Archive for August, 2008

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The Jean Valjean of the library world

The biblioblogosphere–and Uncontrolled Vocabulary–are abuzz about Heidi Dalibor, a Grafton, MN, 20-year-old arrested for failing to pay library fines.

After keeping two paperbacks (White Oleander and another of Angels and Demons) out for five months, Ms. Dalibor’s library turned her over to the police. She ignored a letter about a court date, and woke up to policemen taking her away.

What do I think? Well, I’m glad you asked.

First, libraries and other book professionals generally go out of their way to insulate patrons from law-enforcement activity. Right-thinking librarians call lawyers if police ask questions about check-outs or computer use without a warrant. My local bookstore in Georgetown, KramerBooks, defied a federal subpoena to turn over sales records showing that Monica Lewinsky bought a book for president Clinton—on reader-privacy grounds. Vermont Librarians, alarmed that the Patriot Act could forbid them from confirming that the FBI had accessed records, posted cards reading “The FBI has not been here. Watch carefully for the discrete removal of this sign.”

All this show admirable professional ethics and, except for the Kramerbooks case*, I agree with the policies. But there is something strange about being so forward in defense of your patrons’ right to use the library, but throwing them to the wolves when they misuse it. I know there’s a categorical difference between protecting reader privacy and protecting readers from paying their debts**. But there’s also a big quantitative difference between misusing library computers to receive child pornography and failing to return two paperbacks. I’d like my local library to take it easy on the cuffs and mug shots as a general principle, not just when a privacy issue is at stake.

Second, I can’t understand the perverse glee so many bloggers find in this matter, or the overheated posturing about “public tax dollars.” Libraries exist to shovel books at local residents. The goal is lifelong readers, not this week’s “returners.” Every now and then people will abuse the rules and keep books for too long. Moderate fines are an appropriate response to that. But the goal is getting the books out there, and some loss should be expected.***

Third, I recently returned an audiobook to the Portland Public Library after, um, more months than five****. They were really nice about it. And I am really really glad I didn’t end up in jail.

*The book was evidence completely unrelated to its content or the reading habits of either party. Would KramerBooks turn over sales records if someone was found

Labels: crime, libraries

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

BookFinder Report

The 2008 BookFinder Report is now out. The report, compiled by the staff of, a cross-site used-book search service, tracks hot used books.

On top of the “Arts” section for the fifth year—Madonna’s Sex. I’m not sure why. LibraryThing members rate it pretty poorly.

Then again, it’s bound in metal

Check it out:

Labels: Uncategorized

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008


I love the Despair, Inc. posters, so this library-related riff got to me.

Poster by Darien superstar John Blyberg (CC-Attribution); hat-tip Michael Stephens.

I’ve wondered if lamination and similar protective techniques in libraries don’t encourage the very disaster they anticipate—”Oh, the book has a plastic cover on it? I guess that means its okay if I read it while eating a meatball sub!”

Labels: Uncategorized

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

More on covers

Three quick updates to our announcement that we were releasing one million covers.

  • We’ve raised the daily covers maximum to 5,000. In fact, you get much more than this as we only count when the cover has to be made. That is, if you or anyone else hits the same cover more than one within a few days, it counts as one hit. If that’s not enough, let me know and I’ll raise your number.
  • Art Zemon has released a simple LibraryThing covers caching script in PHP. We welcome local caching.
  • Library Journal did a nice piece on the effort.
  • UPDATE: Blogger Alejandro Garza has instructions for the Millennium Module for Drupal.
  • UPDATE: The LawLibrary Blog has a nice piece on the legalities of the issue.
  • UPDATE: We’ve started a wiki page for Covers with basic instructions.

Labels: book covers, coverthing

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Index Translationum

Anirvan, over at the Bookfinder Journal, stumbled over a book-translation database called Index Translationum* operated by—of all things—UNESCO.

The search engine is early-90s bad, but the results are decent. Here are all the translations it knows of my wife’s The Mermaids Singing:

Carey, Lisa: L’île aux sirènes [French] / Catherine Pageard / Paris: Presses de la Cité [France], 1999. 331 p. English: The mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: Havfruenes sang [English] / Elsa Frogner / Oslo: Egmont Hjemmets bokforl. [Norway], 1999. 253 s. Norwegian: The mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: L’île aux sirènes [French] / Catherine Pageard / Montréal: Libre expression [Canada], 1999. 331 p. English: The mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: Jeg kan høre havfruer synge [Danish] / Ulla Warrern / Kbh.: Lindhardt og Ringhof [Denmark], 1998. 242 p. English: The mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: Merineitsite laul [Estonian] / Uta Saar / Tallinn: Perioodika [Estonia], 2000. 284, 1 p. English: The mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: Das Lied der Insel : Roman [German] (Vollst. Taschenbuchausg.) / Gabriele Gockel; Petra Hrabak / München: Droemer Knaur [Germany], 2002. 347 S. English: The mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: Das Lied der Insel : Roman [German] (Vollst. Taschenbuchausg.) / Gabriele Gockel; Petra Hrabak / München: Droemer Knaur [Germany], 2001. 347 S. English: The mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: L’île aux sirènes [French] / Catherine Pageard / Paris: France loisirs [France], 2000. 294 p., couv. ill. en coul. English: The mermaids singings
Carey, Lisa: Merenneitojen laulu [Finnish] (ISBN: 951-0-22963-6) / Eva Siikarla / Porvoo, Helsinki, Juva: WSOY [Finland], 1998. 360 s. English: Mermaids singing
Carey, Lisa: Merenneitojen laulu [Finnish] (ISBN: 951-643-934-9) / Eva Siikarla / Helsinki: Suuri suomalainen kirjakerho [Finland], 1998. 305, 1 s. English: Mermaids singing

There are some clear dups, and its missing the Dutch translation, Luister naar de zee (known to LibraryThing). Still, it’s pretty good.

The various FAQ pages on the site aren’t very helpful. Does anyone know where it comes from and who’s really making it? Is someone parsing MARC records from national libraries? Is it done by hand? The logo suggests CDs are involved. Can I buy them? I get a dump of the data?

*As a former classics scholar the name caught me. Was this the return of “international Latin”? (And if so, is the Foreign Service looking to hire?) Alas, the Index dates from 1932.

Labels: Uncategorized

Thursday, August 7th, 2008


Did you hear that? It was the sound of LibraryThing announcing A million free covers for your library or bookstore.

Won’t someone in the library world, um, blog this?

Labels: book covers, coverthing

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Open Shelves Classification: Update and Summary

Note: This post was created by David and Laena, but reposted by me for a stupid technical reason. (Tim)

Hello Librarythingers, librarians and classification fans, we are happy to join you as facilitators of this exciting project! To learn more about us, see Tim’s introduction. Hadrian’s library (above) seemed an appropriate illustration, as we strive to create a new system upon the building blocks of the old.

To reiterate the initial goals of the project, Open Shelves Classification (OSC) is a free, “humble,” modern, open-source, crowd-sourced replacement for the Dewey Decimal System.

It will also be:

  • Collaboratively written. The OSC itself should be written socially–slowly, with great care and testing–but socially. (This is already underway via the group Build the Open Shelves Classification and the LibraryThing Wiki.)
  • Collaboriately assigned. As each level of OSC is proposed and ratified, members will be invited to catalog LibraryThing’s books according to it. (Using LibraryThing’s fielded bibliographic wiki, Common Knowledge.)

And include:

  • Progressive development. Written “level-by-level” (DDC’s classes, divisions, etc.), in a process of discussion, schedule proposals, adoption of a tentative schedule, collaborative assignment of a large number of books, statistical testing, more discussion, revision and “solidification.” This has already begun.
  • Public-library focus. LibraryThing members are not predominantly academics, and academic collections, being larger, are less likely to change to a new system. Also, academic collections mostly use the Library of Congress System, which is already in the public domain. This is also the place and audience that has demonstrated the most need for change (see BISAC and other non-Dewey conversions already underway).
  • Statistical testing. As far as we are aware, no classification system has ever been tested statistically as it was built. Yet there are various interesting ways of doing just that. For example, it would be good to see how a proposed shelf-order matches up against other systems, like DDC, LCC, LCSH and tagging. If a statistical cluster in one of these systems ends up dispersed in OSC, why?

Where are we now? Since its inception, there has been consistent and productive discussion on the LibraryThing group Build the Open Shelves Classification, and circeus began an excellent wiki Open Shelves Classification that summarizes the current OSC consensus. The wiki is where the work will be staged as it is developed by all of us. So far, the wiki includes consensus on materials that must be included, call number requirements and proposed scheme, and the choice of top-level classes.

Where do we go from here? We feel that the most important issues to determine are:

  • Top-level classes. Findability is key. Terms need to be familiar and clear (not abstract), roughly 12-15 categories, and relavent to the public library audience and their needs. Library data would be very helpful here! (OSC is focusing more on task (what people find: history, gardening, sci-fi) versus audience (who is finding: children, women, dogs) when determining top-level terms.)
  • Alpha-numeric decisions and punctuation. TBD. A numbered system that doesn’t require equal digits is so far the most popular format ( As for punctuation, the debate continues–dots or dashes?
  • Factors be determined locally or at a later stage of development. We need to be as focused and specific in our tasks as possible, and there are many decisions we will not be undertaking. (For example, Cutter numbers and possibly non-book materials.)

David and I are simply facilitators, and we need LibraryThing Members to help monitor threads and contribute valuable content. Please comment below if you want to volunteer to monitor a particular thread to make sure we do not miss anything. Also, people should continue to add content to the wiki as consensus emerges from the threads. Although theoretical discussion is fascinating, examples from your library or your personal experience are what will make the OSC usable.

We look forward to working with our fellow LibraryThing members!

Labels: Open Shelves Classification, OSC

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Open Shelves Classification: Welcome Laena and David

Back in July I proposed the Open Shelves Classification (OSC), a new, free, crowdsourced replacement for the Dewey Decimal System. I also created a group to start in on the project.

The proposal included a call for a volunteer to lead the group. I was happy to write the software, and members would create the OSC, but someone with a library degree was needed to shepherd the project and make the occasional tough decision.

I’ve found two: the LIS team of Laena McCarthy and David Conners. It turns out, I already knew them. Abby and I met with Laena and David, back at ALA 2007, when they were MLS students doing a joint LibraryThing-related project called Folksonomies in Action. They impressed us then. It was extraordinary to talk to librarians with a deep understanding and creative take on the ideas LibraryThing was exploring. Since then Laena and David have started promising careers as librarians and professors. So, after receiving word they were interested in the project, we are only too happy to bring them on.

Laena M. McCarthy (user: laena). Laena is currently an Assistant Professor and Image Cataloger at the Pratt Institute in NYC. Her bio contains the priceless bit:

“Previously, she worked in Antarctica as the world’s Southernmost librarian, where she provided a remote research station with access to information. She incorporated into the library the first permanent art gallery in Antarctica.”

Laena’s teaching and research focus on the application of bottom-up, usability-centric design and collaboration. She is currently researching image tagging, FRBR for works of art & architecture, and information architecture. Her work has been published in Library Journal and the forthcoming Magazines for Libraries 2008.

In her free time, among other things, she can be found making jam, competing in food competitions, scuba diving and writing.

David Conners (user: conners). David is the Digital Collections Librarian at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. At Haverford, David works to make the College’s unqiue materials, such as the first organized protest against slavery in the New World, available online. He also oversees the College’s oral history program and the audio component of Special Collections exhibits such as “A Few Well Selected Books.”

David’s research interests include subject analysis, FRBR, and, occasionally, doped ablators. His work has been published in Library Journal, The Serials Librarian, and Physics of Plasmas.

The torch is passed! From this point on, it’s their project to direct. But we’re in agreement on their role: They aren’t royalty, they’re facilitators. They’re there to listen and to encourage conversation. They’re there to guide things toward consensus. They’re there too see the project stays on track and true to its goals. They’re there to propose forking the project or moving it elsewhere, if that’s what it needs and the community wants it.
Laena and David are doing this for fun and interest. As a fun side-project with no financial component—OSC is by definition public domain in every respect—we can’t pay them. But we’ve promised to help pay their way to LIS conferences, if someone wants them to talk about it. (At least one group already does.) And there’s the hope that, if OSC can accomplish its goals, they will have helped create something highly beneficial for libraries and library patrons everywhere.

If you’re interested in the project, come join the group and find out more.

Labels: DDC, dewey decimal, Dewey Decimal Classification, open data, Open Shelves Classification, OSC

Monday, August 4th, 2008

API to Common Knowledge

In case you don’t subscribe to the main blog, there’s a development there of interest to readers of this blog: We’ve unwrapped a free public API to all our Common Knowledge data—series, fictional places, characters, author educational histories, etc.

I’d love to see some of this data appear in library catalogs. The series coverage is really quite excellent.

At one point I made a series widget for LibraryThing for Libraries–listing other members of the series–but I didn’t deploy it. There was some concern that LT’s series data would fight with the libraries’ own series data. If an LTFL library wants to use it, however, let me know.

Labels: apis, common knowledge

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Crowdsourcing Dr. Horrible, Jeff Atwood

Do you recognize this man?

Yes, it’s Dr. Horrible, star of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (played by Neil Patrick Harris, the former Doogie Howser). Dr. Horrible is quirky web-only super-hero musical comedy created by Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Abby, Sonya and I are fans.

Anyway, I was re-watching the video and noticed two copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on one of Dr. Horrible’s shelves. As a joke on our Legacy Libraries program, where members collaborate to catalog libraries by Jefferson*, Plath or Yeats, I suggested that members catalog Dr. Horrible’s other books.

So they, um, did. They didn’t start a catalog, but they figured them out even so. I was particularly impressed they were able to figure out the ones on the left, making a guess and then asking a member who had the book (Albert L. Lehninger’s Principles of Biochemistry) to check the spine. The guess was right.

Score one for crowdsourcing!

Jeff Atwood? Which brings me to the other Dr. Horrible, Jeff Atwood, programmer, podcaster and author of the influential blog Coding Horror.

Jeff published a great post, “Programmers Don’t Read Books — But You Should,” which included a shot of his “programming bookshelf.” They’re not just any books, but his enduring favorites. As he writes:

“The best programming books are timeless. They transcend choice of language, IDE, or platform. They do not explain how, but why. If you feel compelled to clean house on your bookshelf every five years, trust me on this, you’re buying the wrong programming books.”

With Jeff’s permission, I started him an account, and asked members to help catalog his books, using the photo he provided. Again, the were able to do it with ease.

Two ideas follow naturally from this:

  • I’d love to see LibraryThing members catalog people’s books from shelf-photos. As I wrote on the Atwood thread, I could see this being a paid service, with part of the proceeds going to charity.
  • Aren’t there sites where regular people take apart celebrity photos, identifying shoes and clothing so other people can copy them? Wouldn’t it be fun/ironic to do that for books, taking apart TV, movies and candids for the books in them? Of course, celebrities are not necessarily great readers, but people do occasionally read in movies, and some celebrities do too. For example, the word on the street is that Marilyn Monroe really was reading Ulysses.

Don’t worry. I’ve got a half-dozen bugs and important features to go through before toying with anything like this. 

Also, the freeze ray needs work.

*Not to be confused with Dr. Horrible villain Fake Jefferson.

Labels: dr. horrible, jeff atwood, legacy libraries