Archive for September, 2007

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

LibraryThing for Libraries: Richland County, Cal State – Channel Islands and San Francisco State University

Richland County Public Library

San Francisco State University (source)

Cal State University – Channel Islands (source)

LibraryThing for Libraries just passed another milestone: we now have too many customers to keep track of in short-term memory.

Our first new library is the Richland County Public Library. We’re really excited to have them on board, since they’re the biggest public library we’ve worked with so far—at nearly three million checkouts a year. They’re doing a lot of simple yet innovative things, like offering reference via instant messaging and having a kid-friendly website. Of course, they have a blog too. I have a soft spot for large public libraries, having worked in one for several years and having lived in big cities with great library systems (Denver, Salt Lake City and Seattle) for most of my life. We hope to be adding many more large public libraries in the coming months.

Our second library is the San Francisco State University library. With around 30,000 students and four million items owned by their library, they’re a big one too. They’ve got one of the best- looking and easy-to-use library websites I’ve seen (and I look at a lot of them – occupational hazard). Their electronic resources librarian did an excellent presentation on LibraryThing for Libraries a few weeks back.

Our third library is Cal State University – Channel Islands, located in the beautiful area between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. They’re our first Voyager customer, and we’d like to thank them for helping us work out how to make Voyager work with our widgets. They’ve also volunteered to be our latest data source for book searching.

Photo credits: (1) Courtesy Richland County Public Library. (2) CSUCI bell tower by Flickr:AIBakker (CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0). (3) Library by Flickr:relic (CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0)

Labels: csuci, librarything for libraries, rcpl, richland county, sfsu

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Tagging innovations, from the government

Has anyone seen click-based tag clouds? These are tag clouds in which the size of the words depend not on the number of times something has been tagged, but on the number of times the tag is clicked.

I never had, but Abby just spotted on the website of the the State of Delaware. Apparently site visitors are interested in employment.

It’s a pretty cool idea, and one I’d love to try out on LibraryThing. It wouldn’t work on work pages, but it might on the home page. And I’m impressed that it was on state-government site. While these sites are increasingly competent, they’re not usually thought of as a hotbeds of web innovation.

Labels: tagging, tags

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Magical Thinking at Harvard

A Babylonian Demon Bowl (Kelsey Museum)

“Know the secret name of something and you control it,” is an extremely ancient idea, stretching as far back as the Sumerians, and running through subsequent Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greco-Roman magic. The secrecy of the name was critical to its power, and to the mystique of those who knew it. One suspects it also helped their hourly rates.

It’s modern equivalent is the “unique identifier.” Information is available as never before, but its sheer quantity limits discovery. Unique identifiers cut through the clutter. And they can be powerful. Let the wrong person know your Social Security Number and you’ll be in a world of hurt as great as a malevolent spirit caught by a name under a Babylonian demon bowl.

In the legal world the equivalent is the West American Digest System, which numbers court cases for lawyers. Although the cases are invariably in the public domain, the numbers that identify them are not. And controlling “the only recognized legal taxonomy” gives its creator, West Publishing, a valuable monopoly.

In the book world, it’s the ISBN. Know a book’s title and you can find yourself away in a sea of editions. Discover its ISBN and you’ve got it for sure. Type the ISBN into BookFinder or and you’ve a panoply of new and used sellers.

Although assigned by private firms, ISBNs will never go the way of the West American Digest System. But their power explains why the Harvard Coop* has taken to ejecting customers who attempt to write down ISBNs. As reported in the Crimson, this is exactly what happened to one Harvard student, Jarret A. Zafra. In another (?) incident, reported by the Herald, the Coop called the police on three more ISBNs-scribblers.** When asked about the policy, Coop administration told the Crimson that it “considers that information the Coop’s intellectual property.”

The IP claim is hogwash. ISBNs are facts. Under US law facts can’t be copyrighted. The Coop is probably within its rights to expel whomever it wants, bhat won’t stop people from trying. The three students above were volunteers for a site called, which is compiling a complete list of all books used at Harvard. When a Harvard Student types in an ISBN, CrimsonReading connects them to new and used booksellers. Affiliate revenues go to charity. By calling on volunteers and getting Harvard professors involved, CrimsonReading is getting around the Coop’s magical secrecy. Three cheers to them for doing it.

We need more projects like CrimsonReading. Much the same idea was behind my Google Book Search Search bookmarklet, which asked volunteers to collect Google Book Search IDs. In this case, the unique identifier was new and more secret. By giving its scans unique—and effectively secret—numbers, Google is creating a whole new bibliographic identification scheme. And where ISBNs cover only about thirty years of books, Google’s IDs are designed to cover every book printed, including millions in the public domain.

Control the name and you control the thing. It’s what WestLaw is doing. It’s what’s what the Coop is trying to do.

Is it what Google is doing? I’m not sure. And I don’t see any signs of this happening on its own yet. For example, sellers on used book sites are not using Google Book IDs to nail down editions. But the danger is there.

Secret and proprietary numbering systems pose a serious challenge to the benign potential of the internet. When the secrecy or obscurity are used against this potential, people need to act up—and break the spell.

*Always pronounced “coop,” not “coöp.” Full disclosure: My parents belong to the Coop, which is a true “cooperative” in organization. This means they share in the annual dividend accord to how much they spend there. So I’m working against them!
**I grew up near Harvard Square, and the Coop was one of my haunts. (It’s a general-purpose bookstore as well.) Quite a few of my friends were expelled from the Coop for shoplifting. If CrimsonReading really wants to get the job done, it should enroll the private-school street urchins of Square in the ISBN game.

Labels: google book search, harvard coop, isbns, open data, westlaw

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Link LibraryThing accounts to Google?

Check out the main LibraryThing blog for a discussion of whether LT should encourage users to link their accounts to Google Book Search.

Labels: metasexdactyly

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Evilness — Opposition — Policy and Procedure

Someone recently called LibraryThing for Libraries out over our terms and privacy policy. Guess what? They were right to do it!

The policy was vague. It didn’t describe what we actually use library data for and how we use it. It gave us potential room to do bad things.

Well, we don’t want the room. We’ve always treated our user and library data carefully, and we always will. So we’ve written it again, this time as a straight-jacket.

You can read the full text here, but the Cliff’s Notes version is this:

  • We don’t collect any data from or about library patrons;
  • We only use a library’s data to enrich their own catalog
  • We’re not allowed to change the policy suddenly

If anyone feels we’ve left anything out, let us know.

Labels: librarything for libraries

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

LibraryThing for Libraries: Randolph County, Bowdoin and Clarement Colleges

Bowdoin College (source)

The Libraries of Claremont Colleges (Honnold/Mudd Library) (source)

Randolph County Public Library, Asheboro Public Library (source)

We just added three new and very different members to LibraryThing for Libraries—a public library system in North Carolina, a liberal arts college in Maine, and a collegiate consortium in California.

The first is the Randolph County Public Library, a system of seven libraries in the Asheboro, North Carolina area. On their blog, the library has described LibraryThing for Libraries as “stunning” and a “quantum leap.” We couldn’t agree more.

Randolph County is also our first public demonstration of LibraryThing for Libraries within what is probably the most widely-used online catalog, the Horizon Information Portal (HIP) from SirsiDynix. Up until now, our live libraries have all used WebPac and WebPac Pro from Innovative Interfaces. As we promised, LibraryThing for Libraries works with any library OPAC, and just great with HIP.

Check out Randolph County Public Library searches for regency fiction or the novel Eragon.

The second is Bowdoin College, located in Brunswick, Maine, just up the road from LibraryThing’s global HQ in Portland. Bowdoin is a small liberal arts college with about 1,700 students. For a small library, they are doing a lot of innovative things and have a good-looking, easy-to-use website. They’ve put in a neat little JavaScript tooltip to explain what tags are that we just might have to steal. Check out LTFL in action here and here.

Libraries of the Claremont Colleges serves Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna, and several other colleges I couldn’t get into. They’re our largest collection to date, with LibraryThing providing data on over 173,000 of their titles! Reflecting the diversity of the colleges they serve, they have a wide collection of materials, from combinatorics to gender studies. The alternate editions widget is proving especially useful for academic libraries, as can be seen for this translation of the poetry of Catullus.

It’s extremely gratifying to watch how quickly LibraryThing’s data keeps growing. LibraryThing for Libraries was originally envisioned as a product for public libraries, but LibraryThing’s continued growth is making that distinction seem less relevant. We’re now up to three academic libraries, with several more in the pipeline, and we’ve even started working with a couple of corporate/special libraries.

In the three months since our first library started using LibraryThing for Libraries, we’ve gone from 17 million tags and 13 million items to 23 million tags and 18 million items. Every item and tag added to LibraryThing improves the reach and power of LTFL. It’s really cool to be involved with a product that gets better and more powerful every minute of the day.

Photo credits: (1) Bowdoin College photo by Flickr:cybertaur1 (CC Attribution). (2) Honnold Mudd Library by Jarod Hightower-Mills (Public Domain). (3) Asheboro Public Library photo by Flickr: Asheboro Public Library (CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

Labels: bowdoin, claremont colleges, librarything for libraries, randolph county public library

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

How many books do you share with Thomas Jefferson?

I want to raise the profile of an idea, currently being discussed on Talk.

UPDATE: A group has been started, I see Dead People[‘s Books.

The idea is to have interested members enter into LibraryThing the personal libraries of dead luminaries. The idea started with member LolaWalser, who entered the library of poet Danilo Kiš (1935-1989). Jefferson and John Adams have also been proposed.

I am particularly keen on Jefferson. Apart from being at the center of American’s early intellectual and political life, Jefferson had a special place in the history of American bibliophilia and American libraries. As the Library of Congres web site recounts it:

“By 1814 when the British burned the nation’s Capitol and the Library of Congress, Jefferson had acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States. Jefferson offered to sell his library to Congress as a replacement for the collection destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. Congress purchased Jefferson’s library for $23,950 in 1815.”

As a personal collection that became something more, Jefferson’s library has some sideways relation to what LibraryThing is all about.* If LibraryThing had been around, I think Jefferson would have liked it. Jefferson’s nemesis, King George III (r. 1760–1820), was also a prodigious library-maker, and if the two could have compared collections, it’s likely they would have got to talking and things would have gone better. While there have been (to my knowledge) no LibraryThing marriages, I am sure there have been no wars.

What would be the point? Well, I think it would be cool to see how many books you share with Jefferson. Jefferson’s classification system is also of interest, and would go into tags well. More fun, perhaps, would his Tag Mirror. More generally, it would be a fun demonstration of LibraryThing’s bibliographic reach and of what committed people can accomplish together.

Lastly, although Jefferson’s books are—in theory—online, having them in LibraryThing, with links to the printed catalog, would be a big improvement over the current GIFs of scanned pages, and might well draw more people into thinking about Jefferson’s books, and how personal collections inform intellectual and political life.**

Check out the discussion and join in. We need a leader—not me!—and to solve a few questions. Then we can start in. I hosie his Latin and Greek books.***

*One point needs mentioning. Jefferson’s love of books—he started another collection as soon as he sold his first one—together with a love of French wine and other fine things took a severe financial toll, and he died deeply in debt. So, while Washington freed his slaves in his will, Jefferson, an outspoken radical and sometime opponent of slavery, freed none. On the contrary, his slaves were sold at auction and scattered.
**Don’t worry, if LibraryThing fills up with dead people, we’ll do something to prevent your “Members with your books” from looking like a cemetery roll.
***I did my undergraduate history thesis on images of Greece in Antebellum southern literature and politics. I remember going through the printed catalogs of Jefferson’s library, and even the LC loan slips of Jefferson Davis, preserved in his papers. Just in case someone says it, I want to put it out there that Jefferson had fine Latin, but his Greek was never very good.

Labels: groups, libraries of the dead

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Gorman and Porter on the floor

Some weeks ago I called for a photograph of anti-“blog people”, anti-Web 2.0 librarian Michael Gorman in a duck suit. The internet, specifically “Library Man” Michael Porter, has given me Michael Gorman dancing for peace in the blogosphere instead. Porter and I sparred at ALA 2007. We finished by hugging, and I like him more and more every day. Also, he really shakes it.

Labels: ala2007, michael gorman, michael porter

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Blog spam protection

We’re been hit very hard by blog spammers—hundreds of blog comments advertising Chinese gold farming, among other things. Clearing the comments is taking me hours. So, for now, I’m turning off anonymous comments on this blog and the main one, and requiring comment authentication. I’ll scale back in a few days.

Labels: Uncategorized