Archive for April, 2009

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Podcast 3: Murder! Politics! Books!

LibraryThing Podcast 3, which follows on the heels of the wildly successful*—if somewhat incoherent—LibraryThing Podcast 2, is an interview with Jeremy Dibbell, who runs the Legacy Library/I see Dead People’s Books project.

The (somewhat meandering) conversation explores the Legacy Library project, 18th century book tastes, the top-shared Legacy Library book (Jeremy guessed wrong a few times), what your books are saying about you, and related topics.

Here’s the direct link to the MP3:

The Murder Part. Jeremy came to Portland to present at the New England Historical Association. His topic was the rediscovery/reconstruction of an important 18th-century library. The library belonged to George Wythe (LibraryThing Library, Wikipedia), a prominent Virginia politician/jurist and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Wythe, a slaveholder who ended his life an abolitionist, was poisoned by his grandnephew for the inheritance (the grandnephew had a serious gambling problem). The murderer got away because the testimony of free blacks was ruled inadmissible, but Wythe lived long enough to disinherit him.

Signing the Declaration of Independence, Wythe to the left

In his will, Wythe gave his extensive book collection to Thomas Jefferson (LibraryThing library), a longtime friend and former student. Jefferson received some 338 titles, of which he gave away 183 to relatives and acquaintances, and kept 155. Only a few dozen of these were known until now.

Jefferson’s inventory of Wythe’s library was recently identified by Jeremy and Endrina Tay, Associate Foundation Librarian for Technical Services at Monticello. See Jeremy’s post for more on Wythe’s library. Wythe’s LibraryThing catalog, based on Jeremy and Endrina’s work, is the first reconstruction of Wythe’s full library.

Using LibraryThing’s new comparison feature, you can compare Wythe’s library against other Legacy Libraries, other Signers of the Declaration of the Independence, or T. E. Lawrence.

*Actually, I have no idea how many people listened.

Labels: legacy libraries, podcasts

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Last call for best blog widgets…

I forgot to close the Best Widget competition, so I’m going to extend it to 5:00 Friday, May 1.

Post your submissions here.

Labels: widgets

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Commune with the dead

Can you guess what they are?

I’ve made some major changes to members’ Legacy Library pages, bringing this wonderful member project—the private libraries of over 100 readers from the past—closer than ever before.

It has never been easier to compare the reading of Jefferson and Adams (427 books!), Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. And is has never before been possible to compare that of Tupac Shakur and LibraryThing’s Australian systems administrator John Dalton!

The core, default feature is a list of Legacy Libraries and the books they share with you. New features include:

  1. You can get it book-by-book, instead of person-by-person.
  2. From that, you can now see the top shared books across the Legacy Libraries, with you or any subset.
    The top books list is somewhat surprising. I’ve pasted it on the right, with the titles blacked out. See if you can guess number one. For combination reasons it’s not the Bible, but it’s probably not any of the others that leap immediately to mind. The top books between signers of the Declaration of Independence is also quite surprising. And why on earth did three American presidents bother to acquire General view of the agriculture in the county of Somerset?!
  3. The libraries are broken down into groups, so you can see what you share with actors, musicians, politicians, etc.
    Among these are the splinter project, the Libraries of Early America, which Jeremy, the Legacy Library project leader, is working on in collaboration with archives, libraries and museums across the country.
  4. You can filter everything in all sorts of clever ways.
  5. Although the page is a dynamic explorer, it provides a permalink to send to friends and a nifty “Share on Twitter” button. (Did you know you can enter your books through Twitter?)

Later today I’ll push out a podcast I did with Jeremy, a long but enjoyable romp through the legacy libraries, cataloging, the meaning of books through history and book-love generally.

Discussion going on here.

Labels: legacy libraries, new features

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

What’s hot?

I’ve added a “Hot topics” category to Talk.

Heat is calculated every hour, and is based on posts and viewers in the the last 48 hours. It adjusts for the length of posts, so one-line posts don’t count as much—You hear me Drop a Word, Add a Word? A topic with a lot of flags is penalized and it adjusts the numbers slightly to prevent groups from dominating the list.

More heat on its way…

Labels: new features

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Reoccuring flash mob in Chicago – April 26 and May 3

The flash mob at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago went well last Sunday, with volunteers braving dismal Spring weather to battle the uncatalogued books.

The battle rages on, though. Despite 3,151 books cataloged, this library has MORE TO DO. As Sarah says, “kinda takes the flash out of it, but oh well.” Nobody expects the flash mob to come back – this is brilliant. Those books won’t know what hit them.

Also, this is a unique chance for all y’all who said “Oh, that sounds like fun, too bad I’m busy that day” to get in a few hours of altruistic cataloging.

So, for the next two Sundays (April 26th and May 3rd), there will be more mob-cataloging. The battle starts at 11 a.m. so bring your CueCat, and best snapping fingers. You can see the Puerto Rican Cultural Center catalog here.

I hear tell they had coffee and locally made Puerto Rican pastries last week, which are both delicious and culturally appropriate!

The PRCC is located at 2700 W Haddon in the Paseo Boricua neighborhood. Feel free to just show up on the day, or send a message ahead of time to let us know you’re coming so we’ll know how many to expect! Sarah Jackman ( is the contact person for this flash-mob. Feel free to call her at (608) 330-0865 or send her an email.

Labels: Chicago, flash mob, flash-mob cataloging

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Welcome Catalonians!

This weekend saw a huge surge in registration on, our Catalan-language subsite—fully 1/5 of new members on Saturday.

The surge followed brief coverage on a Catalan news site, complete with a short video about us (see Google translation*). The story even got into the Legacy Library project.**

I hope we can encourage our Catalan visitors to stay, and help improve the site for themselves and others. Catalan has an exceedingly rich literary tradition and no doubt hundreds of thousands of bibliophiles. But you’re not going to find many Catalan books on Amazon and the sites that use it. LibraryThing, with access to over 690 libraries, including a union catalog of Catalonian universities, is an ideal place for Catalan-speakers to assemble, catalog their books and talk about literature.

So, Catalan speakers, apart from a president of LibraryThing who can write in Catalan***, what do you want? Are there any Catalan programmers out there who want to lend a hand in exchange for good will from your compatriots and revenues? (Seriously. We’re never going to get rich off this stuff. But we might get even more interesting.)

*Google does Catalan now? Wonderful.
**Wouldn’t it be great to get the libraries of some famous Catalonians? Searches turned up a handful of printed catalogs in or about Catalan and the closely-related Occitan: 1, 2, 3, 4.
***We do have you surrounded, though. Abby has good French, Chris Italian, Giovanni Spanish and my Latin is decent.

Labels: catalan, internationalization

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

“New” catalog look/features

We’ve gone live with a number of aesthetic and functional changes to members’ catalog pages.

Some examples, or see my catalog.





Together the changes aim to:

  • Look better. Those big clunky icons have been with us since the beginning—August 2005. The original files are on an old OS9 iMac. I’m sad to see them go, but man, they were clunky. LibraryThing is something of a “ransom note,” but we’re moving toward uniformity and beauty. You’ll see the little icons popping up elsewhere.
  • Prepare the way for collections. Collections was too deeply integrated into the “new” catalog to bring it live separately. Doing both at the same time would have been a lot of work too. We’re getting closer*.
  • Address some usability issues, particularly confusion over how to sort and “what the little numbers mean.”
  • Speed up the page. The new page uses CSS sprites, moving from dozens of images to one.**
  • Fix some bugs.

Some things are missing, including:

  • Collections!
  • Better “covers” display. Mike is working on that. We decided to go ahead without him.
We’ve started two conversations:
  • New Catalog #1: Larger issues. Larger reflections on what we did. For the sake of argument, assume that it’s “working” for you, and concentrate on whether you like how it works.
  • New Catalog #2: Bugs and small issues. Small issues, particularly ones we can just fix. I want these sequestered, so we aren’t stuck with messages 2-20 in the main thread being about some trivial bug that got fixed.

*At least you’re all now on the catalog we’ve been using for months, anyway.
**As Chris says, “Tim has found a hammer.” It’s all CSS-sprite-shaped nails to me now.

Labels: design, new features

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Flash news: flash-mob cataloging in Chicago this weekend!

Completely ganked from the Talk thread:

This Sunday, April 19, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago will host a flash-mob to catalog the 1-2,000 books left in their library! The flash-mob will start at 11 am and go until 3 – or until the books are cataloged, whichever happens first.

Puerto Rican Cultural Center Website

The PRCC is located at 2700 W Haddon in the Paseo Boricua neighborhood. Take the Division exit off 90/94, go about 2 miles West on Division, then turn left on Washtenaw. The PRCC is on the NW corner of Haddon and Washtenaw. There’s plenty of free street parking.

Feel free to just show up on the day, or send a message ahead of time to let us know you’re coming so we’ll know how many to expect! Sarah Jackman ( is the contact person for this flash-mob. Feel free to call her at (608) 330-0865 or send her an email.

We hope lots of Chicago-area LibraryThingers will come out to help – can’t wait to see you all there!

Labels: cataloging, Chicago, cultural library, flash mob, flash-mob cataloging, Illinois

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

Fans of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are* will enjoy President Obama’s rendition (via C-SPAN) of the book to a group of kids at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

Where the Wild Things Are is followed by the first lady and children doing If you Give a Mouse a Cookie. I’m not as fond of that book, and it’s fortunate the President didn’t take it on—it too easily reads like a satire on the legislative process.

UPDATE: Chris Holland couldn’t believe that I neglected to link to the trailer of the upcoming Where the Wild Things Are movie. Duly added.

*It’s too bad he didn’t do Sendak’s Pierre. He would have locked in the Liam vote.

Labels: obama, sendak

Friday, April 10th, 2009

LibraryThing podcast 2: Unstructured yapping

At some point, I want to get a LibraryThing podcast going. I did one formal episode already, an interview with librarian Jason Griffey, a cool librarian, about a year ago.

What I’d really like to do is something like Uncontrolled Vocabulary, Greg Schwartz’s weekly, freewheeling phone-in conversation, now on indefinite hiatus, or the Stack Overflow podcast, a similar shoot-the-breeze between star-programmers Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood.

Until that day, here’s a 50-minute kaffeeklatsch between LibraryThing employees, recorded back during out “week of code.” It was originally filmed, but, well, I’m vain.

Here’s the direct link to the MP3:

In the conversation (around the room clockwise): Tim Spalding, Mike Bannister, Casey Durfee, Sonya Green, Chris Catalfo, Luke Stevens, Chris Holland. Alas, Abby was in Boston, John in Hobart and Giovanni in, I think, Thailand.


  • The Kindle
  • Comic books
  • Academic publishing
  • Archaeology
  • Newspapers
  • O’Reilly books
  • Marginalia
  • Female archaelogists who wear plants
  • Why Chris Holland is above CSS books
  • Internet Explorer 6
  • Bad collections forecasting

Enjoy! And tell us what idiots we are on Talk.

Labels: podcasts

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Widget statistics and work page customization

Widget Statistics: The new LibraryThing widgets now have their own statistics page, so you can see how often your widgets are visited.

Check out your Widget Statistics or Luke’s account, with some data.

The graph has an exceedingly nifty feature that makes the lines the same color as the background of the widget or, failing that, the main font color. This makes it easy to see which is which and is the kind of nice little detail Luke enjoys putting in.

Discuss it here:

Reminder: There is a best widget contest going on.

Work page customization. Work pages are now customizable, with each section collapsible, and rearrangeable with a nifty drag-and-drop action, remembered between sessions. The feature is quite powerful—a lot cooler than I’d have thought possible.

Discuss it here:

Collections progress. Follow our collections progress here.

Labels: new features

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

April Early Reviewer Books

The April batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 43 books this month, and a total of 1,129 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, April 24th at 6PM EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, Australia, France and Germany. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Little, Brown and Company Crossway MSI Press
St. Martin’s Griffin Howard Books Hampton Roads Publishing Company
WaterBrook Press Hachette Book Group Algonquin Books
Picador Other Press Doubleday Books
The Permanent Press Beacon Press HarperCollins
Between the Lines Bethany House Chosen Books
Vanderbilt University Press Orca Book Publishers Litwin Books
St. Martin’s Press North Atlantic Books McClelland & Stewart
HighBridge Broadway Books Riverhead Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

LibraryThing Best Widget Contest

The new widgets came with a bunch of pre-defined styles—of varying quality. But they also have sharing built in, so members can come up with better ones, and let people know about them.

So, why not a contest?

  • Submit your widgets to this Talk thread (
  • Widgets can be of any type—as simple, complex, staid or way-out as you like. You can use your own CSS or JavaScript, but you certainly don’t have to.
  • You can submit up to five widgets, but post only one message. Edit if you need to.
  • If you want, share where you put the widget, or where you plan to.
  • Go ahead and name your widgets, comment on what you were trying to do.
  • Post the “Share with other LibraryThing members” link (e.g., this). Posting the script won’t work.

The Reward.

Let’s see what you can do!

UPDATE: Luke added a feature to the “share with other LT member” that shows it with *their* books first. You can change it to work with yours instead. This only applies to URLs made now, so edit old ones?



Labels: contests, widgets

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

LibraryThing April Fools Joke is delayed

I’m sure you all enjoyed GMail Autopilot and learning you were Obama’s fourth cousin. But we at LibraryThing regret that our annual April Fools joke was delayed this year.

Luke “don’t bump my awesome widgets” Stevens, Chris “collections-or-die” Holland, Mike “Facebook-or-die” Bannister and I have decided that other priorities in high demand—so high it’s turning into Haiku—prevented us from spending the day tricking LibraryThing out with an OCLC logo, making all recommendations be for zombie books and suchnot.

Mike did succeed in injecting me onto every page of our development server, squeaking distortedly as a sort of drunk LibraryThing “clippy.” but it but it took too much bandwidth and was simply too horrible to inflict on all. Also, we don’t have a CEO. Also, Mike is fired.

So, we have decided to postpone our April Fools joke, reserving the right to fill your screen with unicorns (click “cornify”) or other such foolery at any point in the next twelve months!

Labels: april fools

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Widgets get a lot better

We’ve just brought live new, improved widgets, available from the make widget page.

Some highlights:

  • New “animated” style cycles through your covers in a oddly mesmerizing way.
  • Widgets are extensively customizable, so you can fit them to your blog without any special knowledge.
  • Power users can do more, with Javascript and CSS customization. Check out Chris’ blog for stylish use.*
  • The new widgets are shareable (an example) so members can show off and swap styles. (Yes, we’ll be having a widget-creation contest soon.)
  • Widget links don’t go off somewhere, but open up a slick lightbox “mini-book” page, with your information and (optional) links, to LibraryThing and elsewhere. You can, of course, fill in your Amazon Associates code, if you want to make money off your widget.
  • Widgets now include (optionally) tags, ratings and reviews. You can filter by reviews and tags too.
  • The code is good—based on our improved JSON Books API and designed not to slow down your page (they’re “lazy-loading”). Weirdly this can make the widget look slow. That’s because it’s not slowing down the rest of the page!
  • Internationalized from the ground up.
  • Orcas, baby!

Go ahead and make a widget.

Talk about it here, or on Talk.

Luke! Widgets were helmed by new employee Luke (member: LibraryThingLuke), who wrote most of the core code, all the styling options, the share system and so forth. Other LibraryThing people helped. Chris—hard at work on collections, we promise—chipped in some attractive styles. Mike wrote the crucial cover-animation code, something he’s been working on for our upcoming Facebook application. I made sure Luke got a list of changes every morning, including at least one thing I wanted the other way the day before.

Luke offered the following thumbnail bio:

“Luke Stevens lives in Portland, Me with his wife and three kids. He enjoys single malt scotch and silver-age comic books. He rides a motorcycle from the early 80’s that elicits laughter from his evil co-workers. Twitter: saintlukas; blog:”

*Chris swears by

Labels: new feature, new features, widgets