Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

LibraryThing’s Chocolate Redesign

Before and after, band-aid to chocolate.
An anonymous member sent us a box of dark chocolate-covered cherries. Very appropriate, and very much appreciated!(2)

We’re rolling out lots of changes. See also The New Home Page »

You may have noticed a few changes around the site … last week we pushed live the first major redesign of the LibraryThing site in… ever!(1) The final concept and design were something of a group effort, but the vast majority of the work was done by Christopher Holland (conceptdawg). Note that the new design is separate from the new Home page, blogged about here.

New colors. The top nav bar has turned chocolate brown with red highlights. Goodbye, band-aid/dead salmon color! You’ll see other new accent colors around the site as well.

Smaller, “fixed” top nav. The top nav is 25% smaller than the old version. This means you see more content on each page without scrolling. Like many sites today, the top nav is now “fixed,” remaining at the top when you scroll down the page. This feature is disabled on mobile devices, which handle “scrolling” differently, and, by request, we’ve also made this optional. To turn it off, click this at the bottom of the page.

Profile tab. We’ve removed the “Profile” tab. But you can still get to your profile with one click from anywhere on the site: just click your member name in the upper right corner! You can also get to your profile from the “subnav” on the home page.

New comments indicator. You’ll see a small yellow box appear in the upper right corner of the site when you have a profile comment. It will now even tell you how many new comments you’ve received.

A work in progress.

We’ve begun the process of standardizing the entire site to make all of the hundreds of LT pages look nice with the new color scheme, etc. We’re not quite there yet. There’s lots of work left to do, mostly little things where the old design is still poking through. We’re hacking away at those now.

Members who joined prior to the launch of the redesign can revert to the old design for the moment. This will not be available permanently (it’s simply too much work to try and maintain two different systems), but it’s there for now.

We want your thoughts. What do you think? What do you particularly like, or dislike? Come tell us in the New design – Comments #3 Talk thread.

Found a bug? Come report it in the New design – Bugs #2 thread.

Previous threads of interest (we’re well past 1,700 posts about the design alone…)


1. For a few months LibraryThing’s color was an even more terrible greige.
2. Truth be told, 72?!? That’s over 3,800 calories!

Labels: christopher holland, design, features

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The New Home Page

This blog post is the “coming-out” party of the new home page, introduced last week. After extensive discussion—over 1,000 messages—with many changes and improvements suggested and implemented, “home” is effectively done.

What’s the point? The new page is designed as a simple but rich “home” for how you use LibraryThing. It is a “central place” that puts everything in front of you and keeps you up-to-date. But since members use LibraryThing in so many different ways—cataloging, keeping track of current reads, getting new recommendations, socializing, etc.—it had to be a menu of options, and extensively customizable.

The new home page replaces the old, introduced five year ago, which had grown cluttered, long and slow. It was customizable, but limited and buggy, and many members skipped it.

Pages and Modules. The new home page is divided into pages like “About you” and “Recommendations,” plus a main “Dashboard” area.

The pages sport 47 modules—more than twice as many as before. Modules do things like list your most recent activity, recommend books, update you on what your friends are reading, and track your contributions to the site.

Customize it. The home page was designed to start off useful, but many users will want to customize it.

  • You can reorder the modules on every page.
  • You can put the modules in one column or two, and set where the column break is.
  • You can move modules on and off your dashboard, and other home pages.
  • Every module can be customized, often extensively (see the example below).

Most members will want to focus on their dashboard—adding, deleting and reorganizing the modules until they’ve got the perfect jumping-off page for the rest of their LibraryThing.

What’s new? New modules include:

  • Member Gallery. See pictures in your gallery and add new ones from the home page.
  • Recent Member-uploaded Covers for Your Books. Keeps you up-to-date on the newest covers other members have uploaded for your books.
  • Your Notepad. Create a handy list of shortcuts or notes.
  • Your Library over Time. A cool chart showing how your LT library has grown.
  • Lists. Modules for Your Lists, Active Lists, Recent Lists, Lists You Might Like bring LibraryThing’s Lists feature in the mainstream.
  • Your Recent Reviews. Reminds you what you’ve reviewed recently.
  • Reviews for Your Books. Find out what other members are saying about your books.
  • LibraryThing Roulette. Click for a random book, author, series, etc. Weirdly addictive, and helpful for helpers.
  • Helper modules. A page with statistics and links to venue linking, work combining and the dozens of other ways LibraryThing members help each other.
  • Recent Haiku. See book summaries / by members cleverly put / in five-seven-five.
  • Thingaversaries. Members have been celebrating the anniverary of their joining LibraryThing for years; the home-page module makes that easier.

What’s improved? Along with all the new features Tim also thoroughly redesigned and streamlined many of the existing Home page modules:

  • Tag watch is back! The much-missed Tag watch feature has returned, much simpler and easier to use.
  • Recommendations now includes subsets. You can choose between top automatic recommendations, recent automatic recommendations, and recent member recommendations.
  • Dates. Recently-added books and recent recommendations now include dates, so you can see when you added a new book or when a recommendation was made for you.
  • On This Day now factors in the popularity of the authors, so it gives you the most relevant author birth- and death-days. By default it also prefers to show authors you have. There’s also a new “On this day” Common Knowledge page.
  • We redesigned the Featured Authors section (in the Books section under Discover), to show more LibraryThing authors.

Background: We also recently released a new design—out with the “band aid” or “salmon” and in with the chocolate. Staff, especially Chris (ConceptDawg) is still working on that design, tweaking color choices and making sure it works right on all the browsers and devices out there. See the design blog post for more.

The changes to the Home page are largely based on discussions in the Wide open: What to do with your home page? thread, and Tim (timspalding) had great fun coming up with the new layout and all the brand-new, nifty features that are part of this.

What do you think? Come tell us in the New home – Comments #3 Talk thread.

Find a bug? Report it in the New home – Bugs continued again thread.

Additional threads of interest:

Labels: design, features, home

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Happy Thingaversaries

For a while now members have been celebrating “Thingaversaries,” anniversaries of the day they joined LibraryThing. As LibraryThing is now almost eight years old, a lot of our earliest, most active members have been celebrating 5-, 6- or 7-year Thingaversaries. The tradition is to use the occasion to buy as many books as your year.

Yesterday, norabelle414 (Nora), celebrated her six-year Thingaversary, and posted this to the “75 Books Challenge for 2013″ group:

“Today is my SIXTH Thingaversary! Six whole years and I still can’t believe that I found this wonderful website that has changed my life, and that I get to talk to you lovely, like-minded people almost every day! It is Thingaversary tradition to buy oneself one book per year on LT, plus one to grow on. However, I’m trying to curtail my book buying this year. So instead, I’m going to buy myself one brand-new, sorely needed BOOKSHELF!”

In Nora’s honor, we’ve done two things:

1. We bought a cake in honor of Nora’s Thingaversary. Unfortunately, Nora lives hundreds of miles away, so LibraryThing staff in Maine—Tim, KJ, our 15-year-old intern Eddy and his two younger brothers(1)—are going to have to eat it for her! Sorry Nora, and thanks.

2. We’ve added a new Selected Thingaversaries module in the (new) “Folly” section on the home page. It highlights your connections who are having Thingaversaries and a semi-random set of members having their Thingaversary today—weighted by how active they are the site now.

So, congratulations Nora, and thanks to her and all the other members who joined years ago, and still love LibraryThing!

Feature-discussion here.


1. LibraryThing is turning into a summer camp. Alas, Jeremy is in Virginia this month for Rare Book School.

UPDATE: I added a notice of your next Thingaversary.

Labels: features, holiday, humor

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

July Early Reviewers batch is up!

The July 2013 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 157 books this month, and a grand total of 4,445 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, July 29th at 6 p.m. EDT.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, and more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

The Permanent Press Taylor Trade Publishing Tundra Books
Lion Fiction Putnam Books Palgrave Macmillan
Random House Akashic Books Blacksmith Books
Quirk Books Henry Holt and Company Minotaur Books
Del Rey Penguin Young Readers Group Gefen Publishing House
Coffeetown Press CarTech Books Monico
Open Lens Delacorte Press Spiegel & Grau
Crown Publishing Candlewick Press Kayelle Press
Bethany House Chosen Books Gray & Company, Publishers
Libertine Press Mythos Press Enigma Press
Enigma Press Grimoire Press Sentient Publications
GMTA Publishing, LLC Celestial Press Ballantine Books
Petra Books BookViewCafe Riverhead Books
Bantam Dell PublicAffairs Gotham Books
JournalStone Seventh Rainbow Publishing William Morrow
Plume Orca Book Publishers Booktrope
W.W. Norton Elate Press Apex Publications
Galaxy Audio MSI Press Viva Editions
Cleis Press Oxford University Press Marble City Publishing
McFarland February Books Humanist Press
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Sheridan House Georgetown University Press
Wayman Publishing Demos Health Five Rivers Publishing

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

New Legacy Library projects: Truman, Voltaire

We’ve got a couple fun new Legacy Libraries projects in the works, and welcome volunteers to help us catalog the books!

Harry Truman’s “home study” library from his Independence, Missouri residence is already in LibraryThing (see it at the Harry Truman profile page), but we now also have a list of books from his “working office” at the Harry S Truman Library and Museum to add, so let’s get to it!

See the Talk thread or jump right to the project wiki page to get started and claim your section of the library list. No worries if you haven’t worked on a Legacy Libraries project before – this is definitely a good introduction to them! I’ll be helping out too, and will answer any questions you have on the Talk thread.

We’re also currently getting started on Voltaire’s library, which may be a little trickier but still promises to be great fun! You can watch progress on this one here, and please feel free to jump in and help (given the nature of Voltaire’s collection, we’re looking at you, French/Russian readers!).

There’s a discussion thread where we’re figuring out a good work-plan for this one, and a wiki page where you can claim a section and add some books.

Have fun, and thanks in advance for joining us on these!

Labels: legacy libraries

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

June Early Reviewers batch is up!

The June 2013 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 106 books this month, and a grand total of 2,865 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, June 24th at 6 p.m. EDT.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, and more. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Henry Holt and Company Taylor Trade Publishing Putnam Books
Riverhead Books The Permanent Press Prufrock Press
Random House Candlewick Press Tundra Books
Crown Publishing Algonquin Books Plume
Palgrave Macmillan Pintail Ballantine Books
Sakura Publishing Marble City Publishing Apex Publications
Dundurn Information Today, Inc. koehler Books
Nonstop Press Bethany House Pixel Hall Press
Penguin Group (USA) In Fact Books Greenleaf Book Group
Akashic Books February Partners WaterBrook Press
Cleis Press Alaskan Gothic Press Humanist Press
Quirk Books Thames River Press Whitepoint Press
Open Books BookViewCafe Arabella Publishing
McFarland Human Kinetics Orca Book Publishers
JournalStone Garnet Publishing Chosen Books
Booktrope Dragonwell Publishing December House
Del Rey Wayman Publishing Penguin Young Readers Group
Istoria Books

Labels: early reviewers

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Author interview: Julie Wu on “The Third Son”

For the May State of the Thing newsletter, I had the chance to interview Julie Wu about her debut novel The Third Son (Algonquin Books). Julie studied literature at Harvard and medicine at Columbia, and received a 2012 fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She lives near Boston.

Can you tell us about the origins of The Third Son? Do you recall which part of the story came to you first?

My first inkling of the main character was in 1989. I was sitting in my parents’ suburban Boston kitchen and suddenly had the image of a little boy on the floor of his parents’ house in Taiwan. It was the first time I’d ever visualized a scene so vividly. I rushed to my typewriter to record the musty smell, the dark floorboards, and the boy’s sadness. Thinking back on it now, I believe that boy was Saburo.

How did the story change during the research and writing process?

In 1989 I tried to make that boy the protagonist of a different book entirely—one set in contemporary suburban America in a Taiwanese-American household. That book stalled when I asked my parents questions for background information and I realized how boring my book was in comparison with their actual lives. I was resistant, though, to the idea of basing a book on my parents’ story.

It was 2002 when I finally sat down to interview my parents in earnest. I was pregnant with my first child and maybe had gained some perspective, as well as an understanding that my opportunities to find out my parents’ stories were finite. My first draft was very much based on their lives, but over the following years I learned that in order to make the story a universally appealing, cohesive, suspenseful, and satisfying work, I would have to feel absolutely free to take liberties with the story, the plot, the characters, etc. Now the book is its own self-contained story. Of course, despite that I made every effort to make sure the book is historically accurate.

The early sections of the book are set in Taiwan during a particularly tumultuous period in its history (which I’d venture to guess many of your American readers probably won’t be familiar with). Can you recommend some further reading on the history of Taiwan that interested readers might turn to?

There’s a classic work by George Kerr called Formosa Betrayed. George Kerr was an American diplomat at the time of the February 28 massacres in 1947, and his account of the events on Taiwan and his colleagues’ efforts to get the American government to intervene are both devastating and eye-opening.

Another interesting account is Peng Ming-Min’s autobiography, A Taste of Freedom: Memoirs of a Formosan Independence Leader, in which he describes his arrest for trying to distribute a manifesto for Taiwanese independence. Peng conceals the details of his dramatic escape to Sweden to protect his friends, but more recently, in the book Fireproof Moth, American missionary Milo Thornberry describes exactly how he and others helped mastermind Peng’s escape. There are museums in Taiwan that document the events of 1947 and the subsequent White Terror. These include the Taipei 228 Museum, the National 228 Museum, Jing-Mei Human Rights Memorial Park (a former military court prison) in Taipei, as well as the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park on Green Island, on the site of the offshore prison where long-term political prisoners were held. The website associated with the Green Island museum is maintained by its designer, Ronald Tsao, and is quite extensive and informative: http://2011greenislanden.wordpress.com.

When and where do you do most of your writing?

I write mostly in my dining room and in the public library. I probably get the most done in the library, because there I’m not distracted by the pantry and the refrigerator, and I’m too embarrassed to sit around just doing Facebook.

Any particular writing tips you’d like to share?

Don’t worry about getting stuff out fast. Make your work the best it can be. Agents and editors are just people like everyone else. If tons of them don’t connect to your work, that means tons of other readers won’t either. If that matters to you, figure out why and fix it.

What’s your library like? What sorts of books would we find on your shelves?

My library is a jumble of all kinds of books—high-falutin’ French literature from college that I can’t understand anymore, Taiwanese history books, parenting books and travel guides, medical textbooks, and, of course stacks, and stacks of wonderful novels of all genres, famous and not-so-famous, many of them authored by friends.

For more about Julie’s next project, some of her favorite libraries, and more, read the rest of our interview.


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Labels: author interview, state of the thing

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Author interview: Jennifer McVeigh on “The Fever Tree”

Some excerpts from my interview with Jennifer McVeigh, which appeared in the May State of the Thing newsletter. Jennifer studied English literature at Oxford and has worked in the film, television and radio industries. Her debut novel, The Fever Tree, was published by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam in April.

Give us, if you would, The Fever Tree in a nutshell, for those who haven’t yet had a chance to read it.

The Fever Tree is a novel about a woman who is forced to leave behind everything she has ever known, and emigrate to South Africa to marry a man she barely knows. It’s a novel about a country in the making, about diamonds and disease, love and redemption.

What part of the novel came to you first?

My husband and I were driving across the hot, dusty plains of Namibia in Southern Africa, when we passed a high wire fence cordoning off a diamond mine. I remember thinking—who were the men who first came here to mine for diamonds? What kind of lives did they lead, without running water or sanitation? And who were the women who came with them? When I came back to England I did some research, and became fascinated with the early days of the diamond rush in South Africa, when men travelled hundreds of miles to the diamond fields with little more than the shirts on their backs, and when fortunes could be won and lost on the luck of uncovering a stone.

What were some of the historical sources you found most interesting and useful as you wrote The Fever Tree?

I drew on a huge range of historical sources. The British Library was particularly useful, and it was there that I poured over guide books to South Africa, written in the 1880s, read Victorian newspapers published on the diamond fields, and discovered the diary which told the story of a smallpox epidemic which raged on the diamond mines—the true story which lies at the heart of the book. But there were other sources. It was in Kimberley, the famous diamond mining town, that I came across a book of old photographs taken on the diamond mines, which made real for me the lives of the men, women and children who camped in tents, in the dust and the filth, on the diamond fields, hoping to make their fortune.

How did your own experiences traveling in southern Africa come into play as you wrote the novel?

When I travelled in South Africa, I was fascinated and unsettled by its dark concoction of pioneer spirit and racism, by the brutality of its urban landscapes—with their sprawling townships which spoke of labour migration and forced evictions—and the astounding beauty and wildness of its countryside. These contradictions, I realised, had their roots in my story—in the discovery of diamonds, when men like Cecil Rhodes, driven by greed, used their political influence to create an economy based on lines of race. The more I learned, the more I was able to make sense of what I had seen in South Africa, and the people and attitudes that confronted me.

When and where do you do most of your writing?

Once the research is out of the way, most of the actual writing is done at home. At my desk, in bed, standing by the toaster. Anywhere where I can catch myself off guard and get words down on paper.

But wait, there’s more! Read the rest of our interview.


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Labels: author interview, state of the thing

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Thoughts toward a LibraryThing redesign

Labels: design

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Author interview: Colum McCann on “TransAtlantic”

For the May State of the Thing newsletter, I had the chance to interview Colum McCann, winner of the 2009 National Book Award in fiction for Let the Great World Spin. His new novel, TransAtlantic, will be published on June 4 by Random House.

TransAtlantic opens with three stories of voyages to Ireland: Frederick Douglass in 1845, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown in 1919, and George Mitchell in 1998. How did you decide on these three, and were there other voyages that you considered using and decided not to?

I suppose that writers must always gravitate towards their obsessions, and one of my obsessions was the idea that Frederick Douglass went to Ireland, a black slave, in 1845, but he was also an author, an orator, an intellectual, a dandy, an abolitionist, a humanitarian, a contrarian. What a story! I was also obsessed with the idea of writing about peace and what it could possibly mean in this day and age, which made George Mitchell a fascinating subject. Alcock and Brown landed in between these narratives, in more sense than one: they almost split the time difference between 1845 and 1998. But these were the only stories I contemplated. They seemed to bridge each other perfectly.  They are—in my imagination at least—braided together. They inform one another.

Give us a sense of how this novel came together, if you would. Where did you begin, and how did you shape the narrative to create the final version of the story?

It began with Douglass. It continued with Mitchell. But it was bridged by Alcock and Brown, which was the section that came easiest to me. But the moment I knew I “had” the novel was when I realised it was much more about the supposedly anonymous corners of human experience. The story belonged to the women. That’s where the truth lay. It is, in a sense, a feminist novel.

The novel’s real main characters, of course, are the women whose stories are at its heart: four generations of women beginning with Lily Duggan. Tell us a bit about them, and are they also based on real characters in part, or are they entirely fictional creations?

They are entirely fictional. And yet they live and breathe for me as much (if not more) than the supposedly “real” characters. It is very much a novel about women and their intersection with history; it’s also a novel that hopefully forces a reader to confront what is “real” and what is not.

You must have done extensive research for this book: what were some of the sources you found particularly useful or compelling?

The further I go along in my career, the more I realise that books belong to others more than to myself. It feels to me that this book was a community effort and the grace of the book (if it has any grace) belongs to others. I am indebted to countless numbers of people. I am aware that this could sound coy, or full with false humility but the fact of the matter is that a writer gets his or her voice from the voices of others. We are indebted to those who have come before us.

In the acknowledgements you mention that George and Heather Mitchell “had the great grace to allow me to try to imagine my way into their world.” I’d love to know more about what you learned from Senator Mitchell and how you worked those details into the story.

George and Heather Mitchell are an amazing couple, an astounding story of love and resilience and decency. They allowed me, at first, to imagine their lives. Then they read the manuscript and were charming enough, and humble enough, to allow me any mistakes. So I wrote the section before I met Senator Mitchell, and then I shaped it to get as close to the truth as I thought I might possibly get. They helped me realise what it was that I wanted to eventually say.

What’s your favorite scene or line from TransAtlantic?

Oh, this is very much a “slice the baby” question. How can one choose? I suppose the last line is very important to me, though I very much like line 247 and line 822 (just kidding!). I am very proud of the Douglass section—that one broke my heart until I felt like I had properly captured him. But this is an impossible question and I’m delighted by its impossibility.

For more from Colum McCann, including some advice on writing, a few of his favorite authors, and what he’s been reading recently, read the rest of our interview.


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Labels: author interview, state of the thing