Archive for March, 2008

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Shirky, Shirky, Shirky, Spalding

Four things you might enjoy listening to:

Update: And more Shirky! Check out Shirky on the Brian Lehrer Show.

Labels: clay shirky, interviews, it conversations, shirky

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Amazon deletes competition

Having bought bought second-tier Print-on-Demand (POD) publisher BookSurge, Amazon is now working to shut down its competition. According to Publishers Weekly:

“According to talks with several pod houses, BookSurge has told them that unless their titles are printed by BookSurge, the buy buttons on Amazon for their titles will be disabled.”

More at BookFinder Journal. The story broke on WritersWeekly.

Amazon’s move should concern all publishers, and indeed readers. Amazon has always had a lot of leverage, but they haven’t used it. That’s clearly changing. The Kindle is already a monopoly product. Will they remove books published on the Sony Reader too?

Coincidentally, I’ve had POD on the brain; see this post for more on POD and libraries. I guess Amazon may solve libraries’ problem with having too many POD publishers to follow.

UPDATE: Good, longer discussions and evidence of meme-spread can be found at, TeleRead, The Wall Street Journal, Wired Epicenter Blog, Techcrunch, Eoin Purcell. I think it’s significant that the story has crossed the gap from the POD and general book trade to personal LJ pages and niche outlets like Christian Writers Marketplace and The Wild Hunt (“Will Amazon Hurt Small Pagan Publishers?”). For a continuous stream, check out this Google Blog Search for “Booksurge.” My survey found 90% of the posts had hostile titles with the remaining 10% being hostile only in their content.

For book-industry bloggers, and particularly the POD people, this has become something of an I-am-Spartacus moment. (Of course, those guys all died.) The manager of Dashbooks, a POD publisher that makes most of its money off Amazon, writes of the “liquid courage” (margaritas) that led to their post on the topic. Certainly I hesitated a moment before posting. Let’s see what our Amazon-funded competitor has to say about Amazon’s move…

Labels: Amazon, booksurge, kindle, monopoly

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Getting real: Libraries are missing books

Back in March 2006, Jason Fried and his company 37Signals released the book Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application. Originally available in PDF format only, in October Fried released a paper version, produced by, and a free HTML version.

Getting Real is an important book. It came along at exactly the right time, said something important. To the extent the greap web-app “explosion” of 2004-2007 had a book, this was it.

And it was successful. According to 37Signals the (paid) version has sold has 30,000 copies. It’s the number six seller on Passionate, unpaid fans have produced translations into thirteen languages. Google records 166,000 mentions. Even on LibraryThing, where the book had to be manually entered and there is a bias toward the printed version, 37 members have listed it.

Did libraries notice? Not at all.

OCLC’s WorldCat records exactly three copies—MIT, California Polytechnic and the University of Nebraska. That’s three copies of one of the top tech books of the 00’s in most of the US libraries that matter. The Library of Congress? New York Public? Harvard? None of them. For comparison, WorldCat contains 619 copies of Solitary sex : a cultural history of masturbation.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Lulu, the online, no-editors, print-on-demand publisher that 37Signals turned to is almost completely ignored by libraries. Take a look at its 100 top-sellers and run the books through WorldCat. I made a start: Lulu’s most popular book, something about ecommerce, is held by NO library in WorldCat. The second, How to Become an Alpha Male, is held by just two.

Let’s be clear, Lulu publishes a lot of crap! But it’s not all crap. And even if it were, publishers like Lulu represent a significant event in the history of publishing—an event libraries should be trying to capture. Lulu isn’t some obscure novelty—it already gets twice the web traffic of HarperCollins.

I am a passionate defender of libraries and library data—of the relevance of libraries now and going forward. LibraryThing is the only significant service of its kind to use library data and to link liberally to libraries. I believe in the expertise to choose and classify—that innovations like social cataloging and tagging supplement but do not replace expert classification. LibraryThing has as many librarians as programmers. I like blogs, but I love books.

But this throws me completely. How could libraries miss this?

Thanks to LibraryThing members for bringing this topic up.

Addendum (moved from comments): I’m not that concerned about regular public libraries, excluding the Bostons and the NYPLs. They’re about access more than comprehensiveness and preservation. These books are available. I think it would be great if one of the jobbers added Lulu to their list, and the top-selling Lulu books were found in large publics, but I have my eye on academics.

Take the number two book—”How to be an alpha male.” Many universities have large and active gender-studies departments. Taking GR’s numbers and assuming a long-tail distribution of sales, we can guess that book has cleared 60-100,000 copies. I suspect that if HarperCollins or Random House published such a book, they’d be all over it, and not because of any notion of “quality.” They’d get it because it would be an important document of American gender identity.

Instead, I’m afraid its absense is a document of American publisher- and librarian-identity.

Labels: 37Signals, collection development, getting real, libraries, library science

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

LibraryThing doubles its conference budget

Sonya just iPhoned us the LibraryThing for Libraries booth at PLA in Minneapolis, which is starting now.

The rhino has its origin in conference rules that prohibit exhibitors from doing too much of their own setup. At CIL2007 the rule was no more than what one person could carry in one trip, without a hand-truck.

Well, what can one person carry that fills up some of a 10×10 space? An inflatable animal, of course!

There is no meaning; It’s an absurdist joke—a protest against the vacuity of conference selling. Still, it does line up with some of what LibraryThing and LibraryThing for Libraries is all about:

  • We’re not a “vendor.” Vendors bribe you with tchochkes. They erect gorgeous displays, adorned with orthodontically homogenous and racially diverse “patrons” grinning about some irrelevant, overpriced and boring piece of technology.
  • We are cheap. LibraryThing for Libraries costs what it costs. Sonya’s sleeping with friends and she flew cargo, but we spent a few thousand dollars to own a 10×10 booth for three days. The internet alone cost us $1,000. This is rip-job enough, and some library will be paying for it. If we ordered fancy chairs we’d have to charge them another $500. Who wants that?
  • LibraryThing for Libraries “sells itself.” At first I didn’t even want Sonya to make fliers, for fear some people will grab the flier and not see it for real.

Anyway, if you’re at PLA, stop by (booth 1652). If not, but you’re in Portland, ME or Cambridge, MA, send us a note. We might even spring for wine—something we do not skimp on.

PS: Even if you have no interest in LibraryThing for Libraries, help Sonya figure out how to make the rhinos roar. It says they do on the box, and there’s some sort of speaker on the foot, but we can’t figure out how.

Labels: conference, PLA, PLA2008

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

LibraryThing at PLA

Greetings from sunny Minneapolis!

The LibraryThing for Libraries (LTFL) contingent will be at the Public Libraries Association conference this week, holding court in the exhibit hall. Our booth number is #1652, which you should definitely visit if you’re going to be at this fine affair.

We’re there to spread the word: recommended reads CAN be in your OPAC. Your patrons SHALL experience the exquisite joy that is tag browsing. You WILL be amazed how easy it is to implement.

We’ll be showing off our amazing OPAC enhancement tool, featuring libraries who have implemented LTFL. You can witness firsthand how seamless the enhancements look in WebPac Pro, HIP and others.

You’ll know our booth by the giant rhinos.

Labels: conference, librarything for libraries, PLA

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

First cut: Works JSON API

I’ve finished a simple Javascript/JSON API to LibraryThing’s core work information. In structure and implementation the API resembles Google’s recent Book Search API, but for LibraryThing.

Purpose. The API is designed to help libraries and others to add links to LibraryThing when LibraryThing has a book, and omit them when we don’t. It’s an easy conditional-linking system.

But the API returns other work information too, including the number of copies, number of reviews and average rating (with rating image). It comes with a simple function to insert the data where appropriate, but you can funnel this information to functions of your own devising.

Scope. This is an API to work information. Once I’ve worked through the kinks here, I plan to release a member API, allowing members to do clever things with their data. For example, members will be able to make their own widgets, not just rely on ours.

How it works. The basic mode of operation is to insert a script as follows:

<script src="*******"></script>

The ******* is reserved for the ISBNs you want to look up on LibraryThing, separated by commas. NOTE: This script should be placed at the bottom of the page.

For example, the JSON API Test includes one ISBN-10, one ISBN-13, one LCCN and one OCLC number.

<script src=",9780520042728,99030698,ocn8474750911"></script>

The script returns a hunk of JavaScript, including both the simple function and the JSON hash with all the book data. The hash is sent to a function of your choosing, or the simple LT_addLibraryThinglinks by default. To name another callback function add &callback= and the function name to the URL.

The function LT_addLibraryThinglinks looks for elements (DIVs, SPANs, etc.) with the ID “LT_xxx” where xxx is one of your identifiers. If LibraryThing has a work, it adds “(See on LibraryThing)”, with link. If not, it does nothing.

Here’s the JavaScript returned for the URL above:


More later. It’s 2:48am and need to get to bed. There’s much more to say, of course.

Labels: apis, javascript, JSON

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Monday link round-up

I never do it, so perhaps I can be forgiven for a short-form link roundup?

  • We hit twenty-five million books
  • Gizmodo reports on an law-review article on the legal status of books you “buy” for your Kindle or Sony Reader. This has been my problem with these devices—not the loss of paper, but the loss of ownership. I want to be able to sell my books and to pass them onto my children. I want a future with used bookstores, and one where Amazon does not store how many pages I’ve read and which, every page I’ve bookmarked and annotation I’ve added. Apparently the issue is more complicated than it might appear at first blush. If something looks like a sale, courts just might consider it one.
  • The video of Clay Shirky’s Berkman Center talk about his upcoming Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations is finally up. Clay has been inspiring me ever since his famous talk Ontology is Overrated. I didn’t make it to the Berkman talk, but Abby and Sonya were there, and very impressed.
  • Library Journal reports that is laying off some 40 employees, including its librarian, Gary Price. It looks like Ask is giving up its quixotic effort to become a serious search-engine contender. (I’m still rooting for Gigablast myself.) Back in May 2007, Price was interviewed by Daniel Chudnov for his Library Geeks podcast (what’s happened to that anyway?). Interesting show. Interesting guy.
  • I completely missed this news, but it’s big. Apparently British ILS vendor/consortium Talis is contributing several million records to the Open Library project. Way to go, Talis. No word yet on whether OCLC will follow. 
  • The quote of the week comes from venture capitalist Barry Schuler, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson: “If I see another business plan for a social network, I might blow my brains out.” I feel the same way about LibraryThing clones. If you’re considering one, write me an email and I’ll send you some other ideas for book-related companies. I’m contractually obligated not to do side-projects, and I have no money to invest so please, take my ideas. Don’t write the forty-first book social network! (hat-tip Steven)

Labels: Uncategorized

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

Moving and Shaking!

I’m excited to say that Library Journal has picked me as one of their 2008 Movers and Shakers, “The People Shaping the Future of Libraries.” Here’s the full list, the intro and the blurb on me. (I’m on bottom right in the photo too!)

The full list makes for interesting reading. Jessamyn has a version of the list that includes names, not just our fanciful titles. (“Metadata Man”? Can’t I be “Spark Plug” or “On a mission?”) Certainly a lot more happens with libraries than I ever think about. Update: Bobbi Newman has a version with blogs too.

Movers and Shakers been going on since 2002, long before LibraryThing thrust me into the library world. A number of my favorite library bloggers and technologists have won it before, including Jessamyn West, Steven Cohen, John Blyberg, Meredith Farkas, Nicole Engard, Emily Lynema and Casey Bisson.

As much as I want to congratulate people, I know few of the current batch, and wouldn’t have much to add. I do know Josh Ferraro of LibLime. LibLime is the driving force behind the open-source library system, Koha, that is suddenly on everyone’s lips. We’re eager to get LibraryThing data into Koha—beyond LibraryThing for Libraries, which already works—but Liblime may be too busy scaling to write the code anytime soon.* Fortunately, unlike all the closed systems, if LibLime can’t do it, we can do it ourselves. That kinds of openness is just one of the many reasons Koha is taking over the world.

Four others caught my eye:

Marshall Shore (“The Man Who Said No to Dewey”). Shore is the guy behind Maricopa’s move from Dewey to a modified BISAC system. I have mixed feelings about BISAC, but Dewey needs to be replaced, and experiments are good. I met with a member of his team at a conference; I’m eager to get their system into LibraryThing and they indicated they were willing.

Maria Redburn, Bedford Public Library. I’ve never met Ms. Redburn, but Bedford, a small-ish town in Texas, was the second library to enhance their catalog with LibraryThing for Libraries. Apparently Redburn took over in rocky times–the town was considering outsourcing library management to a company in Delaware. She turned the library around, winning approval for local control, expanded service and a new focus on customer service. Good stuff!

Darci Hanning, the force behind the Plinkit project, which provides free, low-hassle websites for libraries. I only heard about them two days ago; Casey is a big fan, and has a blog post about it coming up.

Mark Greek, DC Public Library. Greek worked to rescue and preserve rare materials from the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, devastated in a fire. That was my local library when I lived in DC, so a big thumb-up from me!

As for me, I think the blurb hits all the right notes: LibraryThings roots in cataloging, the social aspects, LibraryThing for Libraries and MARCThing (launched, but not yet accessible outside). But the best part is the closing quote by Karen Schneider:

“Tim has ported the fun of reading to the web and in doing so honors the best of our profession and suggests a path for its future.”

As someone outside of the profession, that’s pretty gratifying to hear.**

*I need to dust off my PERL though!
**I’m also the first recipient from Maine, which seems wrong, both because there are a lot of innovative librarians in Maine and because I’m a “blow-in.”

Labels: awards, library journal, movers and shakers

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Free covers for your library, from Google

On Wednesday we added integration with Google Book Search, and talked about it on the main blog. We did it together with a number of cool libraries.

My thoughts are still percolating, but I wanted to throw out a piece of my ham-handed JavaScript code. The code gives your library covers, something libraries usually pay for.

This basic grabs cover images from Google. You feed it an ISBN and it gets the cover. It doesn’t link to them. Would they mind? Maybe.

<div id="gbsthumbnail"></div>

<script type="text/javascript">

/* GBS Cover Script by Tim Spalding/LibraryThing */

function addTheCover(booksInfo)
for (i in booksInfo)
var book = booksInfo[i];
if (book.thumbnail_url != undefined)
document.getElementById('gbsthumbnail').innerHTML =
'<img src="' + book.thumbnail_url + '"/>';


<script src=""></script>

Here’s a version that links to them, but only if they have a full version. Surely they wouldn’t mind this.

<div id="gbsthumbnail"></div>
<div id="gbslink"></div>

<script type="text/javascript">

/* GBS Cover Script by Tim Spalding/LibraryThing */

function addTheCover(booksInfo)
var gbsnameA = new Array("No information", "Book info", "Partial view", "Full view");

for (i in booksInfo)
var book = booksInfo[i];

var quality = 0;
if(book.preview == "noview") { quality = 1; }
if(book.preview == "partial") { quality = 2; }
if(book.preview == "full") { quality = 3; }

if (book.thumbnail_url != undefined)
document.getElementById('gbsthumbnail').innerHTML =
'<img src="' + book.thumbnail_url + '">';
if (quality > 3)
document.getElementById('gbslink').innerHTML =
"<a href='" + book.preview_url + "'>" + "Google Books: " + gbsnameA[quality] + "</a>";


<script src=""></script>

So, book covers for the price of an occasional link to Google. Sounds like a good deal to me!

If this saves your library money, consider getting LibraryThing for Libraries. We’re clever all over.

Labels: code, gbs, google book search, javascript

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

LibraryThing for Libraries adds statistics

LibraryThing for Libraries now has stats! Libraries in the program can see just where LibraryThing for Libraries is working for them, and where it’s not. You can evaluate changes, and justify it to your bosses.

To see your statistics, go to the Stats tab. Statistics include:
  • Real-world coverage numbers and percentages for each enhancement
  • Recommendation and similar books link-usage
  • Tag popup and search usage
The tab itself is basic, but we included a link to download your statistics in CSV/Excel format. Pie charts? Go crazy.
Of course, statistics are a two-edged sword for us. Although overall rates are good, some libraries aren’t getting the best results. In general, if you’re hiding your enhancements behind a tab, you can expect much lower rates.

We certainly suspect that LibraryThing enhancements are getting a lot more play than some other browse links—like LCSH subjects—or those of our competitors’, who put their enhancements on external pages. Indeed, we’re wondering if libraries would like to use LTFL’s stats structure to track other links too?

LibraryThing for Libraries Email List. We’ve set up a Google Group for LibraryThing for Libraries customers. We hope member libraries will join up. We’ve sent out invites to all the primary contacts.

Sign up to have your voice heard. We will be talking about the future of LTFL and where it should go.

Labels: librarything for libraries, ltfl, new feature, stats