Archive for April, 2008

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

LibraryThing Love and the Unread Books Meme

Part I
A long-time LibraryThing member, davidabrams, just wrote a love story of sorts about LibraryThing on The Readerville Journal.

He writes,

Not a day goes by when I don’t log on and gaze with pride, love and reverence at my online catalog of books. …In short, it is the answer to the prayer I wasn’t even aware I was praying. If LibraryThing is cocaine, then I am a crack whore.

How can you argue with that?

The Readerville Forum have been having some problems lately (see the discussion on LibraryThing here), and we wish them good luck!

Part II
We’ve been meaning to blog this for a while, so here it is! This meme has been going around for a while now: Top 106 unread books on LibraryThing. People are going through the top 106 books tagged “unread” on LT, and then marking which ones they’ve read, which they read for school, which they started but didn’t finish, which are on their to read list, which they loathed, which they read more than once…

Personally, I think the fact that most of the top ones are big fat heavy tomes might have something to do with it!

Labels: meme, readerville

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

New feature: Tag view / edit your tags

I’ve added a new feature—a “Tag view” for “Your library”, alongside the List and Shelf views.

The Tag view replaces the Tags tab. Like the tab, it shows your tags alphabetically, or by frequency and allows you to jump to a tag in your catalog.

But the tag view also allows you to edit your tags, “gardening them” in a very satisfying way. You can rename tags, delete tags or add tags. For example, from the tag view you can add “history” and “greece” everywhere you use the tag “greek history.” Editing is done in a lightbox, and “ajaxes” the changes back onto the screen with the “yellow fade technique.”

The technical infrastructure here is going to key to the upcoming (really) collections feature. Collections, which I think I’ll call “sets,” will turn the Tag view into “Sets/Tags.” (Anyway, that’s the plan!)

Let me know what you think about the new feature here, or on Talk.

Labels: new feature, new features, tags

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Covers: Better, Bigger, Blanks, Defaults and Statistics

Casual visitors are often surprised to learn that LibraryThing members have contributed more than 800,000 covers, for use when Amazon doesn’t have the right cover. It’s time to make the most of this strength!

I’ve added a five new features related to how LibraryThing handles covers. I hope you like the changes!

  1. Choose member-created “blank” covers for every book.
  2. Choose your default cover.
  3. Better cover “guessing”
  4. Cover Statistics and links to different cover types.
  5. Member-contributed covers now available in all sizes.
  6. Member-contributed covers now available in maximum quality.

Choose member-created “blank” covers for every book. Way back in November, I asked for members to send in images of blank covers–real, doctored and built from scratch–for books that have no other cover (see post and follow-up). More than a dozen members sent covers, often very many and beautiful. These covers are now available from the “change cover” page of every book. They vary from ordinary to fanciful, general or tailored to look like a specific publisher’s books. They’re a blast. Go crazy.

It’s hard to understate the care that some members lavish on projects like this, exercising their creative side and helping other members out. Check out the image credits, available under the display and when you roll over the images.

Choose your default cover. The same member-covers are also available as default covers, the cover you get when you have no other cover. You can change your default cover from every book’s change-cover page, as well as from your Cover Statistics.

Better cover “guessing”. This feature caused some members consternation when it was released provisionally a few days ago. Suddenly members got a whole bunch of new covers, some of which they didn’t want, with no way to opt out. I’ve added powerful opt-out options, so it’s time to reintroduce the feature.

The feature takes advantage of LibraryThing’s 800,000 member-uplaoded covers. If you have books from more than a few years ago, like I do, a lot of your books don’t have Amazon covers. Before now, you could choose these covers manually, replacing our “blank” cover with your own or someone else’s uploaded cover.

Now were taking that data—the covers people choose for a given ISBN—to “guess” at the covers for coverless books. In general, members choose the right cover for their edition, especially when LibraryThing can look at many members’ decisions. In the case of my books, LibraryThing found 69 covers. Only one is dead-wrong, with two others being subtle variants of the cover I have. Of course, you can easily switch to a different cover, a blank cover or no cover.

Cover Statistics and links to different cover types. I’ve added a page for Cover Statistics. It shows where all you covers come from, with a link to all the books in that category. It’s a great way to go through your blanks or confirm LibraryThing’s new “best guess” covers.

The Cover Statistics page also has a link to change your default cover. (In case you’re wondering, I’m working on a all-encompassing “preferences” page. One thing at a time.)

Member-contributed covers now available in all sizes. Until now, LibraryThing only displayed two sizes for member-contributed covers–tiny and medium. For the last eight months we’ve been saving large versions, but we didn’t use them. Storing all the sizes or making them on the fly scared us.

A new server and some technical changes have given us the opportunity to show covers at whateve size they’re needed. The result is a much more attractive and even Cover View, which scales from teeny to upsettingly large (see image).

Member-contributed covers now available in maximum quality. As said, we were not previously taking advantage of original images, but only two presized versions. Although early-on we didn’t store them—server space was just too dear—we have been storing original versions for about eight months. This amounts to some 300,000 out of 800,000 covers. (Of course, not all “originals” are actually large; some are thumbnails.)

The result is that some member-contributed covers can now be sized to elephantine dimensions within your catalog, and look great on work pages, which use medium-large images. Unfortunately, some covers look a bit “pixelated” at these large sizes. The examples below illustrate both effects:

A final word. I want to thank members who pushed me on this feature. Although the general change has been planned for some time, it received impetus from a “bug fix” that introduced many best-guess covers. Without an easy way to “opt-out” of guesses—without choosing another cover—a few members went bananas.

The were right to do so! It created a weird situation, one I realized the more when I spent an hour “gardening” my covers. Once again, it was a pleasure to work through the issue with members. I’ve very pleased with the feedback, and as I rolled out some of these features over the weekend.

Maybe some day I’ll write a book about working with and for you guys. But you’re doing the cover.

Labels: book covers, new feature, new features

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Bonus batch of Early Reviewer books from Random House

Random House has given us a bonus batch of Early Reviewer books this month!

There are six titles up, and a whopping total of 470 copies to give out. So go sign up (if you haven’t already), and then request your copy to read and review!

The list is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Wednesday, April 30th at 6pm, EDT. These books are only available to residents of the US and Canada.*

*In another country? Don’t despair. The May batch, which will be out very soon, includes books for residents of the US, Canada, and the UK and Australia!

Labels: early reviewers, LTER, random house

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Introducing Author Chat

We’re kicking off a new feature today, Author Chat.

Nick Trout, author of New York Times bestseller Tell Me Where It Hurts is going to be on LibraryThing for the next few weeks (from today, April 14th through April 30th). He’ll be talking about the book, and his work, and answering questions from you, the readers. Start coming up with questions!

If you were one of the lucky 24 to receive a free copy of the book in last month’s batch of Early Reviewer books, then you’ve got a head start!

If you didn’t get a free copy, then don’t fret. The book is out in bookstores and libraries, so go buy or borrow a copy now, and get reading.

Join the discussion in the Author Chat group. The direct link to the Nick Trout thread is here.

About the book

It’s 2:47 a.m. when Dr. Nick Trout takes the phone call that starts another hectic day at the Angell Animal Medical Center. Sage, a ten-year old German shepherd, will die without emergency surgery for a serious stomach condition. Over the next twenty-four hours Dr. Trout fights for Sage’s life, battles disease in the operating room, unravels tricky diagnoses, reassures frantic pet parents, and reflects on the humor, heartache, and inspiration in his life as an animal surgeon. And he wants to take you along for the ride…

From the front lines of modern medicine, Tell Me Where It Hurts is a fascinating insider portrait of a veterinarian, his furry patients, and the blend of old-fashioned instincts and cutting-edge technology that defines pet care in the twenty-first century. For anyone who’s ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at your veterinarian’s office, Tell Me Where It Hurts offers a vicarious journey through twenty-four intimate, eye-opening, heartrending hours at the premier Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.

Nick Trout is a staff surgeon at the Angell Animal Medical Center and lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

For more on the book, check out this YouTube video, or even read an excerpt on the Broadway Books website.

Future Author Chats
This isn’t a one-time feature. I’ve got several other authors lined up, and am looking for more! If you’re interested in participating, email

Labels: author chat, new feature

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Tags and hiccups

This weekend we made a number of important structural changes to how LibraryThing’s 34.8 million tags are stored in the database. (For database heads, tags are now “fully normalized.”)

The immediate upside is that tags can now be up to 255 characters long. It will also allow us to improve some features, such tag editing.

The downside is that the changes have hurt performance. Certainly the site is running very “hot,” forcing us to choose between running slow and pulling back service. Right now we’re doing the latter, redirecting most non-member traffic to the home page to sign in or sign up. This cuts back the large proportion of our traffic that is bot-related, but we can’t run this way for too long.

It’s unclear if the change is itself to blame or the loss of various tag-related caches, which need to be built up afresh with the new structures. There also appear to be some places that are hurting more than others, which code can perhaps be re-written. We’re going to be looking carefully at what we can do, and deciding whether we need to make additional changes, or pull back the ones we made.

Thanks for your patience. The next few days may see occasional slowness or downtimes. With the four of us on it, however, we hope to minimize problems and solve this to everyone’s satisfaction.

Labels: 1

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Servizio Bibliotecario Nazionale (SBN) – Italian National Library Service

Cari utenti di, abbiamo appena aggiunto* una nuova fonte per la catalogazione di libri italiani, l’OPAC del Servizio Bibliografico Nazionale (SBN), una rete di oltre 3200 biblioteche. Lo trovate tra le fonti italiane sotto il suo nome inglese: Italian National Library Service.
Buona catalogazione a tutti!

Casey just announced 669 cataloging sources few days ago, but now we have just reached 681 sources! Among the new sources there’s also the Italian National Library Service.

* Si, ci abbiamo messo un po’, ma c’era un bug che non riuscivamo a risolvere. Un grazie speciale a Casey che ha sopportato tutte le mie lamentele in nome della community italiana e alla fine ha trovato la soluzione!

Photo credit: “Italy!…Here We Come!photo by Flikr user Hvnly, used under a CC-Attribution license

Labels: italy, new libraries, z39.50

Friday, April 4th, 2008

What Books Do You Share with Hemingway?

Some updates from the Legacy Libraries front: yesterday saw the completion of the largest LT-Legacy catalog to date, that of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s library (compiled by Dr. James D. Brasch and Dr. Joseph Sigman of McMaster University, and provided online [PDF] through Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library) included more than 7,000 titles (7,411 to be exact). A small team of dedicated Thingambrarians has been entering them since 4 January: many thanks to nperrin, who initiated the project; spookykitten (who added about 2,450 books); christiguc (2,350); Rullakartiina (1,350); and jjlong (1,200). Amazing work for a three-month period!

You can read more about the Hemingway effort at this talk thread; they’re looking for tagging assistance and offer some suggestions for where to read more about Hemingway and his books. It’s a fascinating and very wide-ranging collection, so if you have some time to browse through it, do.

Much removed from Hemingway’s library (so far removed, in fact, that they share no books at all) is the library of British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829), the man responsible for the creation of the Smithsonian Institution. His books were included in the bequest he made to the United States, and they now reside in the vault of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History (digital gateway). There are currently 113 titles in the catalog; a few more will follow (I’m told that eight more books from Smithson’s library were recently found in the Library of Congress and are now making their way back to the Smithsonian).

I worked with the Smithsonian’s Martin Kalfatovic and Suzanne Pilsk on this project, and Martin has a post up on the SI blog about the addition of Smithson’s library. As one might expect, most of the books in Smithson’s collection are scientific tracts, but the catalog also includes some cookbooks, travel accounts, reference works, &c.

Hemingway and Smithson have been added to the “Overlap with Legacy Libraries” section of your stats page (introduced here).

We’ve also been continuing to enhance John Adams’ LT catalog since its unveiling; through the wonderful assistance of Boston Public Library staff we’ve been able to make transcriptions of much of John Adams’ fascinating marginalia widely available for the first time (see what he thought, for example, of Mary Wollstonecraft’s An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution) – his copy of the book contains more than 10,000 words written in the margins! I’ve also been adding comments from JA’s diary and other writings about specific authors or works; that’s going to be an ongoing process, but it’s at least underway.

You can keep track of progress on the various Legacy projects by clicking here.

[Update: Thingamabrarian spookykitten reports that the cataloging of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s library (322 books now held at Princeton) has also been completed. So you can now satisfy your curiosity and see how many books Fitzgerald and Hemingway share.]

Labels: dead people, john adams, legacies, special libraries

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Common Knowledge in your library

What just happened. Yesterday saw two huge announcements I’m loathe to “push down.”

(What it didn’t see was an April Fools message, although some took the 160% increase in sources for one! Does this mean we get to fool people later on this year?)

Common Knowledge in your library.

Today we’ve introduced our “Common Knowledge” feature directly into your catalog—allowing members to look at and edit series information, important places and the rest directly in their catalog.

To look at it, go to your catalog and choose the “edit” link to the right of the A, B, C, D, E styles. You’ll see a number of CK fields as options. To edit CK fields, just double-click in the cell. A CK editing “lightbox” will pop up (see right).

Some thoughts. On one level, this is a minor feature. The data was always a click away. But I suspect it will substantially change members’ relationship to Common Knowledge—and make it grow all the faster. Together with my introduction of pages for member’s series, CK now “does” something.

Caveats. Right now you can’t sort by CK fields, and you can’t search by them. Sorting is doable, although it will take some sort. Searching is going to be harder, frankly. But it’s not out of the question. Lastly, we still haven’t solved CK language issues, so you may get series information in a language you don’t understand.

Discuss it here


Labels: april fools, common knowledge, early reviewers, LTER, new feature, new features, new libraries

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

April Early Reviewer books

April’s batch of Early Reviewer books is up! This month features 66 different books from 33 different publishers, totaling 1,599 copies. It’s our biggest batch ever–I know, I said that last month, but apparently we grow fast around here!

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 Tuesday, April 8th at 6pm EDT.

New and noteworthy things this round:

Audio books. We have our first audio book in this batch, (Elizabeth Berg’s The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted). Love listening? Tell us, and we’ll try to get more audio books included.

Author Chat. We’re about to debut a new feature, Author Chat. To start, Broadway Books is giving out copies of Tell Me Where it Hurts, Nick Trout’s new book about a day in the life of an animal hospital. Read it, review it, think about it. Then Nick will be on LibraryThing from April 14th through the 30th to answer questions, talk about his work, etc. More details on Author Chats to come, so stay tuned.

New Publishers. As I said, there are 33 different publishers participating this round. Thanks to all of them, and of course, thanks to the publishers that just keep giving us books!

AMACOM Andrews McMeel Publishing Ballantine Books
Beacon Press Bloomberg Press Broadway
Canongate Books Cleis Press Delacorte Press
Dell DiaMedica Egmont
Handsel Books Lantern Books Loving Healing Press
Manic D Press National Geographic North Atlantic Books
Picador Picnic Publishing Random House Audio Publishing Group
Random House Trade Paperbacks Shambhala South Dakota State Historical Society
St. Martin’s Griffin St. Martin’s Minotaur St. Martin’s Press
Staghorn Press Thomas Dunne Books Vertical
W.W. Norton William Morrow Wizards of the Coast Discoveries

You’ll also notice that a few of the books are already released. A few of publishers new to Early Reviewers decided to include some back-list titles as well as new ones, to kick things off. Though we generally prefer pre-publication books, we decided to allow these less “release-driven” titles into the program.

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. Pay attention–only the flags will tell you which is which!

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

669 Data Sources!

In our continued quest to give our members the best data possible, we’ve added 417 new cataloging sources from around the world to LibraryThing.

It’s a lot to take in at once. We’ve added or greatly increased our support in a number of areas; here are some of the highlights:

  • Chinese: Academica Sinica, Feng Chia University, Lingnan Uniersity, National Cheng-chi University Libraries, Zhejiang Provincial Library
  • Russian: Moskow Library Network, Russian State Library
  • Czech: NK Praha, VK Olomouc, Moravian Library in Brno, Mìstská knihovna Prostìjov
  • Thai: Srinakharinwirot University
  • Arabic: United Arab Emirates University, American University of Cairo, International Islamic University Malaysia
  • Portuguese: Sistema Integrado de Bibliotecas da Universidade de Lisboa, Biblioteca Municipal Manuel Teixeira Gomes, Biblioteca Municipal de Ponte de Lima
  • Lithuanian: National Library of Lithuania, Lithuanian Union Catalogue
  • Polish: National Library of Poland
  • Estonian: Estonian Union Catalog, Tartu University Library
  • German: Südwestdeutscer Bibliotheksverbund, Juristisches Seminar der Universität Tübingen, Universität Basel
  • Seminaries: Asbury College and Theological Seminary, Wheeling Jesuit University, Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Military libraries: United States Military Academy, United States Navel Academy
  • Colleges: Middlebury, Wellesley, Dartmouth, Carleton, Bard
  • Museums/Special collections: Smithsonian Institution Research Information System, Folger Shakespeare Library, Museum of Modern Art
  • Consortia/Union Catalogs: New England Library Consortium, SELCO, Merrimack Valley Library Consortium, LIBROS Consortium, MARMOT Consortium
  • Universities: McGill, Princeton, Georgetown, Duke, Rutgers, Ohio State, Colorado
  • Large public libraries: New York, San Francisco, Denver, D.C., Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis
  • State Libraries: New York State Library, State Library of Florida, State Library of Pennsylvania, Texas State Library

That’s a pretty good mix, but the vast majority we added were US or Canadian libraries, even though we already had plenty of both. We’re still pretty weak in some areas, and completely missing in others. We use a protocol called Z39.50 to get book data from libraries. Quite simply, these are all the Z39.50 servers we could find info for and could get working with our software. We’d love to have thousands more, from all corners of the globe. Any library that has a Z39.50 server that would like to be on LibraryThing just needs to send me their connection info and I will add them.

All of these have been tested fairly thoroughly, but I’m sure there will be problems with some of them. Z39.50 is fickle and complex, and the servers are often unreliable. So some problems may be caused by misconfiguration on our part, and some may be due to circumstances and servers we can’t control. Let us know when there are problems, and we’ll do what we can.

Labels: milestones, new libraries, z39.50