Thursday, March 6th, 2008

LibraryThing Local explodes

This morning, three days after its official launch, LibraryThing Local passed 9,000 venues. (UPDATE: 10,000 13,000 15,000 16,000.)

In this time some 700 members have entered more libraries, bookstores, fairs and other venues than our closest competitor in this space assembled in ten months of work, drawing mostly on chain bookstores and publicists.

Much remains to be done. New York City looks like it’s been attacked by a swarm of smurf bees, but Athens, Greece is still pretty empty. And events—while over 1,100 now—aren’t growing as fast as we’d like. (I blame a joyless, balky interface, which will soon be fixed.)

LibraryThing Local’s success follows on LibraryThing’s series project which, in two weeks assembled more book series data than the largest commercial supplier of this data.

Together, I think these suggest something important: The most powerful agents in the book world today are regular people.

LibraryThing is blessed with the most extraordinary members I have ever heard of. They’ll hunker down for hours adding information for fun and to help out their fellow members. They’ll engage in two- and even three-hundred message discussions over features. They make Facebook aps and browser enhancements on their own. They send us new logo designs. They send Abby postcards. They send us cookies.

They—and given the readership of this blog, probably YOU—are something else. It is a real surprise and honor to find myself developing software under these conditions. It’s up to us to keep you interested and happy, and think of new things to do with what you create. It’s up to you to tell us when we’re falling short of that.

Labels: librarything local, members

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

March Early Reviewers

This is, by far, our largest batch of Early Reviewer books yet. March’s batch includes 46 different books from 23 different publishers, totaling 1,172 copies, available to residents in 4 different countries! There’s poetry, literary fiction, chick lit, memoirs, mystery, historical fiction, travel books, cookbooks, history, biography, humor books, and non-fiction books ranging in topics from opera to crime to global warming to the Olympics!

Sign up to get a free advance copy, in exchange for writing a review. If you’re already signed up, make sure to check that your name and mailing address are correct (here). More help available in the Early Reviewers Frequently Asked Questions.

Then just go ahead and request books to read and review! The list of available books is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Wednesday, March 12th at noon EDT*.

Make sure to check the flags to see whether you’re eligible to receive each book. Most books are open to residents of the US and Canada, several are open to residents of the UK only, US only, Canada only, or US or Israel only. Only the flags will tell you which is which!

Thanks to all 23 publishers who contributed books this round.

Algonquin Books Andrews McMeel Publishing Ben Yehuda Press
Bloomberg Press Canongate Books Collins
Crown Demos Medical Publishing DK Publishing
Doubleday Books Ester Republic Press FT Press (Pearson)
Gefen Publishing House Kent State University Press King Tractor Press
LJW Publishing New York Review Books Profile Books
Shadow Mountain Shaye Areheart Books (Crown) Three Rivers Press (Crown)
University of Michigan Press William Morrow

Remember, if your favorite publisher hasn’t joined Early Reviewers yet, you can write them a letter and suggest it!

*Daylight Saving Time kicks in on Sunday. If that’s not a sign that warm weather is en route to us in New England, I don’t know what is…

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Introducing LibraryThing Local

Today we* unveil a major new section of the site, LibraryThing Local.

What is it? LibraryThing Local is a gateway to thousands of local bookstores, libraries and book festivals—and to all the author readings, signings, discussions and other events they host. It is our attempt to accomplish what hasn’t happened yet—the effective linking of the online and offline book worlds. Books still don’t fully “work” online; this is a step toward mending them.

LibraryThing Local is a handy reference, but it’s also interactive. You can show off your favorite bookstores and libraries (eg., mine include the Harvard Bookstore, Shakespeare and Company and the Boston Athenaeum) and keep track of interesting events. Then you can find out who else loves the places you do, and who else is going to events. You can also find local members, write comments about the places you love and more.

LibraryThing members rock. LibraryThing Local just opened, but for the past week we’ve let a few members in to check it out and add venues.** They went crazy!

Together, about two-dozen members added over 2,600 venues. The coverage is spotty, covering the members personal interests. So, Paris is a literary desert, but Chicago and Antwerp are a mess of little green and blue dots, and even frosty Juneau (pictured right) is done.*** LibraryThing Local would be boring without content, so everone owes a debt of gratitude to members like SilentInAWay (400), alibrarian (351), christiguc (302), Talbin (242), SqueakyChu (240), boekerij (217) and others for kicking things off so well.

This kind of passion give us hope that LibraryThing Local will swiftly become the web’s best, most complete source for finding bookstores and library—and for the events they throw. Unfortunately, we only got events working yesterday, so there are only 200 so far. Something to work on?

Authors! Publishers! Libraries! Bookstores! Right now, everyone can add events. But they won’t necessarily get to you, so go ahead and add your venues and events. We are experimenting with the concept of “claiming” a venue, so that a bookstore of library can assert control over its basic factual information. (You don’t control the comment wall, of course.) For now, you need to email us. Go to a venue for more details.

Beta, Forevah. LibraryThing Local is not “done.” It’s missing key features, like RSS. And it has a few bugs. For good or ill, that’s how we work around here.

The main planned improvements are:

  • RSS Feeds
  • Fine-grained privacy settings
  • Author and work integration
  • Enhanced features for bookstores and libraries that take part
  • More stats, like the most interesting events

I’ve started two discussion threads:

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what members think of it. We’ll do our best to make it as good as we can.

Use BookTour! (We do not.) LibraryThing Local was something I’ve wanted to do since visiting Ireland a year ago and not knowing where the bookstores were. But I didn’t get serious about the idea until approached by BookTour.

BookTour is a startup founded by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and the upcoming Free. Chris’ idea was to make a central site to collect information about authors on tour.

LibraryThing agreed to be BookTour’s first partnership. But along the way we ran into difficulties. We wanted strong venue information, so members could show off their favorite bookstores and libraries. BookTour is focused on the events more than venues, which include many duplicates. Eventually it became clear to me we were after different things, so we parted ways.

Although LibraryThing Local is now doing some of the same things, I hope blog readers will check out BookTour. I expect them to be adopted by other book-related sites and, at present, their data is more copious than ours. Certainly, no author should tour without first adding all their events there, and they have a very handy Excel-based upload option that will appeal to publicists with large numbers of events.

* Chris (conceptDawg), whose favorite bookstores include Bienvielle Books, built much of LibraryThing Local. Send praise his way!
**We released LibrayThing Local to a private but non-exclusive beta group two weeks ago. Later, after deciding not to use others site’s data (see above), we let members add their own venues, and later events.
***Best of all the Alaskan-adder, alibrarian, has no connection to Alaska whatsoever. He just got tired adding every library in New York City.

Labels: authors, book world, bookstores, librarything local, new feature, new features, publicists, publishers

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Hello Sonya and Chris

We’re growing again…

Sonya. First a big welcome to Sonya Green (sonyagreen), who is going to be working on LibraryThing for Libraries, our effort to get LibraryThing goodness into library catalogs.

Sonya is taking the job we advertised a month ago; she is, as required, smart, personable, hard-working, organized, techy, a fast learner and libraryish.(1) Her job includes customer wrangling and hand-holding, but also a fair amout of CSS. I’m happy to say she passed our MySQL test, going from zero knowledge to the “if you like X, you’ll like Y” statement in only a few hours. (I’ve interviewed programmers who couldn’t get there at all.)

Sonya has a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of lllinois and worked at the Millicent Library in Fairhaven, MA. She volunteers at the Papercut Zine Library in Boston, and will therefore be leading any future LT efforts with zines. She knits, bikes, pet kittens, and tries not to tip over her bucket of sunshine.(2)

Sonya is mostly going to do LTFL, but that didn’t stop her from telling us she hates our colors immediately after arrival in Portland, so Abby, Sonya and I spent half the day playing with alternate color schemes. I think she’s right, damn her.(3)

UPDATE: Sonya is excited to take part in boosting the Zinesters who LibraryThing group.

Chris. Christopher Holland (conceptdawg) is finally becoming a full-time, bona fide, honest-to-God, non-contract LibraryThing employee.

Chris, who does programming, has been with us from the start—he pointed out that he was hired the day before Abby(4)—but has always been a contractor. Once he even went away for six months, but he came back.

Chris has been the moving force behind Common Knowledge, the new work pages, the new library searching code(5), non-member throttling(6), and the forthcoming “LibraryThing local.” He is a former graphic designer, a LibraryThing author and lives in Mobile, Alabama. His other projects have included DigMaster (article), an database of field and museum archaeological collections—like LibraryThing, but for old, dead things. (Chris has worked on archaeological digs in Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Mississippi.) He was a founder of the software company ConceptHouse.

Chris is “so LibraryThing” he keeps his own public what-I-did-today, even though the rest of us got fatigued and stopped updating ours.

1. She’s also “super,” but the “inspired” in the photo refers to the burritos of Boloco.
2. Can you tell the last sentence is not in my prose style? I wish I had a bucket of sunshine!
3. Unfortunately, then I installed the new Mac OS, and Photoshop stopped working, so the results of the redesign won’t be evident for a little while.
4. However, Abby had already been working for the pre-LibraryThing company, me, nights and weekends while I was on paternity leave. So, Abby loses battle, wins war.
5. Which, for all the glitches along the way, is now one righteous piece of code. It’s fast too.
6. Small feature; excellent name.

Labels: christopher holland, employees, librarything for libraries, sonya green

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Take our files, raw.

Short. Here’s a page of our raw graphics files. If you find that fun, have some. If you make an interesting change, all the better.

Long. We believe in openness. But openness is a process. It’s not so much that openness is difficult or painful* it’s that openness is non-obvious. You don’t see each successive layer until you remove the one above it.

Since the site started, we’ve enjoyed kibitzing about how it should look. We’d talk about layout and design. We’d throw up an image and sit back for reactions. Occasionally a user would get inspired and post what they thought something should look like. We just concluded a great exchange about the new “Author” and “Legacy” badges. Members helped us refine the wording and the colors enormously.

Open, right? But wait! Why didn’t we post our raw images for members to play with, if they wanted? You can talk about a GIF, but that’s like asking people to have conversations about a prepared speech.

Frankly, until now, I never even thought of the idea. I’ve never heard of a company that did it. And although it happens on open source projects, it’s not universal. The Open Library project, for example, is a model of openness. You can download both code and data; but you won’t find any design files on the site.

So, why not? We don’t lose trademark or copyright by posting a raw Photoshop file, with layers and alternate versions, anymore than we lose them by posting GIFs and JPEGs. What is the potential downside? Just in case there’s any confusing, we’ve posted a notice about copyright and trademark, but also granted explicit permission to make changes and blog about them.

So, here’s a wiki page for us to post our raw graphics files, and users to view, edit and remix them. It’s a very selective list so far, mostly because I started with what was lying around my on my desktop.**

More, much deeper openness coming next week…

*Although maintaining the “What I did today?” page proved too much work, and it helps that I have very thick skin for most criticism.
**There’s a side-benefit to putting all the files up on the wiki. Last time I lost my hard drive I lost almost no work—it’s all up on the “cloud” these days—except for my Photoshop files.

Labels: love, member input, open data, openness

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

Monday, February 4th, 2008

February Early Reviewers Books

February’s batch of Early Reviewers books is up!

Sign up now to get free books in exchange for reviews! Once you’ve signed up, request any books that look interesting to you. Then just wait and see if you’ve won a copy to read and review. Questions? Try the FAQ or learn more in the Early Reviewers group.

The deadline to request a book is Tuesday, February 12th at noon, EST.

The list of available books is here:

We have 29 books this month, (630 copies in total), from 14 different publishers, including a few new (and big) ones – including Collins, Small Beer Press, and The University of Michigan Press..

We even have TWO UK publishers this round—Canongate Books and The Friday Project. Books from those publishers are *only* available to residents of the UK. All other books are open to residents of the US and Canada.

Thanks to these publishers for participating, and welcome to all the new participants!

Update from Tim: We’ve removed one book. As a blog comment pointed out, there is said to be controversy over whether the publisher has the right to publish the book. The publisher puts this front-and-center on their website, claiming the consent is “expressed, albeit obliquely, in the book itself.” If the controversy is real, it’s clearly in violation of copyright. If false—as I suspect—it’s an irritating promotional stunt. Either way, we don’t want to have anything to do with it.

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

WSJ does the LibraryThing

We hit the Wall Street Journal’s Quick Picks section, with a nice four-paragraph article about LibraryThing by WSJ reporter Ian Mount. In contrast to most pieces, this one puts emphasis on the cataloging side.

The article is very welcome, but its infelicities show how complex LibraryThing’s “story” has become. The books in LibraryThing, the books in the libraries we search, and the books in the stores that integrate with us are all different. It’s hard to get that across right. When you add the social side of LibraryThing, the story becomes impossible. And that’s not including the Early Reviewers program, the 700+ LibraryThing authors, the 39+ libraries using our data, the libraries of dead luminaries and on and on. Something we’re about to unveil will add a whole new dimension to the site.* We’re getting hairier.

The home page needs a redo. I want something that functions as both a gateway to new users and a springboard for users already on the site. I’m contemplating a shift of emphasis, toward “the world of books.” Somehow we need to communicate that LibraryThing isn’t a lightweight catalog program or a way to “friend” bookish people. It’s this ocean of stuff—books you have, books you don’t, book reviews, people who read books you do, conversations about books, authors showing off their books and their libraries, book stores, publishers, etc.

To me, the basic bargain (or “value proposition,” in web design speak) is “catalog some books and this teeming ocean lies before you.” But I can’t think of any way of expressing this without sounding glib and insincere, eg., “LibraryThing: The Ocean of Books!”

It would be interesting to ask members to design the home page. I’m guessing there would be little agreement on what to put there and what to leave out. There are members who only use LibraryThing to catalog, and don’t even like the whole “work” level. There are members who only use it to chat with other book lovers. There are even people—we know who you are, librarians!—who use the book-recommendation features frequently, but have never made an account.

I suppose these are problems you want to have…

*We’re developing a feature which, if I could, I would put after collections. But we agreed to do something many months ago and one of the titans of the internet has us by the ear over it. Seriously. We’re not going to have lunch in this town if we don’t finish it.

Labels: books are broken, ocean of books, press, press hits, wsj

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Powell’s books!

Powell’s City of Books

Click on a store to see holdings.

Powell’s Books, “the world’s largest new and used bookstore,” located in Portland, OR, has joined our neighborhood bookstore program.

This means that work pages now show store-by-store availability from Powell’s, alongside the other bookstores you elect. You can click to find out details, hold the book or buy it online.

There are a couple of ways of add Powell’s to your LibraryThing “experience.” The easiest is to go to edit your profile. Down at the bottom you’ll see bookstores, including Powell’s.

In keeping with the neighborhood focus on the program, we’ve split the data out individual Powell’s locations, and not counted inventory in warehouses, whether in Oregon or elsewhere. This meant that—barring last-minute changes—if it shows up on LibraryThing, they have it in stock where it says. We’ve also broken up results into New, Sale and Used categories.

As elsewhere, we pull in all editions of a work, from the paperback to the hardback to the CD version—even versions in other languages. In some ways, this “works”-level view of Powell’s inventory goes beyond what they do. (And in some ways it’s more annoying, since LT’s first result may be the French version on eight-track tape.)

Our thanks go out to our new friends at Powell’s. The catalyst was apparently a rabid LTer at Powell’s—can the user reveal himself?—but I found everyone there extremely sympathique and eager to get this done.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention LT has a Powell’s Group. I’d love comments here, but I also started a post on Talk.

What it means. First, we hope this makes our Portland members happy; they’ve been agitating for us to do something with Powell’s for a long time now.

It may be a bigger win. So far, our bookstore program has been small. We still have only eleven bookstores in the system, six Powell’s stores and five others. But Powell’s is the biggest independent and a leader of them. We hope it convinces others to take advantage of us on this—completely free—service.

We’re particularly interested in getting Booksense stores in. We already parse the Booksense format, so we could add a few hundred stores with virtually no effort.

The big picture. On the web, books are broken. A few small parts are solved or on their way—Amazon,, Google, Powells—and this gives many the illusion that books are a solved problem. But the rest of the “bibliosphere” isn’t where it could be. Libraries and publishers, authors and most bookstores are adrift, and not part of the conversation.*

But things are changing. One day—not too far off—local bookstores will be fully “on” the web, just like Amazon is. They’ll not only have websites, they’ll have feeds and APIs, and sites like LibraryThing will be able to give and get data seamlessly. You’ll be able to find a book in your town as easily as you find a pizza. They’ll be truly part of the web, not just on it.

We’re not there yet. Most of the bookstores we’ve worked with have had another, different data format. None have APIs.

But it’s going to happen! And we think that, if we keep working to hook up the pieces, we’ll be part of the solution.

*My correspondent at Powell’s asked me for examples. Here’s my rant/reply:

You can’t Google a book and find out where in town to get a copy. You can’t Google a book and find out whether your public library has a copy. Your library doesn’t know the author is touring the area. The author doesn’t know which independent bookstores are selling the most copies, and so where to read. Bookstore software is crap and most independent bookstores aren’t online at all. The second-largest US bookstore chain—Borders—is less online that Powell’s! Libraries are absolutely *terrible* online; you will rarely get a library in the first ten pages of a Google search because search engines can’t “see inside” library websites. Library data is largely inaccessible and dominated by an inflexible data monopoly. Book data is mostly from Amazon or from a welter of other companies that don’t or can’t help any but the largest providers. Publisher websites a seldom more than 1990s brochure-ware. Small presses sometimes have good websites, but aren’t included in the book-data game. There’s no online network for authors and agents. There isn’t even a decent “works” system for books—and to the extent there are systems like this, publishers and libraries have completely different systems.


Labels: bibliosphere, bookstore integration, bookstores, powell's books

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Groundhog Day Book Pile Contest

Photo credit: Flickr member x-eyedblonde; CC-Attribution

In honor of being sick of the glorious New England winter, I hereby announce the newest book pile contest theme: Groundhog Day.

Interpret it as you like! Extra points if you can raise the temperature in Boston. I’m cold.

More about Groundhog Day on Wikipedia, and of course, the Bill Murray classic.

The rules:

  • Post your photos to Flickr and tag them “LTGroundhog” (also tag them “LibraryThing”). If you make a new account it can take a few days for your photos to be publicly accessible, so post a URL to them in the comments here.
  • Or, post your photos on the wiki here.
  • Or, if all else fails, just email them to and I’ll post them.

The deadline: Friday, February 8th at noon, EST.

The prizes: One grand prize winner will receive a LibraryThing t-shirt, and one runner up will get a yearly gift membership (to keep or give away).

Find inspiration in our archive of past book pile contests.

Labels: book pile, contest