Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

What makes LibraryThing LibraryThing?

On Tuesday afternoon, LibraryThing staff and members got together on the collaborative editing site PiratenPad to hash out “What makes LibraryThing LibraryThing?” for newly-arrived Goodreads members and others. This is the result. Tim took the lead, but 38 members contributed.

What we are

LibraryThing is a community brought together by the love of books.

What defines us

Kraken cake by member TheCriticalTimes.
The name “LibraryThing” was originally a take-off on Lovecraftian lines.

LibraryThing is not one thing. LibraryThing means different things to different people. Some use it to record what they’re reading now; some catalog every book they own. Some talk on our groups all day long, others never interact with anyone. Some share everything to Facebook, others keep their library private. Some use it for book discovery and recommendations, some to help out other book lovers with their knowledge of authors, books and series. There are members for whom this blog post would be totally unfamiliar. We value what all members do with the site.

LibraryThing is about quality cataloging. LibraryThing started seven years ago as a way for regular people to have a professional-quality library catalog, and this is still the center for many members. We show this in our sources—searching over 700 libraries around the world. And we show it in how you can edit everything in your catalog. This isn’t just authors and titles, but every bit of data you could think of about a book, from the Dewey Decimal number and publication information to the book’s height and weight.

LibraryThing is book-geekery. We love the stuff of books—the details, the trivia, the connections among books and between books and other parts of life. We’ll tell you what percentage of your authors are dead, how much your books weigh, and whether a pile of them would be taller than Niagara Falls (see yours).

LibraryThing is about readers, not marketing. Our members like to read and talk about books, and of course we love to buy them too. But we think that reading and talking works best apart from commercial interests.

  • Our book recommendations are never influenced by commercial considerations.
  • Author and publisher spam has alienated a lot of people at other sites. We take a hard line. Authors have various official ways to promote their books, including LibraryThing Early Reviewers, Member Giveaways, and a Hobnob with Authors group. And they benefit from making sure their author page is tricked out with photos, links to their site and so forth. But other than that authors participate as readers first of all.
Book love by member madinkbeard.

LibraryThing is communities. LibraryThing is a community, and LibraryThing includes many communities, especially groups like 75 Books Challenge , The Green Dragon and Folio Society Devotees. Members get together offline from time to time. And every year many members participate in SantaThing, Secret Santa for book lovers.

We have no “users.” If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. If a social website can’t support itself on customers and straightforward products, it’ll eventually sell out what you gave it—your data, your friends, and the community itself.

“No users” includes charging members. We say $10 for a yearly membership, $25 for a lifetime. In fact, you can pay as little as $1, and we often give free memberships if people ask nicely. (Until Friday ALL new members get a free membership.) But we want what paying creates—customers, with loyalty and rights—not “users”.

Members contribute. LibraryThing members have spent years of their time improving the data, helping themselves and other book lovers. They disambiguate authors and editions, add author photos, enter awards and events, organize series, police for spam and ratty data, and translate the site into more than a dozen languages. (See our helpers page.) Unlike some other sites, here all members are equal, with the power to make (or reverse) changes. And nobody can change your catalog.

LibraryThing is libraries. Public and academic libraries account for about 40% of reading, but get lost in other, commercially motivated venues. Not at LibraryThing. We love libraries—five of LibraryThing’s ten employees have library degrees and six have worked in one. Libraries give us our best data, and give us access to books no online bookseller knows about.

As part of its core mission, LibraryThing sells software and data to libraries, such as LibraryThing for Libraries. Bibliographic data is always free to libraries, including Common Knowledge and our editions data.

We’re advertising-free. Members see no ads on LibraryThing. If you’re not signed in, we show some Google ads, but they’ll vanish as soon as you create an account (free or paid).

LibraryThing is smart. LibraryThing has some of the most passionate, articulate members in the book world.

Members run rampant. LibraryThing is a company, but we tend to run it like a club, or maybe a collective. Employees listen to members and work with them. We’re going to listen and be straight with you. We’re not going to sell you out. If we do, members should take their data, take our free and copyleft data, and find a better site. Doubt us? Tell us how to earn your trust.

LibraryThing doesn’t push. We are about the books and the cataloging. If you want to share what you’re reading, great. But we’re not going to spam all your friends every time you add a book or join a group. We don’t make sharing the default just because it’s free advertising. We also don’t send out any automatic emails with updates or change our privacy policies to suit commercial interests. And we never make you automatically friends with someone on LibraryThing just because you know them on Twitter or Facebook.

LibraryThing is independent. LibraryThing has owners, including Tim, the founder and majority owner, and minority partners in Bowker and Abebooks. But we make our own decisions. And we’re a real company with real revenue, not a venture-capital-funded company waiting to “flip” to some dreadful new master.

LibraryThing supports the whole book world. Being independent allows us to work with everyone. We have pages and programs for authors and publishers, bookstores and libraries. “LibraryThing Local” promotes venues and upcoming bookish events around the world. Our “Get this book” includes libraries and indie bookstores at the same level as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We also have an API for indie bookstores to include information about their current holdings.

No fine print. Our Terms of Use are written in real English, and protect members as much as anything. There are no weird trap doors—we don’t claim we own your copyright, we don’t tell you how to link to us, etc. They also include a quote from Shelley.

LibraryThing supports free speech. We provide a space for readers to say what’s on their minds, without fear of being ejected for an unpopular view. We make an exception for personal attacks: you can say what you want, but stick to ideas, not people.

LibraryThing was the original social book site. We invented the idea. We know that this and $2.50 will get us a cup of coffee, but we still feel responsible for the idea, and making it fun and rewarding, not commercial, exploitative, invasive and creepy.

LibraryThing is a work in progress. Since starting as nothing more than a basic catalog, members have guided our development to an unusual degree. Our current development priorities include:

  • Better cataloging, especially Goodreads imports, ebooks and adding books, from “Add books” and elsewhere.
  • Better sharing. We’ve lagged behind on sharing to social networks. We’re catching up fast.
  • Better design. Members like a stripped-down, information-dense aesthetic, but, well, we really need a cleanup and refresh.
  • Mobile version.

A few unique things about the site

Nobody has ever done anything like our Legacy Libraries.
We didn’t even mention cataloging flash mobs.

International sites. LibraryThing is also available in more than a dozen other languages, such as German (LibraryThing.de), French (LibraryThing.fr) and even Esperanto (epo.librarything.com) and Pirate (pir.librarything.com). We also catalog from hundreds of non-English libraries, so you can add all your Italian books as easily as those in English.

Common Knowledge. Common Knowledge is our vast fielded wiki system of member-added data about books and authors, capturing everything from characters to series and awards information to related movies, dedications, author information, and much, much more. The data are available via an API, for free.

LibraryThing Local. A gateway to more than 80,000 bookstores, libraries and other bookish venues, every single one added by LibraryThing members. Mark your favorites, scope out where to visit, and browse over 65,000 upcoming events. See it at http://www.librarything.com/local. LibraryThing Local is also available on-the-go via our Readar iPhone app, or via an API for free.

Legacy Libraries. LibraryThing members have cataloged the libraries of more than 200 famous dead people, from Thomas Jefferson and C.S. Lewis to Marilyn Monroe and Tupac Shakur.

CoverGuess. We show you a cover image, you use tags to describe what you see. If your tags match up with those used by others, you get points.

Book Haiku. Summarize any book in the form of a haiku.

Dead salmon color. Need we say more?

Join us

So that’s what LibraryThing is. Does this sound fun? Join us!


You can see how we came up with this document on PiratenPad: http://librarything.piratenpad.de/ep/pad/view/449/rKERKCJPlZ (drag the slider to the beginning and press the play button to see the edits “as they happened”).

Labels: LibraryThing

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Extended: Free accounts for new members

Since the Amazon news broke, we’ve been seeing an influx of Goodreads members checking out the site and adding their books—more than 500,000 so far. So we’ve extended our free accounts offer through Friday midnight. Sign up for a new account and we’ll give you a year’s free membership.

Here’s from the original blog post, describing why—in this “free” world—LibraryThing asks for money, even as little as $1/year.


In the wake of Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads, we’ve had some blow-back on the fact that LibraryThing charges for a membership to add more than 200 books. In fact, when you go to pay, it’s pay-what-you-want. The money helps pay for the site, and keeps us advertisement-free for members. Also, we believe customers should be customers, with the loyalty and rights of customers, not the thing we sell to our real customers.

However, some people don’t like it. And we want everyone. So, as a test and a welcome, we’re giving out free year’s accounts to everyone who signs up through the end of Sunday Now Friday midnight Eastern. We’ve also upgraded everyone who signed up since 4pm yesterday.

Here’s what the profile comment looks like. You should get it pretty quickly:


Photo by flickr member chamisa flower.

Labels: amazon, members

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Free accounts through Sunday

In the wake of Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads, we’ve had some blow-back on the fact that LibraryThing charges for a membership to add more than 200 books. In fact, when you go to pay, it’s pay-what-you-want. The money helps pay for the site, and keeps us advertisement-free for members. Also, we believe customers should be customers, with the loyalty and rights of customers, not the thing we sell to our real customers.

However, some people don’t like it. And we want everyone. So, as a test and a welcome, we’re giving out free year’s accounts to everyone who signs up through the end of Sunday. We’ve also upgraded everyone who signed up since 4pm yesterday.

Here’s what the profile comment looks like. You should get it pretty quickly:


Photo by flickr member chamisa flower.

Labels: amazon, fun, gifts

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Amazon buys Goodreads: what does that mean for LibraryThing?

Amazon announced yesterday that they’re buying Goodreads, LibraryThing’s younger brother and competitor. This has the potential to change things for LibraryThing. We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on how we can survive and thrive in a Amazon-Goodreads world.

See the open thread about this: LibraryThing: How to succeed in an Amazon/Goodreads world. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Labels: amazon

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Common Knowledge at 5 million!

Earlier in March, LibraryThing Common Knowledge hit five million edits (and flew right on by: another 53,000 have already been added since then!).

The five-millionth CK fact was … drum roll please … the term “American Revolution” added in the “Important events” field on Barbara Tuchman’s book The First Salute by member berry25. Hey berry25, want an LT t-shirt or a CueCat?

Common Knowledge? What’s that?

Common Knowledge, a part of LibraryThing since 2007, is our vast fielded wiki system of bookish data, capturing everything from characters (Frodo Baggins, C-3PO) to series and awards information to related movies, dedications, author information, and much, much more. See the wiki page for a full rundown.

Some of these pages are ridiculously, awesomely complex: check out the Star Wars series page, for example (872 works, with something like 70 sub-series!). To get a sense of the depth and breadth of everything included in Common Knowledge, check out the clouds page.

Who’s added all this info?

CK would not be the amazing resource that it is without the hard work of the many LibraryThing members responsible for those 5 million+ edits. (Back in 2007 Tim predicted it would prove “insanely addictive”, and that seems to have been spot-on). More than 1,000 LTers have contributed at least 600 edits, and some of the totals are extremely impressive. Here are the top five all-time CK contributors:

Can I contribute?

Please do! It’s super easy to add Common Knowledge data – you’ll see the fields at the bottom of every work or author page on LibraryThing. And if you have questions, thoughts, or suggestions, chime in over at the Common Knowledge, WikiThing, HelpThing group.

Here’s to you all, and here’s to five million more Common Knowledge contributions!

Labels: common knowledge, milestones

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

March Early Reviewers batch is up!

The March 2013 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 143 books this month, and a grand total of 3,658 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:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, March 25th at 6 p.m. EDT.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, and more. 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!

Henry Holt and Company Taylor Trade Publishing Sakura Publishing
Lion Fiction Putnam Books Ballantine Books
Safkhet Fantasy Apex Publications Riverhead Books
The Permanent Press Plume Two Lines Press
WaterBrook Press Prufrock Press Palgrave Macmillan
Portfolio Random House Hunter House
Crown Publishing Pants On Fire Press Spiegel & Grau
Ashland Creek Press Greenleaf Book Group Pneuma Springs Publishing
Akashic Books Bethany House HarperCollins
In Fact Books Pubslush Press Dundurn
EgmontUSA CarTech Books Top Five Books
MSI Press Random House Trade Paperbacks Safe Harbor Publishing
Dimensions of Wellness Press Camel Press William Morrow
Coffeetown Press Camel Press McFarland
February Partners Hay House Skyhorse Publishing
Istoria Books BookViewCafe JournalStone
Gray & Company, Publishers Algonquin Books Galaxy Audio
Galaxy Press Wayman Publishing Human Kinetics
Cleis Press Career Upshift Productions Bridgeross Communications
Crossed Genres Publications Arundel Publishing Leafwood Publishers
University Press of New England Northeastern University Press Booktrope
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Penguin Young Readers Group Orca Book Publishers
Viva Editions Charlesbridge

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, March 4th, 2013

The 2nd annual LibraryThing Edible Books contest!

We had so much fun with last year’s virtual Edible Books Contest, we’ve decided to make it an annual event!

How to participate:

1. Create an “edible book.” We’re defining this broadly, so entries can include dishes:

  • referencing a book’s title or characters (puns are entirely welcome)
  • inspired by a book’s plot
  • in the shape of an actual book (or eBook, or scroll, etc.)
  • takeoffs on the LibraryThing logo

2. Take some photos of what you made. The photo at right is the grand-prize winner from last year’s contest. See more of the winners here or all of the entries in the gallery.

3. Upload the photo to your LT member gallery. Sign in, then go here and click the “Add another picture” link to add the image.

4. When adding the image, tag it “EdibleBooks2013″. This will add your image to the contest gallery, and counts as your entry into the contest. If your photo doesn’t have the tag, we won’t know that you’ve entered. You’ll be able to see all the entries here.

5. Tell us about it in the “Title/description” box.

Deadline: Add your photos by 4 p.m. EST on Thursday, April 4.

What we’ll do:

Based on all the images in the “EdibleBooks2013″ photo gallery, LibraryThing staff will choose the following winners:

Grand Prize (1)

  • A $50 gift certificate to Longfellow Books
  • An LT t-shirt (size/color of your choice)
  • An LT library stamp
  • A CueCat
  • An LT sticker
  • Three lifetime gift memberships
  • Great honor

Runners Up (2)

  • Your choice of one LT t-shirt, stamp, or CueCat
  • Two lifetime gift memberships

We may also pick a few Honorable Mentions—final number will depend on the number of entries received—and they’ll receive a lifetime gift membership.

Have fun!

Fine Print: You can enter as many times as you like, but you can only win one prize. Your dish must be made of edible ingredients (no hats, lost-wax sculptures, performance art), and by entering the contest you certify that it is your own creation. Entries submitted to previous LibraryThing Edible Books contests will not be considered. All decisions as to winners will be made by LibraryThing staff, and our decisions are final. LibraryThing staff and family can enter, but can only be honored as prize-less runners-up. Any images you load stay yours, or you can release them under a copyleft license, but we get a standard “non-exclusive, perpetual” right to use them.

Questions? Feel free to post questions/discussion/etc. here.

Labels: contest, contests, fun

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Let’s show our love for Longfellow Books!

width="300"During last weekend’s blizzard, our much-beloved independent bookstore here in Portland, Longfellow Books (see them on LibraryThing Local), suffered significant damage when a water line in the building’s sprinkler system froze and caused torrents of water to pour through the ceiling directly onto the books. Co-owner Chris Bowe told the local paper that as much as half of the stock was damaged by water: much of the rest was saved by the quick actions of the Portland fire department.

I’ve heard from several of you this week asking how we can help. For now, the single best thing we can do to show our love for Longfellow is to buy some books from them. They’re taking orders by phone (207-772-4045) and through their website, and they’ve printed up some limited edition Flood of 2013 Gift Certificates, which you can order online. It’s even International Book Giving Day, so what better time than the present? (Also, it’s Valentine’s Day, and books make great gifts for that special someone!).

The Longfellow staff have been working hard all week to try and get the store open in time for their Pussy Riot Valentine’s Day Benefit event tonight at 7 p.m., and once they get things back up and running they may have other/different ways we can volunteer and help out. We’ll be sure to pass those along to you all. For now, head on over to longfellowbooks.com and buy a book (or six) or a gift card. Let’s help show Longfellow how much we care!

[Update: Just after we posted this the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance also announced some other ways to help – check those out here].

Labels: bookstores, love, portland

Monday, February 11th, 2013

February SOTT & Author interviews!

The February State of the Thing, LibraryThing’s monthly newsletter of features, author interviews and various forms of bookish delight, should have made its way to your inbox by now. You can also read it online. It includes interviews with authors Robin Sloan and Christine Sneed.

I talked to Robin Sloan about his book Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore , published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October. Some excerpts:

The title of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore came from a tweet, right? Tell us where you got the idea, and how the book developed from the original short story into a full-length novel.

That’s right: the germ of the idea was a tweet from my friend Rachel, way back in 2008, which read, “just misread ’24hr bookdrop’ as ’24hr bookshop’. the disappointment is beyond words.” I read it walking down the street in San Francisco, and it made me smile and wonder: what would a 24-hour bookstore be like, anyway? A few months later, when I sat down to start a new story, the question was still there, so I started to sketch it out. When it was finished, I published that story online, both in Amazon’s Kindle Store and on my website, and it just took off like a rocket—somehow finding an audience much bigger and more vocal than any of my other stories before or since. So, that was a sign that maybe there was something there: some deeper potential, some larger story.

What was your research process like as you wrote this book? Were there sources on the early years of printing that you found particularly useful?

I love Andrew Pettegree’s The Book in the Renaissance, a historian’s look at the publishing business circa 1400-1600. Basically the takeaway is this: it was just as competitive and chaotic as the internet industry is today. Probably more so.

What are some of your favorite libraries and/or bookstores, and why?

I have way too many favorites to list, but I’ll give a shout out to Green Apple Books in San Francisco, which was my neighborhood bookstore when I was first starting Penumbra. And actually, there’s a branch of the San Francisco Public Library around the corner that’s quite lovely, too; it has just as many books in Chinese and Russian as in English. You could do a lot worse than to have these two places as your neighborhood book-acquisition options.

Read the rest of our interview with Robin Sloan.

I also had the chance to talk with Christine Sneed about her recent book Little Known Facts (Bloomsbury).

Do you recall what first gave you the idea to write a novel about Hollywood fame and its effects on both the famous person and those around him?

I remember wondering one day what it would be like to have a famous film actor as your father, especially if you are a young man—what sort of competition and envy would you feel? This is where the idea for the book began, but I’m not sure what triggered it.

You’ve written that Little Known Facts asks of its characters ‘If you could have anything in the world, what would you choose?’ How would you answer that question yourself?

Well, it will sound a little suspect, but it’s nonetheless true: I would help friends and family pay debts, send their children to college, take fancy vacations in the sun. I’d want to be able to take fancy, sunny vacations too and spend more time in France, the country where I studied in college; it remains very close to my heart. I’d also like to see about four movies a week.

Tell us a bit about your writing process: how and when do you do much of your writing? Any particular hints or tips on writing that you’d like to share?

I usually write in the afternoons when I’m not teaching; I do sometimes write at night, but not as often. The writing advice I often give is that you can get a lot done in the interstices—even if you only have 30-45 minutes on a given day, sit down and at least make some notes. A book is written little by little, not in one marathon session.

What’s your own library like? What sorts of books would we find on your shelves?

Some poetry but mostly fiction and nonfiction by American and British writers, and currently on my desk are Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake, Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, Achy Obejas’s Ruins, along with Brad Watson’s Aliens in Their Prime, also, Outrageously Offensive Jokes III and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012.

Read the rest of our interview with Christine Sneed.


Catch up on previous State of the Thing newsletters.

If you don’t get State of the Thing, you can add it in your email preferences. You also have to have an email address listed.

Labels: author interview, state of the thing

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

New Local: LibraryThing Local Gets a Redo

We’re very excited to announce a whole series of improvements to LibraryThing Local, your gateway to tens of thousands of bookstores, libraries, book festivals, author readings and other bookish venues and events.




The major improvements are:

Speed. As the data grew, Local got slow, especially if you lived somewhere like New York. The html pages for places like that were also gigantic. (And I mean gigantic. They crashed browsers!) New Local is much faster, with page-load times of a few seconds at most, and pages under 100k.

Better, bigger maps. You can now zoom, click and drag the maps and new venues will come in dynamically. (Before they just stopped outside the sample area.) Each map also has a full page mode (see New York, NY) that fills the page.

More venues! More events! Our recent push for events produced a huge influx of new venues and events. We also wrote special scrapers for most of the major publishers, and B&N and IndieBound stores, which more-than-doubled what users entered.

We’re up to 80,500 venues, including 28,000 bookstores and 45,000 libraries, and 118,000 bookish events, including nearly 10,000 upcoming.

All-in-all, we’re confident that no other source has as much information on bookish events as LibraryThing Local.

Books for Ghana. We’re also extremely pleased that by adding events to LT Local, members raised more than $1,700 for needy readers. So far we’ve contributed $600 of that to Keith Goddard’s Books4Ghana campaign on Indiegogo, putting that effort over the top. This will fund the shipping of several thousand books to the Bright Future School in Keta, Ghana this spring. We hope to work with Keith more going forward.

New version of Readar. We’ve updated Readar (formerly Local Books) to make it compatible with the 5S.

If you haven’t used it yet, Readar is a simple app for bookstores, libraries and bookish events near you. I use it all the time at home—every time I want to call a bookstore, they’re all right there. And I use it whenever I go on a trip, so I know where to spend my free time.

Local Members. The Local members page, which shows members near you who’ve chosen to make their location public, has been thoroughly revamped and updated, with a pleasant checkerboard view. It’s on “infinite scroll,” so that it loads ahead of you, like Pinterest. The members are sorted semi-randomly, with members who are more active on LibraryThing or share something with you nearer the top.

To add a public location, or remove yours, edit your profile. As of now, only about 27% of members have public locations. You also have a “private location,” so you can find out what’s going on in your town without telling anyone where that is!

Profile page changes. Just some slight tweaking on your profile page: we’ve moved the “About me” and “About my library” sections up a bit, so they now appear before your lists of groups and favorite authors and venues. We’ve added a “Favorite venues” link directly to your LT Local Favorites page.

Event filtering. Back in November we added a way for members to filter out events they didn’t have any interest in seeing. We’ve expanded that to filter out some less “pertinent” events—mostly all the Nook demos at B&N stores—at a global level, so they won’t show unless you want them to. You can toggle to seeing absolutely everything by choosing “all” instead of “most” above event lists.

Helper stats. We’re rearranged the Stats/Memes page a bit, adding a Helper section where you can see all your Helper badges, your Common Knowledge contributions, and your additions to LibraryThing Local. The new Local page shows all the venues and events you’ve added so far. (See yours or MDGentleReader‘s.)

Better Venue Linking. Linking up the brief location info on publishers sites (eg., “Tattered Cover, Denver”) to their real-life LibraryThing venues (e.g., this) has become a crucial step in getting so many events in LT Local. We’ve improved the Help Connect Bookstores and Libraries to LibraryThing page to help helpers out more—providing a list of best matches. It speeds things up enormously. (Many thanks to MDGentleReader, rosalita, eromsted, lilithcat, SqueakyChu and many others for doing so many the old way.)

Talk about it. Come talk about the changes here! If you find a bug, tell us here.

Labels: events, librarything local, new features