applies when an employee is hired full-time, not part-time, contract or for a trial period. If we don’t hire someone for the job, we don’t pay. The contact must happen in the next month. If we’ve already been in touch with the candidate, it doesn’t count. Void where prohibited. You pay taxes, and the insidious hidden tax of shelving. Tim Spalding and his family (all his family, Oakes) are not eligible, but if Abby wants to work Simmons or Altay his startup connections, fine. Abebooks employees are not eligible for this (but the internal offer still stands).

Needless to say, we’ll throw in a free lifetime membership, so you can catalog your loot. And you’ll get the satisfaction you helped LibraryThing become everything it could be.


Here are the job announcements:

UPDATE: We’ll take a look at people not in New England, especially for the DBA position.

Two jobs—dream jobs for the right people. We may hire one person or two, depending on what we get. (We’re happy to look at resumes with a mix of talents, or other talents.) Both jobs are located in the New England area, with some potential for telecommuting.

Syadmin/DBA

LibraryThing, the web’s largest and most innovative site for book lovers, is looking for a smart and experienced systems and database administrator. We value brains and talent above everything, but demonstrated experience with complex, high-traffic LAMP websites is essential to this position.

  • MySQL. Query optimization, replication, tuning, maintenance, recovery.
  • Systems administration. Linux administration, security, maintenance and recovery. Installation of new hardware.
  • Programming. You don’t need to start out a PHP guru, but you’ll have to support this part of the site.
  • Personal qualities. Speed, intelligence, reliability, high availability, good communication skills and sang-froid.

Hacker/Developer

We’re also looking for a crackerjack PHP/MySQL developer. To qualify you must be passionate, creative, flexible–and fast.

  • PHP. We write terse, losely modular non-OO code.
  • HTML, CSS, Javascript.
  • MySQL. Knowledge of query optimization, replication and MySQL internals a plus.
  • Design or UI talents a plus.
  • Knowledge of social networking, math, statistics, collaborative filtering, bibliographic data or library systems a plus.
  • You must learn quickly and communicate effectively. Skills and attitude matter; experience per se does not.

How We Work

LibraryThing has a somewhat unusual development culture. It is not for everyone.

  • We develop quickly, knocking out features in hours or days, not weeks. We value results, not process.
  • We develop incrementally and opportunistically, assuming that member feedback will sometimes overturn our plans in mid-course, and that some projects will fail.
  • Everyone who works for LibraryThing interacts directly with members.
  • We value initiative and intellectual engagement. You must be able to work alone or in a small team.
  • We are only accepting applications from people within driving distance of Portland, ME or Cambridge, MA. We are currently headquartered in Portland, ME–the second floor of a gorgeous three-family along the Eastern Prom.–but may relocate to the Boston/Cambridge, MA area.
  • LibraryThing is more than a job for us. We work long, hard and usually sober, but not necessarily during “regular” hours. We love what we do. We want someone who will feel the same way.

About LibraryThing

LibraryThing is a social cataloging and social networking site for book lovers. Started in August 2005 as a hobby project, LibraryThing has grown to a handful of employees and some 215,000 members in a dozen countries. Members have cataloged 15 million books and applied almost 20 million tags. We are well known in the library world, and rapidly winning over booksellers, authors and publishers.

Contact Tim Spalding (tim@librarything.com) for more information, or to send a resume.

Labels: jobs

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.

Labels: 1

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Q&A with David Mitchell

David Mitchell—award-winning author of Man Booker Prize shortlist nominees Cloud Atlas and Number9Dream—is known for his complex narratives, spanning decades of time and generations of characters, frequently with a hint of the paranormal. Mitchell holds an M.A. in Comparative literature from the University of Kent. In addition to his own novels, he also translated the memoirThe Reason I Jump into English from the original Japanese.

Slade House is Mitchell’s seventh novel (out October 27th, from Random House), and is our pick for November’s One LibraryThing, One Book group read (starting November 9th). On the heels of last year’s The Bone Clocks, Mitchell’s latest is a sharp riff on the haunted house story, with its own rules and surprises.

David was kind enough to chat with LibraryThing staffer Loranne about haunted houses, Twitter, and his latest work.

Slade House fits within the broader world you created in The Bone Clocks, while also being a self-contained haunted house story. What spooky tales are personal favorites/did you draw on for your inspiration?

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs sets the gold standard, for me. Lordy lordy it’s good. Stylistically polished, philosophically attentive and with its cosmology and present time-line in perfect balance, it’s no accident that this English short story from 1902 appears in so many anthologies of the supernatural. Poe casts a long shadow from an earlier era, but you read him more for sound, colour and flavour than to be outwitted; ditto H.P. Lovecraft.

For the longest successful single-narrative haunted house story that doesn’t develop into horror, I’d go back to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, which is both a flawless novella and an exploration of the genre: are the ghosts parapsychological or psychiatric in origin? M.R. James’ dreamlike stories beguile more than they frighten a modern readership, but stories like his often-anthologised “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You My Lad” persist in the memory for decades. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House prefigures an evolutionary jump in the 1970s with cinematic American novels by Stephen King and his generation. King often confounds the Ghosts + Gore = Horror equation, and I don’t see how it’s possible not to be influenced by The Shining, once you’ve read it. (Kubrick’s film is justly famous, but differs from King’s fine novel in several key points.)

The last influence I’ll refer to here is an American book whose title and author I’ve forgotten: it was one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books from the early 1980s which my local library in Malvern stocked—they were hugely popular, and the resourceful librarian had to reinforce the spines and covers with adhesive clear plastic. The book I’m thinking of was set in a witch’s house, and one of its plot-lines ended up with you dropping a tea-pot and smashing it on the floor. You said, “I’m sorry, I’ll pay for it,” and the witch replied, “Oh but you will”: and no matter how many fragments of porcelain you picked up, you could never finish—nor could never stop bending down to pick up more. Sisyphean and dark or what?!

Interviewer’s note: I was a huge Choose Your Own Adventure fan as a kid myself, and now I’m dying to know which one this is! Any LibraryThingers out there have a guess?

I think part of why the haunted house story resonates so well is that many of us recall a strange house that others automatically avoided (for reasons supernatural or not) from our childhoods. Is there a “haunted house” that you remember from when you were growing up?

Cool question. There’s a totemic quality about childhood, meaning that pre-adulthood endows you with an ability to award sentience to inanimate objects. That stain on the wall is a melting face; that swirl of grain and knots in the pine wardrobe is a Cyclops bent over in laughter; those creaks in the nooks and crannies of the night are—obviously—the footsteps of the orc made out of chewing gum you were dreaming about just now. My point is that kids experience every house as potentially haunted, even the small post-war, cookie-cutter mass-constructed houses that me and pretty much everyone I knew in my childhood lived in.

Since you ask for one specific house, though, I’ll offer up a bungalow owned by one of my mum’s friends on the English coastal town of Bognor Regis. Mum took me on a visit there around 1980, when I was eleven. The trip wasn’t a great idea. My mum’s friend’s malign mother also lived in the bungalow and she disliked children. Also resident was a grandfather clock, and in my perception, it and the old woman were somehow one and the same. The clock watched the long hallway and its rhythmic ‘thunk-click, thunk-click, thunk-click’ was like a wood-and-bronze cardio-pulmonary system. One morning I stopped the pendulum with my hand. The silence was thunderous and I grew scared that I’d killed the clock. I tried to set the pendulum swinging again, but instead of a calm and even rhythm like before, the pendulum swung irregularly and drunkenly, and any further remedial measures just made things worse. In fiction, of course, I’d then discover the corpse of the unpleasant old woman: in reality, I did what any honest and conscientious Sunday School boy would do: flee the scene of the crime and deny all knowledge. Three times, before the cock crowed.

The structure of Slade House is similar to that of The Bone Clocks: each section follows the perspective a different character than the one before, skipping ahead at nine-year intervals. What was your favorite section or scene to write and why?

I like Nathan in 1979 because in it I’m setting up the story and because the boy is such a square peg in a round hole. I like Gordon the cop in 1988 because Nathan set up expectations which I can now confound. I like Sally in 1997 because of her insecurities and the fast succession of house party scenes allows me to (try to) get a bit David Lynch-esque. I like Freya in 2006 because through her I can explore the origin stories of Slade House. I like the fifth and final section, because I get to occupy the body of the novel’s antagonist, and it’s always fulfilling to endow characters with the requisite three dimensions. So really, I liked writing all of the sections: if you’re not enjoying it, it’s usually because you’ve taken a wrong turn, so you need to backtrack and work out how to fix it. Then you enjoy it again.

You’ve explored Twitter as a storytelling medium more than most—Slade House having evolved out of The Right Sort, and now with the companion piece of @I_Bombadil. What’s it like writing a story for Twitter vs. working on a novel?

Working on a novel is like describing a landscape over which you are floating in a slow-drifting balloon, with powerful binoculars, on a bright afternoon with perfect weather conditions. Working on Twitter fiction is like describing a landscape of tunnels and gorges you are glimpsing through the fogged-up window of a bullet-train. Twitter fiction also demands short names: have a name as long as ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’ and you may as well knock off early and go home.

»For more from David, check out our full interview here!

Labels: author interview

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Cover Improvements!

As we’ve hinted, we’ve made some big changes to covers on LibraryThing recently. There are more covers to choose from than ever, and we’re excited to show you what’s new!

1. All of the Covers from Amazon

No, really, all of them. LibraryThing now shows all Amazon covers for your books and other media—this includes covers for books with ASINs (and no ISBNs). So many of your ebooks, CDs and DVDs now have Amazon covers available to use.

You can also see stats on your cover usage—where your covers come from, and how many of them you’re using from various sources. To see where your covers are coming from, check out the Book Covers section of Stats/Memes.

2. Change your cover, keep your ISBN

Changing the cover for one of your books to a different Amazon cover no longer forces you to change the ISBN of your book. You’ll still have the option to switch ISBNs if you like, but it’s no longer required. When switching to a new Amazon cover that’s associated with a different ISBN, you’ll see the dialog box pictured at right, with a check box to indicate whether you’d like to change your ISBN, too.

3. Cover Flagging

Members have long been able to flag cover images that are not valid covers for a given work, by voting “yes” or “no” on an individual cover. Now those flags really matter—covers with enough flags can’t be chosen as the main cover for a work. Like this picture of some seals on a beach, which is definitely not a cover.*

To try it out, select a cover image, click the “Information” magnifying glass, and then click the “Flag this cover” link in the detail box that pops up.

UPDATE: I FORGOT TO ADD!

4. Real fake covers
Screenshot 2015-09-10 16.57.20Lastly, works without covers are now showing the title on the fake cover. See example, example, example. Or see the image to the right.

The trick is, the words aren’t superimposed on the covers. We’re actually making images that include the words on the covers. This is a neat trick, allowing us to produce “fake” covers at any size we want, wherever we want–on any page, inside or outside of LibraryThing.

So far this technology is only on work pages. It’ll be spreading elsewhere soon.

Questions? Comments?

Any questions or trouble with new covers? Come join the discussion on Talk.


* Covers will be flagged down if:
  • Vote “yes” totals at least 4.
  • Vote “yes” totals at least 3x vote “no”.

Labels: covers, new features

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Interview with Ann Leckie

Some excerpts from our interview with author Ann Leckie, which initially appeared in September’s State of the Thing.

St. Louis, Missouri native Ann Leckie is a woman who’s worn many hats over time, among them that of waitress, receptionist, and recording engineer. She began writing short fiction a number of years ago, but it is was with her 2013 debut novel, Ancillary Justice, that she added award-winning author to that list. In August 2014, it became the first novel ever to win the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Loranne caught up with Ann this month to talk about the fascinating world she’s created, and new developments in the second installment of the Imperial Radch trilogy, Ancillary Sword (out October 7, 2014).

For our readers who haven’t yet had a chance to read Ancillary Sword, or its predecessor Ancillary Justice, can you give us the story in a nutshell?

Basically, the main character is the last remnant of a starship that’s been destroyed. She spends most of Ancillary Justice looking for revenge on the person who destroyed her, and in Ancillary Sword she is beginning to deal with the fallout of that revenge—including the very unexpected fact that she survived it.

Where did the Imperial Radch trilogy begin for you? What inspired this world?

I’m not sure there was a single thing. I spent a lot of time just playing with things, putting them together in different ways and seeing what they made, and eventually the world resulted from that process. Ancillaries—and the basic outlines of Justice of Toren’s fate—were pretty early in that process, though.

These are such fascinating books in terms of exploring identity and the self. In Ancillary Justice, we met protagonist Breq Mianaai (the solitary individual), One Esk (the single body as part of a whole military unit), and Justice of Toren (the ship itself) in all three incarnations. These latter two identities having been destroyed, it’s clear that, in Ancillary Sword, Breq is still grieving this massive loss. How did you find Breq continuing to grow as both a character and an individual in this novel?

Breq never did think she would survive the events of Ancillary Justice. I think for the twenty years leading up, it was as though she was walking on a broken leg. It didn’t matter much if it hurt, or if it got fixed, or if the injury got worse as she went along, because she had one thing to do and once she did it that would be it for her.

But having actually survived, and finding herself with a ship, and its crew, not to mention Seivarden’s clear loyalty to her, she has to find a way to navigate actually living a life, with people she isn’t just passing by on her way to some other ultimate goal.

Everyone in the Radch empire uses feminine pronouns to refer to other individuals. It’s a cultural distinction for the Radch: while it is clear that individuals present as one or the other of a gender binary, everyone is “she.” I read in another interview that you hadn’t originally planned this as you began writing Ancillary Justice. What led you to this decision, and did it present any challenges during the writing process? Did it change the way you viewed your own characters?

A number of things led me to my decision to use “she” for everyone. But basically, I had tried to write in this universe using all “he” and was really unsatisfied with the result. The more I thought about it, the more I decided that what I disliked was the way it reinforced the idea of a masculine default, and did nothing at all to make the world seem gender-neutral or uncaring about gender. It just made it sound like a world full of men, and how is that different from a zillion other science fiction stories?

Some time during the process of drafting Ancillary Justice I read Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which features people who are ungendered, for whom she had decided to use the pronoun “he.” Later she wrote fiction set on the same world using “she” and the effect is quite different. That solidified in my mind my reasons for preferring “she” for Ancillary Justice.

It certainly did change how I viewed the characters. I had begun the very first draft assigning gender to characters and using “he” and “she” as appropriate. So characters from very early in the process were in fact assigned a gender—but as I rewrote them using “she” and as I got farther into the book, their gender and the way I visualized them began to slip around a bit in my mind, which I thought was interesting.

What was your favorite scene or character to write in Ancillary Sword?

Oh, gosh, that’s hard to say. There are several scenes that were high points during my writing, and many of them would be serious spoilers. Certainly I enjoyed writing Tisarwat, particularly the scene in Chapter 3, you know, that one. And Translator Dlique is a definite favorite of mine, she was very fun to write. And I definitely very much enjoyed writing the scene where, as you say, the chaos gets turned up to 11.

But very often, in general, I enjoy writing stress and mayhem. I remember while I was at Clarion West (which is a six week writers workshop in Seattle, you’re supposed to at least try to turn in a story a week, which is awfully fast paced for me) I was working on something particularly difficult and getting close to deadline, and I had gotten up early to try to get some work done. I came down to breakfast and everyone said, “Ann, you’re in such a good mood and it’s so early!” And I said, happily, “Oh, I just dismembered my protagonist!” And of course they were all writers so they understood exactly what I meant. (I eventually sold that story to Electric Velocipede, and it was reprinted recently by Tor.com, “Night’s Slow Poison,” and I’m still quite fond of that scene!) So with that in mind, you can probably pick out my favorite bits without my even naming them.

»For more from Ann, check out our full interview here!

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