Archive for February, 2008

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