Archive for the ‘special libraries’ Category

Friday, April 4th, 2008

What Books Do You Share with Hemingway?

Some updates from the Legacy Libraries front: yesterday saw the completion of the largest LT-Legacy catalog to date, that of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s library (compiled by Dr. James D. Brasch and Dr. Joseph Sigman of McMaster University, and provided online [PDF] through Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library) included more than 7,000 titles (7,411 to be exact). A small team of dedicated Thingambrarians has been entering them since 4 January: many thanks to nperrin, who initiated the project; spookykitten (who added about 2,450 books); christiguc (2,350); Rullakartiina (1,350); and jjlong (1,200). Amazing work for a three-month period!

You can read more about the Hemingway effort at this talk thread; they’re looking for tagging assistance and offer some suggestions for where to read more about Hemingway and his books. It’s a fascinating and very wide-ranging collection, so if you have some time to browse through it, do.

Much removed from Hemingway’s library (so far removed, in fact, that they share no books at all) is the library of British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829), the man responsible for the creation of the Smithsonian Institution. His books were included in the bequest he made to the United States, and they now reside in the vault of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History (digital gateway). There are currently 113 titles in the catalog; a few more will follow (I’m told that eight more books from Smithson’s library were recently found in the Library of Congress and are now making their way back to the Smithsonian).

I worked with the Smithsonian’s Martin Kalfatovic and Suzanne Pilsk on this project, and Martin has a post up on the SI blog about the addition of Smithson’s library. As one might expect, most of the books in Smithson’s collection are scientific tracts, but the catalog also includes some cookbooks, travel accounts, reference works, &c.

Hemingway and Smithson have been added to the “Overlap with Legacy Libraries” section of your stats page (introduced here).

We’ve also been continuing to enhance John Adams’ LT catalog since its unveiling; through the wonderful assistance of Boston Public Library staff we’ve been able to make transcriptions of much of John Adams’ fascinating marginalia widely available for the first time (see what he thought, for example, of Mary Wollstonecraft’s An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution) – his copy of the book contains more than 10,000 words written in the margins! I’ve also been adding comments from JA’s diary and other writings about specific authors or works; that’s going to be an ongoing process, but it’s at least underway.

You can keep track of progress on the various Legacy projects by clicking here.

[Update: Thingamabrarian spookykitten reports that the cataloging of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s library (322 books now held at Princeton) has also been completed. So you can now satisfy your curiosity and see how many books Fitzgerald and Hemingway share.]

Labels: dead people, john adams, legacies, special libraries

Friday, February 8th, 2008

The Libraries of Literary Ladies

Thomas Jefferson’s library was only the beginning. LibraryThing members are on a roll, entering the library catalogs of famous readers. This month highlighted women, including Isabella Stewart Gardner, Sylvia Plath, Marie Antoinette, and Susan B. Anthony. It started with a prompt from Karen Schneider, and then a post from Tim: Karen Schneider notices group, wonder why no women?. A few short weeks later, and here we are! I’m particularly excited, since in my previous (pre-LibraryThing) life, I was an archivist with a few degrees in Women’s History…

Isabella Stewart Gardner was a patron of the arts. Her amazing collection has become my favorite museum—The Isabella Stewart Gardner Musem in Boston. Now that it’s on LibraryThing you can browse not only her home and art collection, but also her personal library of 531 books (entered into LT in just four days).

Sylvia Plath‘s library is dispersed between three major repositories, so having her collection listed on LibraryThing is great for easily access. The famous poet and novelist has 375 books on LibraryThing.

Famous for her suffrage work, the civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony has 295 books on LibraryThing—drawn from the collection at the Library of Congress.

Of the four, Marie Antoinette is the only one without a Massachusetts connection.* She does, however, have an extensive page on WikiThing, explaining her library. As the contributer(s) aptly write,

Marie-Antoinette’s library is an interesting project for a number of reasons. She’s a DWEF rather than a DWAM, the library has a manageable size (736 works), and there’s a catalogue available on-line without any copyright difficulties. But maybe the most interesting thing about the library is that, like the great majority of living people’s libraries here on LibraryThing, it’s a library designed for reading pleasure. There are no heavy treatises on philosophy or theology, no law books, just piles of novels and plays, with a sprinkling of reference books and history.

What do you share?
There’s now an “Overlap with special libraries” section on your Stats page, so you can tell at a glance whether you share Bleak House with Susan B Anthony (I do).

As always, check out the jbd1, who’s taken the lead on many of the projects.

Immortal LT Authors?
Initially we were adding the authors among these literary giants as LibraryThing Authors (since technically, they are/were authors who showcased their personal libraries). People complained—not without merit—that the LT-author list is now fronted by a bunch of dead people (Ernest Hemingway and Sylvia Plath now top the list; Thomas Jefferson is further down, all the way at number 8). Fundamentally, we want the same linking going on—from author pages to profiles. But we need a new badge that’s somewhat separate. Some names have been proposed already, including “Immortals” and “Literary Luminaries”. More in this Talk topic. Thoughts? Votes?

*Isabella Stewart Gardner moved to Boston when she got married, Sylvia Plath was born in Jamaica Plain and went to Smith College in Northampton, and Susan B. Anthony was born and raised in Adams, Massachusetts.

Labels: dead people, special libraries, women

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Happy 1815! Thomas Jefferson is done.

An unusual member has finished adding his 4,889 books to LibraryThing—our third president, Thomas Jefferson!

Jefferson, 264, was assisted by sixteen LibraryThing members, led by jbd1. Together, they cataloged 4,889 books (6,487 volumes), added 187 of his reviews (a treat), and tagged them 4,889 times, according to Jefferson’s own innovative/weird classification system.

It was hard work, but it only took them four months. They worked from scholarly reconstructions of Jefferson’s 1815 books, tracking down records in 34 libraries around the world. As is well known, Jefferson sold his books to the Library of Congress, replacing the one the British destroyed during the War of 1812. This 1815 library is Jefferson’s best-documented library. (Of course, Jefferson spent the rest of his life building up another personal collection.)

Why do it? What’s the point? After all, scans of the scholarly catalog were already available from the LC. But browsing his library is a breeze now—it’s a LibraryThing library just like another.

From Jefferson’s profile you can take advantage of all the special features, like spying on his author cloud, tag cloud, author gallery and stats page. (Everyone knows he was a Francophile, but it’s neat to see he had 45% as many French as English books.)

What’s your Jefferson number? You can also find out how many books you share, either on his profile or a new section on your stats page. Right now the top shared-user is ellenandjim, with 69 works and 79 books. Your number is going to go up, however, as the combination work continues.

About the effort. The effort to catalog Jefferson’s books was coordinated through the group I See Dead People['s Books]. Here’s the post announcing the completion.

It was exacting work. I stalled after few dozen books. Thanks are therefore due to the sixteen members who contributed, and particularly to the two biggest contributors, jbd1 and jjlong. I met jbd1—Jeremy Dibbell—at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. He is just weeks short of an MLS from Simmons College, and has just taken a full-time job at the Massachusetts Historical Society. About jjlong, Jeremy doesn’t know anything more than his first name, Joel, and his state, Tennessee. [UPDATE: Jeremy has put up his own blog post.]

Work has already begun on other dead worthies, with William Faulkner and Tupac Shakur the farthest along. I’m guessing that when Jefferson’s opponent John Adams is entered, they’re show up as each other’s top sharers!

Why Jefferson is Web 2.0 hip. As Tim O’Reilly recently put it*, LibraryThing (and Geni.com) presents different sorts of “social graph” (social network). On LibraryThing it’s not just “friends”—a powerful but rather simple way of seeing the world—but a different set of connections: how you relate to others through taste and interest. We’re aiming for something more than “who are your bookish friends?” or “what are your friends reading?” but “what is the world of books, and how do you fit in?”**

A paradoxical result of this—one that the “Web 2.0″-types mostly don’t understand—is that not all uses of our “social network” are social. I watch a number of users I have never spoken to; their taste in books is interesting enough. The tags and recommendations I watch work the same way. They’re socially created, but they’re not always about social interaction.

In MySpace and the lot, dead people are boring. Recently-deceased people get tributes on their comment page; MyDeathSpace has even built up a ghoulish, ad-driven business*** off teen suicides and car wrecks. But that’s about it. Historical dead people are jokes and get deleted.

On LibraryThing there are no such limitations. Books are a sort of mental world, and shared books a shared mental space. Dead or alive, it’s interesting to know that Jefferson and I share the world of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe and de las Casas’ Destruction of the Indies (he read both in Italian!). It’s also interesting too to see that Jefferson, a Deist, had more books on Christian theology than all but a few libraries in LibraryThing, 25 books of Ecclesiastical history and 19 of Ecclesiastical law!

And Jefferson is just the start. Every library, bibliography and list, every publisher, author, bookseller and reader adds meaning to the whole, and there is no end to how the data can be turned. What books had both Jefferson and King George read? How many of my books were in the libraries of Photius or at Monte Cassino. What living author has my taste in novels? What NYT reviewer hates the same books I do? What bookstore sells the books I like? What town buys the most vampire smut? Calculating book-to-book affinities, which founding father is most likely to have enjoyed Chicken Soup for the Cat-Lover’s Soul? (It’s Burr, definitely.)


* Near the end. Geni.com is a Web 2.0 genealogy site, where the dead people are the metadata!
**I like the word bibliosphere, with its implicit comparison to the blogosphere. As stuffed-shirts like Michael Gorman fail to recognize, books have always been subjective, imperfect and in conversation with other books.
***A page of suicides is currently giving me a Viagra ad. They also make money from tshirts. Blech.

Labels: jefferson, social networking, special libraries