Archive for March, 2006

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Zeitgeist gets weirder

I’ve added some more statistics to the Zeitgeist page. I describe them below, and my opinion comes free!

50 Top taggers. Time to get recognized for your tagging. Carminowe has 23,000 tags!

50 Top-rated authors. I find this a bit ho-hum. Who are these people? And as for Anna Akhmatova—I guess if you like her, you like her.

50 Lowest-rated author. Why do people own books they hate? One factor is clearly “assigned books”—Hegel, Kant and Heidegger; partisans love them, but there are a lot of copies out there that have been flung across the room the night before the final exam. I think August Derleth falls under the category “completist disappointment.” Lovecraft fans feel compelled to own him, but he just isn’t that good. I don’t understand Catherine Coulter and Candace Bushnell. As far as Claude Levi-Strauss goes, what’s wrong with you people! 😉

Top 25 long tags. The top tags seems very monosyllabic, but LibraryThing users are fond of longer, descriptive tags. This is a sampling of tags of at least 25 letters.

This was “interstice” programming—the stuff I can get done between diaper changes. I’m just mining the database in interesting ways, not doing fundamentally new work. But more major changes are on the way. Suggestions, comments, attempts to persuade me that Akhmatova is great and Levi-Strauss bad are all encouraged.

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Tuesday, March 28th, 2006


Elle. I mentioned that Abebooks interviewed me for their new “Avid Collector” newsletter (sign-up / newsletter). I thought I’d add that I was pleased and surprised to discover their Avid Reader Bookclub is doing Elle by Douglas Glover. Glover, a Canadian novelist who won the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction for Elle, was my wife’s favorite writing teacher at Vermont College, and she gives Elle a big thumbs-up.

LibraryThing, PaperbackSwap, loaning and swapping. There’s been a lot of buzz about swap sites recently. Surely not all LibraryThing users would want to swap or loan their books with others, but 30,000 users and 2 million books is a very respectable starting-point for such a community. I approached arguably the top swap site, PaperbackSwap, to see if we could work together somehow. I’m thinking of some easy way to move books between systems, with perhaps some cross-listing or cross functionality; actually getting LibraryThing directly into the business of swapping is a bit daunting. I am, however, somewhat interested to see if an “InterLibraryThingLoan” system could work. Okay, I admit it, I just want to get my hands on that translation of Palaephatus…

I started a discussion about swapping, loaning and PaperbackSwap over on the Google Group. I’d love to hear more opinions, either in comments here, or over there.

Beta-licious. The blog MoMB, The Museum of Modern Betas, published a list of the most popular beta applications by the number of times they’ve been bookmarked on LibraryThing comes in number seventeen, in between Google Scholar and Blinklist, and above Frappr, Odeo, Rollyo and other beta royalty. This is particularly good in so far as I’ve never done one of those underhanded, unfair Post to links. Er, scratch that.

That’s it for now. As many of you know, I’m still largely in crazy mode with my new child. I’ve managed to do some incremental things—eg., the new libraries—during interstices, but substantial work, particularly work requiring my full attention for more than ten minutes is on hold. I hope to get back in the saddle soon. They say the first month is the hardest…

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Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Twelve (was ten) more libraries

I added ten eleven twelve new searchable libraries, bringing LibraryThing up to 47 libraries, plus the Amazons.

  • MIT and Caltech. Technical and scientific heft.
  • NIH / National Library of Medicine. Medical heft.
  • National Art Library (UK). Art heft.
  • NEBIS (Switzerland). Swiss catalog gathers holdings of some 60 member libraries, with material in German, Italian, French and—one imagines—Romansch.
  • Bahria University, Pakistan. LibraryThing’s first Pakistani library.
  • National Library of Poland. First Polish library. Some character problems. Poles are invited to tell me about them.
  • Stockholm University. More Swedish books.
  • Tufts University. It’s not my fault that Boston has so many open library-data servers.
  • Boston Athenaeum. By popular request, I added one of my favorite libraries, Boston’s extraordinary private—yes, private—library, just steps from the State House.
  • UPDATE: ILSCO. I’ve added ILCSO, the Illinois Libary Computer Systems Organization, a consortium of some 65 libraries, holding 32 million records. The libraries include Wheaton, DePaul, Illinois State, the University of Illinois, The Catholic Theological Union, and The Newberry Library, another great private library. ILSCO is also pretty fast, which helps.
  • UPDATE: CISTI. Someone who works at the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) suggested I add them—apparently they are “Canada’s National Science Lbrary”—and pointed me to connection info. Thanks! Others should feel free to do the same; the trick is: I need a z39.50 connection (I’ll consider SRU). Pointing me to the web catalog does no good.

Interesting trivia: The Athenaeum is one of those rare libraries that still uses the original “Cutter” classification, owing, I think, to the fact that its author, Charles Ammi Cutter, ran the place for almost three decades. I haven’t figured out how this is going to work in LibraryThing.

I was thinking of having a LibraryThing meetup at their weekly tea, to which members can invite non-members. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Abebooks does the LibraryThing

Abebook’s new email newsletter The Avid Collector includes a “collector profile” interview with me (yay!) in its Spring 2006, issue. You can read it by clicking on the links I just gave, or sign up for the newsletter by clicking this graphic I stole from them.

Talking about one’s books is even more fun than talking about oneself, so I was glad for the opportunity. And, of course, I got to drop the name of certain book-cataloging website and show off another picture of my dog, Axel. The newsletter also includes a collecting Q&A and good piece by Allan Stypeck of NPR’s The Book Guys and owner of Second Story Books, in DC (a favorite haunt when I lived there).

Classical noodling: Abe hyperlinked some of my books to searches on their site, including Palaephatus’ “On Incredible Tales” (Peri Apiston). The search gives no results because, as often happens with Greek and Latin works, the English title is quicksand—the only available English-language edition being Bolchazy-Carducci’s text/translation titled “On Unbelievable Tales.” Try this Abebooks search for Palaephatus instead, which nets a couple copies of that edition, and also throws in Aldus Manutius’ 1505 first-ever printing of the text (together with Hyginus, Aratus, etc.) for a cool $2,750.

I found out it was the editio princeps from the Wikipedia article, lifted wholesale from my site,, which reprints William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870). The Abebooks entry, from a bookstore in Culver City, CA, doesn’t mention that it’s the editio princeps, however, so maybe it’s more valuable than they realize. Which reminds me, I should have signed up to be an Abebooks associate when they asked me to do the interview. Generally I’ve been very lax about signing up for such programs—LibraryThing’s focus is not on “getting people out the door” to buy stuff. But that would be one sweet commission!

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Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Public Library Asssociation / 3 million tags

Three million tags. After getting the smack-down for daring to suggest (even in fun) that LibraryThing, with two million books, was now the 182th-largest library in the United States, I hesitate to proclaim that LibraryThing has more tags than any library in the world!

PLA. I managed to sneak down to Boston to catch the end of the Public Library Association’s 2006 conference. (A tip of the hat to my “connection,” who saw that I didn’t pay the full rate for what amounted to 1 1/2 hours of attendance and a Diet Pepsi.) Although I stupidly left my beautiful bookmark business cards at home, I managed to mention LibraryThing to a bunch of people. Nine in ten had never heard of it, but one in ten’s eyes lit up and they got effusive—a great sign, I think. I gave a well-received product demo to a library OPAC supplier. And I picked up information on getting some real-live LibraryThing library cards, which would be fun, if totally useless, I think. Were any other Thingamabrarians there?

Super-librarian Nancy Pearl talked at the PLA, but on Wednesday, so she dodged an abject plea for a NPR story on LibraryThing. Fortunately, I have the life-like Librarian Action Figure (“With Amazing Push-Button Shushing Action!”*), modeled directly after Ms. Pearl.

Nancy, if you’re reading this, does the word voodoo have any meaning for you?

*My wife got me her action figure under the false impression that it actually made shushing noises, or at least moved its “Shushing Action” under battery power, but it just sits there and you have to do both the shushing and the motion. Hey, what gives?

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Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

Slashdot and LibraryThing

Slashdot is running a topic Solving the home library problem? Happy users—and unhappy ones?—are invited to go on over and “represent.”

Current opinion is largely in favor of Delicious Library, that elegant but limited Mac desktop application. LibraryThing hasn’t come in for much mention, largely, I think, because Slashdot people are unaware of it. (If only Slashdot were written by librarians, who’s awareness of LibraryThing is approaching a saturation point, with each new mention starting “You’ve probably already heard about it from other people, but…”)

Delicious Library is, I agree, very beautiful and works very elegantly. But it’s totally desktop bound. Once you enter your books, they just sit there. Worse, it only uses Amazon. That’s great if all your books are in print, in an Amazon language, and you don’t care about cataloging data quality (or Deweys, etc.). Nor does it have tags…

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Sunday, March 19th, 2006

Most Requested Minor Feature, The

LibraryThing is now sorting books without initial the/an/a, so a book like Shelby Foote’s The Civil War goes under C rather than T. It took a while, but it’s done now!

I’ve made a stab at foreign-language support. At present it works with: English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Welsh, Albanian, Hungarian, Tagalog, Turkish and Malagasy. The most important missing language is Italian.

At present, it’s a totally dumb process, removing definite and indefinite articles without attention to the underlying language, which LibraryThing doesn’t current track. This leaves it open to interpreting Die Another Day as Another Day, Die (German die), and is why I’ve absented Italian from the list (the article I would produce such non-books as Was a Teenage Dominatrix, I). This problem will go away when I start tracking languages.

For cataloging geeks: (1) I used the list provided by the Library of Congress. (2) Although MARC records can indicate “the number of character positions associated with an initial definite or indefinite article to be disregarded in sorting and filing processes,” I have decided not to use this information. The system needs to adapt when someone changes a record, at which point the MARC record can no longer be a reliable guide. Also, many records don’t have MARC records. (3) Unless I’m mistaken, here’s an example where language is important, even when the definitive article has no potential ambiguity: Les Bons Mots : How to Amaze Tout Le Monde with Everyday French. Right?

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Saturday, March 18th, 2006

Widgets! Widgets! Widgets!

I’ve substantially upgraded LibraryThing’s widgets, the little things you stick on your blog or web page to tell people what your reading (and more). The major improvements are:

  • Tag and author cloud widgets! Show your tags or the authors in your collection, either by frequency or randomly. Control the type size, size “contrast,” number, style, etc.
  • Cover-only widgets, with fixed width and height options for better display
  • Preset widgets for ease of use, customized widgets for every need, and you can still muck around with customizing them yourself with CSS*
  • Control over showing title or title and author, where links go, etc.
  • AllConsuming-like widgets
  • CSS now includes LTodd and LTeven styles, so you can add striping if you want
  • Super Ajaxorific look and feel; you’ll see more of this around LibraryThing

I hope you have as much fun with them as I had making them. I’d love to hear what you think of them, and what you want. Improvments I’m working on:

  • Sorting by the data-read, date-bought fields
  • Connections widgets. Do you want them?

*Julie Meloni’s blog post Styling the LibraryThing blog widget remains the best discussion of how to hyper-customize widgets with CSS. The only real change is on odd/even striping; tags don’t add much.

UPDATE: Show us how you use your widget and if you’ve modified it in a cool way by posting the URL in the comments!

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Friday, March 17th, 2006

St. Patrick’s Day Tag Cloud for Liam

Update: I forgot! beer

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Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

Two million books!

LibraryThing has topped two million books!

The 2,000,000th book, Elizabeth Moon‘s Winning Colors, was added at at 10:19 pm. Congratulations to Kiesa, who takes home a free gift account for her luck.

Press: Cover this!

I hoping that this milestone gets some press attention. LibraryThing is one heck of a cool story—28,000 users adding two million books, finding people with similar interests, getting recommendations, doing crazy new Wikipedia-like things with cataloging, etc. Something is really going on here.

I recently read a story on, one of the new pay-for-swapping services. According to the AP, Lala has has “250 members trading some 12,000 CDs”! (It also, apparently, has four founders, as well as employees.) You can imagine my consternation, heightened by a WSJ article on other swapping sites. Maybe I should start pretending LibraryThing is venture backed.

Incidentally, as soon as I can swing it technically, LibraryThing will be adding:

  • A FREE loan/swap service. Let’s talk about how to do this on the discussion group.
  • Cataloging of CDs, DVDs (at least). Don’t worry, books will remain the center.

Fun Size Facts

  • According to the American Library Directory, LibraryThing is now larger than the public libraries of Atlanta, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Antonio. It tops state universities like Colorado State, Illinois State, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Maryland, and private universities like Fordham and William and Mary.
  • According to the American Library Association, LibraryThing is 634,375 volumes away from being the 100th largest library in the United States.
  • The American Library Directory lists 181 libraries larger than LibraryThing.
  • The 2 millionth book makes LibraryThing far-and-away the largest of the 16(!) cataloging services that have sprung up since LibraryThing’s launch, the largest of which has 249,000 “items.”
  • If laid end-to-end LibraryThing’s collection would extend from Boston, MA to Pennsylvania, PA. (Maybe.)
  • LibraryThing is now larger than the Boston College Library (an even 2 mil. according to the American Library Directory). And Boston College was founded in 1863! Those people don’t read much, I guess. But as an alumnus of Georgetown—the original and better Jesuit university—I already knew that.
  • OCLC, the world’s largest library consortium, has 1 billion records in its database. But the OCLC adds only 8,640 books/day, whereas LibraryThing adds 10,152 books/day. This means that LibraryThing will come out ahead in 3815.
  • LibraryThing has more than twice as many books by J. K. Rowling as Thomas Jefferson gave to the Library of Congress after the British destroyed the first collection by fire. There’s a joke in here somewhere.

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Friday, March 10th, 2006

New lifetime member

Say hello to LibraryThing’s newest lifetime member, Liam Patrick Spalding, born 5:24am 3/9/06. Mother and baby are doing well.

Liam thanks everyone for your support. It bought him a swell nursery!

Liam is fortunate that both his parents work at home (web developer, writer). But give me a few days before any new features are added, eh? For now, Abby ( is handling user emails—she’ll also be checking my email account. Austin ( is handling server issues.

Labels: LibraryThing babies

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

New server, new libraries

New server. After months of work and a few days of back and forth, LibraryThing is now officially on the “new new” server (the merely “new” server proving to be fast but also buggy). With luck this will be the last server change until LibraryThing is acquired by Walmart. (Oh, and LibraryThing data is now backed-up daily to two separate servers, one in California and one in New York.)

New libraries. I’ve added a few more libraries:

  • Trinity College, Dublin — LibraryThing’s first Irish library
  • Union Catalogue of Finnish University Libraries (LINDA) — LibraryThing’s first Finnish library
  • Columbia (CLIO). Columbia, Barnard and the Union Theological Seminary — LibraryThing’s first seminary and a heft university library
  • Washington Research Library Consortium (D.C.) — Eight DC-area libraries, including Georgetown, American and Gallaudet (website)

Want more? I picked this stuff up rather quickly, but I gather quite a few LibraryThing users do library catalog Z39.50 programming for a living, Want to lend a hand? I’m having a deuce of a time getting certain libraries to work (e.g., The Folger Shakespeare, and Oxford, which works fine for one phrase, but not for multiple). If there were enough interest, I could implement user-controlled library addition.

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Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Introducing Abigail Blachly, Librarian


LibraryThing welcomes a new member to the team: Abigail Blachly. Abby, a real librarian with a day job, will be helping me out part-time over the next few weeks, and, I hope, beyond. She will be handling some customer emails, and generally helping raise the library-science quotient of LibraryThing.

Abby is a graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science, with a dual MA/MS in Archives and History. She’s worked in several college and university archives, and currently works as a corporate archivist/cataloger. A couple years ago I worked with her at Houghton Mifflin, a publisher in Boston. She’s sharp!


I am in fact, a real librarian by day (though the title to this post seems more like it should be announcing “Abigail Blachly, International Spy” than a librarian), and I’m excited to be helping Tim. LibraryThing is on the cutting edge of cataloging, with its concepts of works, tagging, user-controlled cataloging… And who knew so many people would care about figuring out MARC fields? It’s incredible, and I can’t wait to get into it all.

Anyway, here I am, ready and willing to talk LibraryThing meets library science. I’ve never worked as a professional cataloger or technical services librarian, though, so go easy on me. But I am still a librarian, after all, so if I don’t know an answer, I’ll find it.

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Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

What is this thing?

I feel like I’ve made it to college without knowing the capital of France. I admit it! I use computers. I run a website. I blog. But I have no idea what these blog-thingies are called. (I did know enough to get one.) Anyone?

Great. Brilliant buttons, or badges. Someone commented with a site that makes them for you. Hey, I did it the hard way!

Over there, I came up with a better one:

And in honor of the “Thingamabrarians,” coined by rjohara and given a logo by saralaughs, I offer:

That was hard. The site doesn’t have a condensed font. Now, will someone explain to me, are Thingamabrarians all users, users of the Google group, or users who are also librarians?

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