Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Thirty Million Books!

LibraryThing has hit 30,000,000 books cataloged! We also recently hit 1,000,000 user-uploaded covers and 500,000 pieces of Common Knowledge data.* Tags stand just shy of 39 million.

Thirty million—more specifically 30,011,748—was the number of books in the Library of Congress, the largest “real” library in the world. Having passed two and three—Harvard and the Boston Public Library—our sights were on the LC. But the LC grew and the number changed (see ALA fact sheet), and now they have 32,124,001 books (the one at the end is priceless). So it’ll be another month or so before we surpass them.**

The thirty-millionth book was The Making of a Surgeon by William A. Nolan (Wikipedia). It was entered by new member RobGillespie, and tagged “biography, medicine, surgery.” Rob gets a free account.

The Making of a Surgeon, a landmark 1968 personal account, represents one of LibraryThing’s strengths well. Amazon lists it at 393,843, but it’s 74,730 on LibraryThing and in 1,300 WorldCat libraries. So, while it may not be selling well this year, it’s on a lot of shelves and “in a lot of heads.” If your surgeon went to school in the 1970s, there’s a good chance he read it, much as doctor today might be reading Atul Gawande. One doctor-turned-novelist who read Nolen was Walker Percy, whose library members entered into LibraryThing. Small world.

The book is even more appropriate in light of the current publisher, Mid-List Press. Mid-List, a Minnesota non-profit publisher***, focuses on a segment of the book world, arguing:

“In the past, publishers built their reputations on midlist books. In recent years, however, such factors as the enormous prices paid for high-profile “frontlist” books and the growing domination of mass merchandisers have eaten away at the traditional support for the midlist.”

My take is somewhat more optimistic—that the logic of the Long Tail is and will open up demand for mid-list and “bottom-of-list” titles. LibraryThing has a part in that too. One reason people read bestsellers is to talk about them with others. Sites like LibraryThing make it possible to have that sort of shared reading experience well down the Long Tail.

The hub of the Hub of the universe (Credit)

*In commemoration of the Common Knowledge milestone, we have released all the data VIA a free, creative-commons-licensed API. There’s more free data coming soon—rhymes with “hovers.” We’re doing load-testing now.
**For the record, I am under no illusion LibraryThing is “as good” as the LC, or even as big in any real sense. For starters, we have a lot of duplicates—the unique count is more like five million. From a database and programming perspective, however, the number is fun.
***Among Mid-List’s many books, I noticed The Writers’ Brush (LT), a book of artwork by famous writers, which promises access to “the manuscript sketches that Fyodor Dostoevsky made of his characters, or the can-can dancers secretly drawn by Joseph Conrad.”

Labels: milestones


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