Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

March State o’ the Thing

I’ve just sent out State of the Thing, our monthly newsletter. Sign up to get it, or you can read a copy online.

This month’s State of the Thing features a round-up of new features, book recommendations from Dexter Palmer and Susan Wilson, and two exclusive author interviews:

Jonathan Maberry is the author of the techno-thriller Patient Zero. His new book, The Dragon Factory, is the sequel. Jonathan is a multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, writing teacher/lecturer and LibraryThing author.

Seth Grahame-Smith broke onto the classics scene with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Now he’s taking on the biography genre with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. As we all know, Lincoln rises to political power to become one of the most famous presidents of all time for his fight against the injustice of slavery (and vampirism).

Next month our interviews are with Anne Lamott and Alan Bradley.

Labels: state of the thing

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Hobnob with Authors

After much discussion, we’ve introduced the Hobnob with Authors group, a special place for authors and readers to mingle.

Of course, authors are welcome everywhere on LibraryThing. Authors can become LibraryThing Authors, which links their author and member pages and promotes them on their books and on the home page. Many authors participate in Early Reviewers and Member Giveaways. And authors also participate in our existing groups. We even have a special Author Chat group for organized author events.

But, encouraged as they are, we’ve also found a certain amount of static between some authors’ desire to promote their work, and the tendency for that to seem one-way, non-conversational advertising or even spam, both of which are against the site’s Terms of Service. Confronted with the request to avoid promotion, many authors expressed surprise that a book site would hinder their efforts to reach potential readers. Members were in turn divided on just how serious the problem was, the line between acceptable and unacceptable author posts, etc. The situation was sticky all around!

So, Hobnob with Authors was born, a “safe place” for authors to chat with readers, without fear of being accused of spamming. While some standards will be enforced, no reasonable author need worry. As a “Community Project” the group is prominent, and its posts will appear in Talk alongside other groups. But sensitive members will also be able to “ignore” the “Hobnob” group.

So, authors, you’re now free to shout to the rooftops all about the book you write. Excited readers will be waiting to hear about it. Join, watch or just read Hobnob with Authors, and support authors who help make LibraryThing what it is.

Labels: author chat, authors, librarything authors

Monday, March 8th, 2010

March batch of Early Reviewer books is up!

The March 2010 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 82 books this month, and a grand total of 2,477 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

Update: You can now opt to win more than one book per batch. Read the details, and how to opt in.

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, March 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 each book to see if you’re eligible.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

B&H Publishing Group North Atlantic Books Hunter House
Ballantine Books W.W. Norton Doubleday Canada
St. Martin’s Griffin Tundra Books Kregel Publications
Penguin Bell Bridge Books Putnam Books
Riverhead Books Human Kinetics BelleBooks
Bantam Dell Cemetery Dance John Wiley & Sons
Random House Henry Holt and Company Taylor Trade Publishing
Seven Stories Press New Village Press South Dakota State Historical Society Press
Gefen Publishing House Dalkey Archive Press QWERTY Publishers
HighBridge McBooks Press Rovira i Virgili University Press
McClelland & Stewart Orca Book Publishers Candlewick
Picador The Permanent Press HarperCollins
Doubleday Books HarperStudio Gotham Books
Quirk Books Avon Books Harper
Crossway MIRA HQN
100 Watt Press LUNA WaterBrook Press

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

March Legacy Mob: U.S.S. California

After the success of cataloging the 1963 White House Library, we’ve made it into a monthly thing.

This month, starting at 12:00 EST Wednesday, March 2, and continuing for 24 hours, we’re going to be cataloging the on-board library of the U.S.S. California, as it was in 1905.

This California‘s library catalog were written up and published by the Government Printing Office, and has been scanned by the Internet Archive. Designed to serve the California’s 830-odd officers and men—the libraries were separate—it offers a unique view of the navy of the time, and of the country. The ship, then rechristened the San Diego, its library, and six sailors, went to the bottom of the ocean in 1918, the victim of a German U-boat.

The “Legacy Mob” is an amalgam—a mashup?—of two LibraryThing inventions:

Labels: Uncategorized

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

CoverGuess: The game that helps people find books…

I just released an amusing diversion called CoverGuess.

Check it out here, and talk about it here.

What is CoverGuess?

CoverGuess is a sort of game. We give you covers, and you describe them in words. If you guess the same things as other players, you get points.

Why are you doing this?

The goal is to have fun, but also to build up a database of cover descriptions, to answer questions like “Do you have that book with bride on the bicycle?”

What’s the best way to do it?

Think about it how you’d describe the cover to someone—pick out the most significant elements. Does it have a car or a pair of shoes? Color terms are good, and so are terms like “blurry” or “sepia.” Above all, pick terms other players will be using.

How do points work?

You get one point for every matched term, for each other member who had it. So, if you say “car” and “dog” and two other members said “car” and one said “dog,” you get three points. Obviously, it’s better if you’re not the first member to tag the image, but the system randomizes that aspect. When you’re the first to tag an item, you get 0.25 points for your effort.

Aren’t you trying to use members’ free labor to make money?

Yes and no. All the data here is released under a Creative-Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License, and will be available in feed form. That means any non-profit entity, like a library, can use it without charge. We also commit to license it on the same terms to any bookstore with less than $10 million in sales. That leaves huge companies. If any want it, we’ll charge them!

Anything else?

It was partially inspired by Google’s ImageLabeler. Our anti-spam engine does something similar too.

The whole thing was perhaps summed up best in a tweet to me:

Labels: book covers, new feature, new features

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Beta: “Read Alike” recommendations

I’ve pushed through a beta version of a new recommendation engine.

The “Read Alikes” recommendations supplement our existing automatic and member recommendations. “Read Alikes” are based directly on the members who have your books—the people who “read alike” you, or whatever.

So far, opinion is divided. Some members love it, and are getting great recommendations. Others report a parade of things they already know about. Is it quite consciously, however, a beta feature. It may be improved, or it may go away. Most likely, it will go away and be replaced by a better overall algorithm, with better tools for managing your recommendations.

Labels: new features, recommendations

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

February State of the Thing

On Tuesday I sent out February’s State of the Thing, our monthly newsletter. Sign up to get it, or you can read a copy online.

This month’s State of the Thing features a synopsis of site upgrades, and two exclusive author interviews:

Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, The Historian was a hugely popular historical mystery. Switching gears from Dracula, it’s an art mystery that drives Kostova’s second novel The Swan Thieves, which is poised to follow in The Historian’s bestselling path.

Holly Black is well-known for The Spiderwick Chronicles and the Modern Tales of Faerie series. The Poison Eaters is Holly’s first short story collection. Filled with gritty scenes of magic enhantment and disenchantment, The Poison Eaters features previously published stories as well as new ones.

Next month our interviews will skew to the undead end of the spectrum, with Seth Grahame-Smith and Jonathan Maberry. Have a question for them? Post it here and we might use it in the upcoming interview.

Labels: state of the thing

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Early Reviewers February batch is about to close

If you enjoy reviewing books, and like getting free books in the mail, then this is the month to request an Early Reviewer title. There are 3,495 copies of 107 different books, all of which are either not published yet, or just recently published.

In previous months we had half this many copies available, which means this month twice as many members will win a book!

Points to note:

  • E-books are listed at the bottom. Each ebook says “This book is an eBook, not a physical book.”
  • You never know what you may win, so only request books you’re interested in reviewing yourself.

Sign up for Early Reviewers here. The February batch closes this Friday, February 26th at 6pm EST.

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

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