Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Collections, at last

It’s arrived. Members can organize their books into “collections.”

The Motive. From the beginning, LibraryThing members have used the site for different things. Some used it to list only the books they own, others what they’ve read and a few even just the books they wanted. Meanwhile, people like me used it for everything—owned, read, lost, destroyed, wanted—using tagging as our sole way of keeping everything straight. But even tag-zealots like me had to admit there were times you wanted sharper distinctions—”buckets” or “sub-libraries”—and ways to tie those to how you connected with other members and with book recommendations. New members, whether familiar with tags or not, were regularly asking for some way to do wishlists and currently-reading lists.

The Feature. The feature, literally years in the making, gives members the ability to separate out categories of books, like “Wishlist” and “Currently reading” more definitely than could be accomplished with tags. Each collections works like a mini library and can be separately viewed, sorted and searched. Other members can see your collections, on your profile and elsewhere. Features like member-to-member connection and book recommendations react to the new system as well. (See below on integration progress.)

As we offer users new flexibility, we avoid forcing members into “our” way of thinking about books. We’ve provided a number of default collections—Your library, Wishlist, Currently reading, To read, Read but unowned and Favorites. Data from these collections can be aggregated across all users, and their names are even translated on LibraryThing’s non-English sites. But you can also create your own collections, and remove ours. And you can ignore collections entirely, keeping everything in “Your library.”

A Work in Progress. As members know, we play things pretty fast and lose here. Our motto is “beta, forevah!” But collections had to be different. Before public release we subjected it to a month of testing in our large (and non-exclusive) BETA Group. We cannot thank that group enough for all the work they did, and the passion they showed.

We hope we got most of the major bugs, but the feature is not “finished”—and this is hardly the last blog post you’ll see about the feature! Most significantly, collections is now mostly a “cataloging” feature, with only limited reach to other areas of the site. Although you can specify how collections affects member connections and recommendations—so you can stop having your Wishlist or for that matter your husband’s books running the social and recommendation parts of the site—implementation is basic and, in light of extraordinary collections-related load, there’s a lot of caching in place. We left a few features out in order to get it the main features out now.*

We also think “unfinished” (we prefer not prematurely specified) features are the best way to engage users, and get the best for everyone. Come and contribute on Recommended Site Improvements and Bug Collectors. We also have a Announcement post in New Features.

*We had spec’ed out a complex interaction between reading-dates and “Currently reading.” But the system was probably more than most members wanted. And it certainly was taking a long time to finish, so, for now at least “Currently reading” is just a collection.

Credits: Chris (conceptDawg) headed up the project, doing most of the user interface and a majority of the back-end code. Chris and I (timspalding) designed the feature together, and I did some core back-end code. Abby (ablachly) didn’t code, but she dogged us about it for years. (I’m not sure what she’s going to do with herself now.) But the most important factor was the members. Members, particularly the BETA group, contributed to the effort as I’ve never seen it—not in any website or project, ever. Chris and I owe members an enormous amount. (I’ll be blogging about this specifically soon. It needs telling.)

Top photo by radiant_guy” (Flickr, CC-SA).

Labels: cataloging, collections, new feature, new features, tagging


  1. Anonymous says:

    I really love the new cataloging features, especially the Wishlist option. I really anticipated being able to use this when I'm in the bookstore shopping and using LT mobile. Well, I really hate to come off sounding like an ingrate, but I just added a book and cataloged it in my Wishlist. When I went to LT mobile, the book comes up, but it doesn't denote that it's a Wishlist book. I'll be in the bookstore wondering, is this already in my library or do I need to purchase it. I can see it being a great feature when I'm sitting at home buying books online, but I can already see it's not going to serve my needs when I'm in a physical bookstore shopping.


  2. Anonymous says:

    What are you going to do with the rest of your life? You're going to figure out some way to have a data structure to deal with listing short stories in anthologies so that they are searchable. Not having this has been driving my friends BONKERS, lol.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think wishlist should be a separate feature, similar to Amazon, with an unlimited number of wishlists – I have about 20 Amazon wishlists (History, Health, Modern Fiction etc..) – it's doable with the current collections system, but messy mixed in with other collections. And impossible for LT to analyze or data-mine since there is no way to know which collection is a wishlist (unless it's named "Wishlist", which is no guarantee when one has multiple wishlists).

  4. Mom says:

    Oh My – I can finally easily sort by ROOM! Yes, some books just live in certain rooms/bookcases, so they are most likely to be found there.
    Thank you.

  5. Kathryn says:

    OMG! I have been waiting for this for so long. I have only been adding the actual books that I have read on the date I started them, but now…HISTORY! I can add the thousands of books I own and I can add a cookbook without getting it all confused with fiction, even if it is called To Serve Man. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank you. This will be wonderful!

  7. OneMorePagee says:

    I can't find the words to express my happiness! I practically screamed with joy. My non-reading co-workers in the cubes surrounding thought I was nuts, but what do THEY know?

  8. keywestnan says:

    This is great — I didn't think collections were a big deal, but I find I am thrilled. Must be some library geek thing. Also I have been waiting for some time for an opportunity to point out how superior LT is to other products such as the Visual Bookshelf/Living Social Books app on Facebook. Yea LT!

  9. infojunkie says:

    You all rock!! This is a terrific feature. What a lovely surprise to find on the site. Love the flexibility of being able to edit the collections categories. Now converting some of my tags into collections.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I love that you are always improving this site. Thank you so much. I have sent my money to help you out and to not be a freeloader anymore. Thanks for the opportunity to share books, list my personal books, and to review what others are reading. You are a godsend, along with my local library.

  11. Ross says:

    Woohoo! Awkward hugs all around!

  12. Vicki says:

    This is a great feature, though I was already using tags to do the same thing (to read, currently reading, wish list, etc.) I do have one concern, though. If everyone who was using a "to read" or "currently reading" tag stops using those tags because they can use collections, we won't be able to do tagmashes like "to read, mystery" or "currently reading, literary fiction" to get an idea of what's currently popular for a specific tag.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Oh, good. Does that mean that those of us who care about good data get some of OUR feature requests next? Like, say, omnibus and anthology cataloging that doesn't suck?

  14. ritulia-k says:

    Hey there!
    I wonder if it'd be possible to implement a drag-n-drop way of sorting "tags" into "collections"?

  15. Tim says:

    Anonymous: Yes, it does mean that!

  16. Herenya says:

    Just wanted to say thank you so much! This is fantastic.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Love the whole idea and started using it … but midway through it treats me like a visitor to my own account and then I can't edit 🙁

  18. Anonymous says:

    Muchas gracias, es una maravilla.

  19. Anonymous says:

    When entering on collections and making a selection, the total list of collections I have created is too large to see all at once – the screen seems to hide some collection names. I then have to scroll, etc. Can you bring the list to the front? Thanks.

  20. yl says:

    It won't be too originak to note that this is a major improvement.
    Thanks LT

  21. Jean-Louis says:

    Very nice feature. I used tags but this looks much better.

  22. Greg says:

    The "Collections" feature is wonderful! Thank you for adding it!!

  23. Billy says:

    This is an amazing feature. Now I won't have to put so many tags on my books. Thank you so much LibraryThing!

  24. Lauren says:

    I'm late to the party, but I have been avidly awaiting collections for years. I had to use a second book site because I wanted to keep track of books I read but didn't own without them being part of my actual library. Now I can do that right on LT–in fact, LT officially has everything I could ever dream of wanting in a book cataloging utility, but I know you guys will roll out more and more great features in the future! THANKS so much–you guys probably run the best site in the woooorld.

  25. John Hopper says:

    Long, long ago when collections was first mooted, I tagged books as @NOT OWNED, as I read that this would make it easier to transfer these to a collection when the feature arrived. So, now it has, how can I transfer en bloc books tagged @NOT OWNED to the Read but Unowned Collection, without having to edit each one individually? Thanks, John

  26. Anonymous says:

    Yay! I'm so happy! But I had a book in my currently reading and I moved it to read but unowned. Then I deleted it from currently reading and it deleted the book from read but unowned too. I'm guessing there's a way for it not to do this. How?

  27. Tim says:

    Deleting a book deletes it from all collections. (The delete message says this.) To remove a book from a collection, change the collection for it. You can de-select the collection or uncheck the checkbox, depending where in the interface you are.

  28. Muriel Johnson says:

    I added collection names to the list. Now I want to delete them and can’t. Is there something I am doing wrong? I wanted to separate my library into sections, and the same with librarything. Can you please help me out????

Leave a Reply