Archive for the ‘cataloging’ Category

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Announcing OverCat

We have added a new source to every member’s Add Books page: OverCat, LibraryThing’s new index of 32 million library records, assembled from libraries around the world, and the first step in a major upgrade of LibraryThing’s cataloging functions.

Sources. OverCat was assembled from over 700 sources. The core consists of full datasets from the Library of Congress, Washington State, Boston College, Oregon State, and Talis Base (a collection of UK libraries).* To this we’ve added records from the hundreds of thousands of books members have searched for and added from the 690 libraries LibraryThing connects to.

The end result is arguably the second-largest searchable database of library records in existence, after OCLC.**

How to use it. To use OverCat, go to your Add books page. OverCat has been added to everyone’s source list. (It can be removed but not yet reordered.)

High-quality results. To make it easier to find the edition you need, OverCat combines results into edition-level clusters, so you get one result per edition (rather than pages and pages of the same edition of the same book from different libraries).  By default, it will give you what it guesses the best available record is for that edition, but you can select from any one of the alternate records if you want to.

OverCat isn’t everything. The Library of Congress data dump is not current–although it’s been supplemented with user searches. Our relevancy ranking isn’t as good as Amazon’s. (We could use your feedback to make it better.) But most users will find it a useful source, and many will find it the best one.

The Big Issue. OverCat is available to LibraryThing members in the course of normal site activity—cataloging small collections of books.*** It will not be available for external access, including by libraries. It is not a back door to OCLC data.

This will come as a disappointment to many, including us. We have long argued for library-data openness and against OCLC’s bid to privatize and monopolize library data. But we also made it clear to the libraries we search that their data will not be made available outside of the context of personal cataloging without their permission. This will not change, now or in the future.

We would love to open OverCat up, to make it OpenLibrary as we originally hoped it would be it, or like Amazon Web Services, but with free, high quality data. We believe data openness is critical to the survival of libraries in our increasingly free and open world. But we depend upon open search portals, and will never open up a library’s data against its wishes. Some of these libraries may want to open up their data, but some clearly do not, and almost everyone is afraid of OCLC and its new data policy.*** Either way, we will abide by libraries’ wishes.

For the 690 libraries we search little has changed. We will still send member searches to your systems, but fewer—reducing your load—and the requests may not come at the time of searching. As before, found records will be stored on LibraryThing systems, but can now be used by more than one user and will appear in OverCat searches. Bulk or non-personal access will not be possible.

Thanks. OverCat has been a long-term project of Casey Durfee. The Board for Extreme Thing Advances helped us nail down bugs and decide on the name.

The future. LibraryThing’s greatest strength is its cataloging, but we don’t want to rest on that. There are a lot of improvements we can do now that we have a flexible, scaleable structure and repository for our data. OverCat is the first step here.

Come talk about your suggestions, and OverCat generally, on Talk here.


*Some OpenLibrary data was omitted for being mostly duplicative or of insufficient quality.

**For background on the OCLC issue, see here. We will also honor requests to remove libraries’ data from OverCat, excepting those libraries (like the LC), whose records are public by both law and public dumps.

There are larger collections. Harvard, for example, is said to have contributed 81 million records to OCLC, but most can’t have been book records, as the volume-count of Harvard is less than that of the Library of Congress, which we include.

We could make part of the data free, and part closed. But since the free data comes from OpenLibrary it would be duplicative of their efforts. We may explore this avenue in the future, as our primary complaint against OpenLibrary is the lack of exportable library-data formats.

***Exports of your library are included, obviously, but no larger dumps. “Personal” includes some small institutions, like church libraries, clubs and so forth.

Labels: cataloging, new features

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Collections, at last

It’s arrived. Members can organize their books into “collections.”

The Motive. From the beginning, LibraryThing members have used the site for different things. Some used it to list only the books they own, others what they’ve read and a few even just the books they wanted. Meanwhile, people like me used it for everything—owned, read, lost, destroyed, wanted—using tagging as our sole way of keeping everything straight. But even tag-zealots like me had to admit there were times you wanted sharper distinctions—”buckets” or “sub-libraries”—and ways to tie those to how you connected with other members and with book recommendations. New members, whether familiar with tags or not, were regularly asking for some way to do wishlists and currently-reading lists.

The Feature. The feature, literally years in the making, gives members the ability to separate out categories of books, like “Wishlist” and “Currently reading” more definitely than could be accomplished with tags. Each collections works like a mini library and can be separately viewed, sorted and searched. Other members can see your collections, on your profile and elsewhere. Features like member-to-member connection and book recommendations react to the new system as well. (See below on integration progress.)

As we offer users new flexibility, we avoid forcing members into “our” way of thinking about books. We’ve provided a number of default collections—Your library, Wishlist, Currently reading, To read, Read but unowned and Favorites. Data from these collections can be aggregated across all users, and their names are even translated on LibraryThing’s non-English sites. But you can also create your own collections, and remove ours. And you can ignore collections entirely, keeping everything in “Your library.”

A Work in Progress. As members know, we play things pretty fast and lose here. Our motto is “beta, forevah!” But collections had to be different. Before public release we subjected it to a month of testing in our large (and non-exclusive) BETA Group. We cannot thank that group enough for all the work they did, and the passion they showed.

We hope we got most of the major bugs, but the feature is not “finished”—and this is hardly the last blog post you’ll see about the feature! Most significantly, collections is now mostly a “cataloging” feature, with only limited reach to other areas of the site. Although you can specify how collections affects member connections and recommendations—so you can stop having your Wishlist or for that matter your husband’s books running the social and recommendation parts of the site—implementation is basic and, in light of extraordinary collections-related load, there’s a lot of caching in place. We left a few features out in order to get it the main features out now.*

We also think “unfinished” (we prefer not prematurely specified) features are the best way to engage users, and get the best for everyone. Come and contribute on Recommended Site Improvements and Bug Collectors. We also have a Announcement post in New Features.


*We had spec’ed out a complex interaction between reading-dates and “Currently reading.” But the system was probably more than most members wanted. And it certainly was taking a long time to finish, so, for now at least “Currently reading” is just a collection.

Credits: Chris (conceptDawg) headed up the project, doing most of the user interface and a majority of the back-end code. Chris and I (timspalding) designed the feature together, and I did some core back-end code. Abby (ablachly) didn’t code, but she dogged us about it for years. (I’m not sure what she’s going to do with herself now.) But the most important factor was the members. Members, particularly the BETA group, contributed to the effort as I’ve never seen it—not in any website or project, ever. Chris and I owe members an enormous amount. (I’ll be blogging about this specifically soon. It needs telling.)

Top photo by radiant_guy” (Flickr, CC-SA).

Labels: cataloging, collections, new feature, new features, tagging

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Flash news: flash-mob cataloging in Chicago this weekend!

Completely ganked from the Talk thread:

This Sunday, April 19, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago will host a flash-mob to catalog the 1-2,000 books left in their library! The flash-mob will start at 11 am and go until 3 – or until the books are cataloged, whichever happens first.

Puerto Rican Cultural Center Website

The PRCC is located at 2700 W Haddon in the Paseo Boricua neighborhood. Take the Division exit off 90/94, go about 2 miles West on Division, then turn left on Washtenaw. The PRCC is on the NW corner of Haddon and Washtenaw. There’s plenty of free street parking.

Feel free to just show up on the day, or send a message ahead of time to let us know you’re coming so we’ll know how many to expect! Sarah Jackman (sbjackman@gmail.com) is the contact person for this flash-mob. Feel free to call her at (608) 330-0865 or send her an email.

We hope lots of Chicago-area LibraryThingers will come out to help – can’t wait to see you all there!

Labels: cataloging, Chicago, cultural library, flash mob, flash-mob cataloging, Illinois

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Flash-Mob Cataloging Party: Rhode Island Audubon Society


It’s time for another cataloging flash-mob*! This time we’re heading to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island to add their small lending collection to LibraryThing.

LibraryThing members can help catalog around 2,000 items at the beautiful Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge, where I’m told we can take a nice walk for a break if the weather cooperates.

Need a little motivation? Read about our previous flash mob cataloging party in November here.
* The LibraryThing wiki page for the event.
* The day: Saturday, February 21st.
* The time: TBD, probably 10:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m., but come whenever you’re able.
* The place: Rhode Island Audubon Society Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge, 12 Sanderson Road, Smithfield, RI (Google map)
* Lunch will be provided by the Audubon Society

RSVP to sonya (at) librarything.com.

*What’s a flash mob?

Labels: Audubon Society, cataloging, flash mob, party, Rhode Island, RI

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

The First Ever Catalog Flash-Mob

flash mob catalogingThe mob.

On Saturday, we descended on St. John’s Church in Beverly MA, in a “flash mob” of cataloging fools!*

Check out Sonya’s pictures, Elizabeth Thomsen’s pictures and her blog post.

Turnout was much more than we expected–twenty people!** With so many hands–and despite some wifi problems–we got an enormous amount done. By lunch time we were flying, and after powering through the actual job, the 1,363 items in the church library (member StJohnsBeverlyFarms), we went ahead and tackled the rector’s 734 books too (member: TadsLibrary***). I have a mind to go back and start in on all the parishioners’ libraries, particularly that of a local author of some renown.

Cataloging went quickly for some books–everyone got a CueCat barcode scanner. Others took more work. A troupe of Simmons students tackled the church’s motley collection of VHS tapes, mostly by hand, including lots of special comments. Katya0133, cataloger, friend of Sonya’s and Legacy Library superstar, took some of the toughest stuff, including original cataloging. A handful of items were so rare they hadn’t made it into WorldCat. (We’re happy to part with them, for a million dollars!.)

It was an amazing day; everyone was helpful, friendly, and amped to be there. We left feeling weary, satisfied, and despite the Episcopal coloring, vaguely Amish.

So, let’s do it again! Why not do it somewhere else? New York? California? We could time it with a big book show or a library conference.**** Jeremy is also very open to blending flash-mob cataloging with the Legacy Library project, by collecting to do a house museum or an important collection in a historical society.


*The Wikipedia definition of a flash mob is “A group of people who converge on a spot at a specific time, perform some action, and disperse quickly.”
**How many world libraries have twenty catalogers?
***Who still doesn’t have a profile picture, Amy!
****Just imagine, 500 librarians from the ALA show descending upon every church, synagogue, house museum and lean-to library in Denver.

Labels: beverly farms, cataloging, church catalogs, flash mob

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

This Saturday: Flash-Mob Cataloging Party


Book geeks! We need you! Come, take up arms cuecats and help!

We’re having a “flash-mob” cataloging party November 15th, Saturday, in Beverly, MA (just north of Boston). We’ll descend on St. John’s Episcopal Church, catalog their 1,200-odd books, eat some pizza, talk some talk and leave them with a gleaming new LibraryThing catalog. Books, bibliophiles, conversation, barcode scanners, pizza! (Not to mention Mike, Sonya, Tim, and probably Abby.)

Details: Join us..
* The day: Saturday, November 15th.
* The time: TBD, probably starting at 10:00 or 11:00, but come whenever.
* The place: St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms, MA (Google map)

See the LibraryThing Local page.


Read the initial blog post
.

There’s a discussion on the Bostonians group. I’m sure we can figure out how to get even car-less people there. The commuter rail gets you very close to the church.

Come on: Pizza. Laptops. CueCats. Take pictures. Leave after a day’s work with a LibraryThing catalog in place. Do good. Have fun.

Just email Sonya @ librarything.com for details/to RSVP.

Labels: cataloging, flash mob

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Flash-Mob Cataloging Party

We’re having a “flash-mob” cataloging party November 15th, Saturday, in Beverly, MA (just north of Boston). We’ll descend on St. John’s Episcopal Church, catalog their 1,200-odd books, eat some pizza, talk some talk and leave them with a gleaming new LibraryThing catalog. Books, bibliophiles, conversation, barcode scanners, pizza! (Not to mention Mike, Sonya, Tim, maybe Abby, with a slight chance of Liam.)

Why: Quite a few small libraries use LibraryThing as their catalog—schools, churches, synagogues, Masonic temples, companies, museums, and even a couple of embassies! They find LibraryThing much cheaper and easier to use than most “library automation” software. (More about organizations using LibraryThing here.)

But it’s not always easy for a single overworked volunteer to catalog a big collection. So we thought we’d try a “flash-mob” cataloging party and see how fast we can enter an entire library into LibraryThing. A bunch of us will be there with laptops and barcode scanners in hand—and we’re inviting anyone in the area to join us.

Details: Join us..

Talk? Ride? I’ve started a discussion on the Bostonians group. I’m sure we can figure out how to get even car-less people there.

Come on: Pizza. Laptops. CueCats. Take pictures. Leave after a day’s work with a LibraryThing catalog in place. Do good. Have fun.

Just email Abby for details/to RSVP.

Labels: cataloging, flash mob

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Better at what we do best

We’ve introduced a series of improvements to LibraryThing’s core strength—high-quality book cataloging.

Detail pages and edit pages. We’re replaced the previous detail and edit pages with more attractive and functional ones. That’s an edit page over on the right. For a detail page, check out my copy of my the obscure-but-wonderful*, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army.

Employing a simple tabbed interface, the new detail pages cover both the “work” level and the individual book level. The latter has been sorely lacking.

Multiple authors, roles. When it comes to cataloging our weakest point was always our handling of “secondary” authors—illustrators, translators, editors and the like. Doing them better has been one of the most insistent requests.

We’ve got a real system now. Books added today come with secondary authors and author roles built in. We’ve set down a small number of preset “roles,” such as Editor, Translator, Photographer and so forth—based on Amazon’s preset roles—but all roles are editable. In time, these roles will be spread throughout the system, so that the author page for someone like Steven King will include not only his own works, but collections he appears in. Translators in particular will finally get their due.

For now, enhanced author and role information is available only for newly-added books. As the system is firmed-up we will begin allowing members to “upgrade” existing records, with multiple authors as well as other cataloging enhancements.

New fields. So far, we’re releasing only two new fields. The first is for the number of copies, in case, like I, you have 500 copies of your wife’s novel, resisting relocation in the foyer. The second is the much-anticipated “private comments” field. Go ahead, pour your hearts out. The field is only viewable when you are signed in.

We’re starting with two, but we have many more waiting in the wings, including fields for edition, publisher, place of publication, binding, physical size and weight, list price—even OCLC number and ISSN. Casey and I spent a lot of time figuring out what more we can squeeze from library data, and from Amazon too. (Did you know, for example, that all library data records declare whether or not they are a Festschrift, but there is no standard way of indicating a CD?)

New Libraries. We’ve been unveiling libraries slowly. By New Years, however, we will have almost 700 libraries. Including among these will be many outside of English-speaking countries, and including books in non-Latin scripts, such as Arabic, Korean and Armenian. Library systems are notoriously twitchy with non-Latin data, and between LT employees we cover nothing beyond Greek. If you’re interested in helping us test these systems, we’d love to hear it.

New Languages. LibraryThing is already available in more than a dozen languages. We’re about to release sixteen more. They are:

Afrikaans, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Urdu

Some of our existing translations have done well—German, Dutch, Welsh—while others—Basque, Latvian—have languished. I think I see now that the key ingredient is a small cadre of zealots willing to do enough initial work that subsequent, interested but less-daring helpers can carry thing the rest of the way. If you’re interested in helping out on one of these languages, let us know. We’ll give you a special key in.

MARCThing. Underneath many of our improvements is an exciting new package we’re calling MARCThing. Developed by our own Casey Durfee, MARCThing is a complete, self-contained and largely idiot-proof way to access and parse library data. We’re going to making it available for non-commercial use and extension. We expect lots of interesting things to come of it.

I’ve asked Casey to write up a post on MARCThing over on the Thingology blog. It’ll be there in a sec. Check it out.

Talk about it. Yesterday was Götterdämmerung for everything new. So much changed so completely that a lot ended up broken. For that we apologize. Chris and I are very grateful for the flood of bug reports, suggestions, criticisms and encouragement. That thread is threatening to hit 200 posts, so I’m starting a new thread for lingering issues (there are a few) and other topics related to this blog post. Of course, you can also comment on this post. Blog posts are a lousy place for bugs, but they’re a great place for more detailed questions, disagreements and so forth.

Future steps. In the next week we’ll be unveiling the other new fields, and building a “data-enhancement” option for older records. After that, the path is clear for collections. (But don’t shoot me if I slip a Secret-Santa feature in this week.)

Final thoughts. We’ve undertaken to improve this aspect of the site despite some contrary advice—that most people don’t care about getting the data right, and that we need to focus on the purely social parts of the site. After all, we’re already the best at this side, so why spend time and money to get better?

Although, with cataloging improved, we intend to turn our attention to better UI—such as collections—and to improved social features, we feel that LibraryThing isn’t MySpace—that content and conversation are inextricably linked. As Tim O’Reilly recently put it in an interview, LibraryThing is one of a number of sites that provide different, interesting takes on the “social graph.” You don’t get to interesting relationships around books without making the book-side as powerful and flexible as can be.


*And, on LibraryThing, insanely over-promoted!

Labels: cataloging, new feature, new features, new libraries, privacy