Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Cataloged: The 1963 White House Library (Socialist Books Included)

Then and now photos of the White House Library. (“Now” photo by Flickr user Jay Tamboli).

Overnight, some twenty LibraryThing members(1) entered, or “flash mob cataloged” an entire, historic library—the White House Library of the early 1960s and, largely, today. We did it from a limited-edition “Short-Title List” printed by the White House Historical Society, using LibraryThing’s 700-odd library data sources.(2)

The library, WHLibrary1963, contains some 1,700 books. It joins some 128 other “Legacy Libraries” cataloged or being cataloged by members. It’s our second Kennedy-themed library, after the incomplete JohnFKennedy—or third, if you count Marilyn Monroe‘s (interesting) collection.

Why We Did It. An amusing train-wreck of blog outrage moved us to action. Rob Port, a conservative radio host and blogger took a White House tour and spotted some books on the wall that made him jump. Hearing or mis-hearing that the books had been picked by Michelle Obama, Port blogged Photo Evidence: Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books In The White House Library.

Port’s picture included books like:

And a number of other, not-so-socialist titles, like U.S. Senators and Their World, all from the 40s, 50s and 60s. (Needless to say it didn’t apparently dawn on Port to look the books up, or wonder why they all seemed a tad old.)

The White House Library.The Washington Post‘s Short Stack blog knocked down the story. Far from being picked by Michelle Obama, the library was in fact assembled at the request of another First Lady—Jacqueline Kennedy.

Kennedy, who also oversay the redecoration of the room itself, delegated the selection to Yale librarian James T. Babb, who convened a small committee, including the editors of the Jefferson and Adams papers and the Kennedy aide and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. The work took about a year.

The book list was published in the New York Times in August 1963. A limited edition Short Title-List was printed in 1967. Between 1963 and 1967 a number of books were added to the list. From some Flickr pictures, it looks like a few more books may have been added—perhaps in the Johnson administration?—to the actual library.

What does it mean? While not a window into Obama’s book tastes, still less his socialism, the library is a window into something. Browsing through it, I can’t help feeling a sense of the time, and of the opinions and culture of the men who assembled it, and were intended to use it.

As I see it, Kennedy’s administration was marked by a rare embrace of intellect, ideas and even scholarship, but was also constrained somewhat by the mental world of contemporary east-coast elites—the “Harvards” that irritated Johnson so much. Although flattened by politic initial choices—it includes no living authors of fiction, and few works by non-US citizens— the 1963 White House Library was, in a sense, the library of the “Best and Brightest,” and it reflects their world view. As fun as it was to do, it’s perhaps a shame we don’t have similar collections for all the presidents since then. However interesting, it would be a shame if the White House Library forever remained a 1960s relic.

Come talk about the library here.

Continuing cataloging and cleanup progress here.

1. amba, ansate, bell7, bokai, carport, cbl_tn, ccc3579, clamairy, cpirmann, jbd1, jjlong, merry10, moibibliomaniac, momerath, SilentInAWay, spookykitten, theophila, timspalding, thornton37814, UtopianPessimist.
2. I kicked it off by driving from Portland down to the University of New Hampshire, which had the closest copy of the limited-edition Short-Title List. I love that my job periodically allows me to get in a car for the sole purpose of getting a book at some far-away library.

Labels: legacy libraries

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Legacy Library flash-mob tonight

There’s a minor tempest-in-a-teapot brewing over the White House library. Apparently a conservative blogger on a tour took a snapshot of some socialist-oriented books, misheard that Mrs. Obama had selected them, and blogged about it. They turned out to have been selected by Jackie Kennedy, or rather by a prominent Yale librarian she selected, and to have been there since the early 1960s.

I’m driving to the nearest copy of the library’s list (published as a limited edition book), and we’re going to use it as the basis for a Legacy Library. This is minor hot news, so I think we should try to do it fast. Any many hands make light work. Let’s see what an insane pack of bibliophilic historians can do.

We’re going to virtually flash-mob the library, by adding books from the list to a LibraryThing account at the same time.

Once I have pages, I’ll start posting them, and anyone who wants to help, can help! Read more about the project and join us.

Labels: flash mob, flash-mob cataloging, legacy libraries

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Dead horses to ponies…

Borrowing a joke from Brightcopy, I’ve turned some dead-horses into ponies, bringing some long-requested features to life, and even improving on them.

Books You Share Preferences. Some members have long campaigned for sorting the profile-page “Books You Share” box by author, not title. But I held off—that’s not the right choice for everyone. Instead I’ve added a preference for it, with a number of different sorting options.

Critically, I set the default to sorting by popularity from low to high, something nobody had ever requested. I thought members might pounce on me for it, but quite a few have said it was an unexpectedly good choice. It brings out the unusual books you share. And those are often the most interesting.

I also added a preference to change how many shared books are displayed.

See this topic for more about the feature.

Tag Combination. After a 16-month hiatus, new tag combinations and separations are back!

The idea is simple. LibraryThing allows members to combine tags that are highly similar in meaning and application. Classic examples are tags like “World War II” and “wwii” or “ww2.” We discourage combining terms that don’t entirely overlap, either in meaning or in usage. (If you’re interested in the ideas behind tagging, check out my What’s the Big Deal About Tagging? talk on YouTube.)

Tag combination only affects “global pages”; user tags are never changed.

So far as I know, we’re the only website to experiment with this idea, something noted in Gene Smith’s Tagging: People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web. Tag-combination combines a new idea—tagging—with an older idea—what librarians call “authority control.”

This time, however, we’ve given it a twist—democratic authority control. Any member can propose a combination or separation, but the matter is put up to a vote—with a supermajority needed for any action. We hope it will slow down the process and make it more deliberate.

It’ll also save our servers from having to recalculate tags. With more than 60 million tags, and “science fiction” now at three million uses, instant, any-user combinations were really putting a strain on our system.

See more about it, and some examples here.

Labels: new features, tagging

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Favorite messages and marking last-read

I’ve added a simple feature to “favorite” message. You can also mark a last-read, for those times when Thingamabrarian eloquence prevents a topic from being read in a single sitting.

More here.

Labels: new features

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Pictures get a lot better

I’ve just released phase one of the new picture system—much better profile pictures:

The new system allows members to post multiple profile pictures, see pictures at large sizes, describe pictures, leave comments on them, and share them with other members. There’s also a tagging feature, so members can organize their pictures and swarm around common tags, like my library.

The new system was designed to be used across the site. I am particularly anxious to get it working on books—so members can show multiple images, and separate out covers, title pages, spine images and so forth.

Read and talk more about it here.

Labels: new features, pictures

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Connections lists and other profile-page upgrades

Mike has revamped LibraryThing’s “connections” feature, changing the UI somewhat and allowing members to specify new types of contacts, like “best friends,” “employees,” “librarian peeps,” etc. These categories show up everywhere connections do, such as work pages.

There were also significant changes under the surface, preparing us for better contact handling generally—both inside-LibraryThing contacts and reaching out to other social networks.

We’ve also added an area for “Groups you share.”

Members are divided over this addition. There’s a poll being held about it right now.

There were a host of smaller changes. Read more about it on Talk.

Labels: new features

Monday, February 8th, 2010

February Early Reviewer books up!

The February 2010 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 107 books this month, and a grand total of… wait for it—3,495 copies to give out! That’s a new high for us.

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:

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, February 26th at 6PM EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to too many countries to list. 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!

Penguin B&H Publishing Group Delacorte Press
Hunter House Henry Holt and Company Hyperion Books
New York Review Books Spiegel & Grau Bell Bridge Books
O’Reilly WaterBrook Press Savvy Press
Ballantine Books Peirene Press Tundra Books
Bloomsbury Little, Brown and Company HCI Books
Avon Books Bromera BelleBooks
Hachette Book Group The Overlook Press Villard
Bantam Random House Trade Paperbacks W.W. Norton
Chosen Books Bethany House Doubleday Books
Kregel Publications Sovereign Picador
Perseverance Press St. Martin’s Press St. Martin’s Griffin
Tor Books Random House Bantam Dell
MIRA Unbridled Books International Publishers Marketing
Grand Central Publishing PublicAffairs Rovira i Virgili University Press
Harlequin Teen Harlequin Canongate Books

Labels: early reviewers

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Our First New Zealand Legacy Library!

We’re very pleased to announce the first New Zealand-based Legacy Library, that of Pei te Hurinui Jones (1898-1976). Jones joins Alfred Deakin (the second Prime Minister of Australia) in our Antipodean Legacies collection. Mr. Jones was a leading Māori scholar and translator (he’s known for translating three volumes of Māori chants and song-poetry into English, and three Shakespeare plays into Māori). You can read a more complete biographical sketch on his profile page.

This catalog is thanks to the efforts of David Friggens, Systems Librarian at the University of Waikato, which holds the book collection. Thanks to David for making it happen, and we hope you’ll all find it useful.

On other Legacy fronts, user jcbrunner reports that work on Thomas Mann’s library proceeds, with 2,000 records now in place (about 60% of the total). Almost 350 titles have been entered for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert Graves’ LT library now contains nearly 500 titles. Don’t forget, you can check out all the libraries-in-progress and volunteer your services here.

The Libraries of Early America subset continues to expand, with recent work focusing on the completion of the collection of Landon Carter (by staff at the Rockefeller Library, Colonial Williamsburg) and ongoing work on the libraries of the Thomas Shepards of early Massachusetts, balloonist-doctor John Jeffries, and continued additions to earlier collections. For any leads on those, as always, please drop me a note.

Labels: antipodes, legacies, legacy libraries, new zealand

Monday, January 25th, 2010

January State of the Thing

Ring-a-ding-ding. I’ve just sent out the first State of the Thing (our monthly newsletter) of 2010. Sign up to get it, or you can read a copy online.

This month’s State of the Thing features our iPhone app, site improvements and as always, free books.

We also have two exclusive author interviews:

Colum McCann won the 2009 National Book Award in fiction for Let the Great World Spin. The plot of the book follows a handful of characters who are witness to the 1974 tight-rope walk across the Twin Towers of New York, but this book is more than the sum of its plots. McCann lives in New York, with his family. His previous work includes Dancer and Zoli.

Joshua Ferris’ new, just-released novel is The Unnamed. Like a wind-up toy, the main character’s unknown medical condition will suddenly whisk him from wherever he is on a forced walk that ends only from exhaustion, miles from home. His family adjusts, as well as a family can, to an unexplainable disease. Joshua’s previous novel, Then We Came to the End, was a 2007 National Book Award finalist. At the moment, Ferris is writing an essay on the work of the Norwegian painter Lars Elling, and according to Ferris “contemplating about six ways to kill myself on account of it. I want to do both the painter & his work justice but fear I simply lack the lexicon.”

Next month, we’ll be interviewing Elizabeth Kostova and Holly Black. Have a question for them? Post it here and we might use it in the upcoming interview.

Labels: state of the thing

Monday, January 25th, 2010

24-hour Readathon wrap-up

We may not have a logo yet, but the first LibraryThing Readathon was a success. A lot of the fun is reading the thread on Book Talk where participants described their hour of reading. It was interesting to find out where other people chose to read for their designated hour, and absolutely wonderful to hear about the books everyone’s reading right now. You can read the whole thread here, which includes touchstones to the books read. Participants could also tag the book(s) they read. People also started including an excerpt from what they had read, which added a sense of nowness.

It was really fun helping in the creation of a new kind of event, which felt very community-oriented yet very easy to participate in. I myself woke up, grabbed my book, and started reading in bed. Sure, there wasn’t any brie provided (unlike the Boston meetup), but it also didn’t require getting out of bed.

We called it a beta test, because we weren’t sure what would need changing during the event, or for future events. We’ll talk about what to change, so know we’re planning on another event sometime in the spring. If you’d like to join in the organizing conversation, jump in.

Labels: event, LibraryThing event, ltreadathonbeta, readathon, reading