Archive for March, 2009

Monday, March 30th, 2009

LibraryThing at Computers In Libraries 2009

LibraryThing, your favorite makers of libraries in computers, will be at Computers in Libraries this week. We’ll be passing out free stuff and showing off our new LibraryThing for Libraries feature so if you’re at CIL, stop by booth 214 and say hi. Unfortunately, we’re rhino-less this time, but we do have T-shirts and laptop stickers (and Tim.)

Our new feature allows our catalog enhancements to run even on items that don’t have an ISBN. Check it out in action on this 1948 edition of Tom Jones, or this 1937 edition of David Copperfield

There’s no ISBN on those items, but our code is still smart enough to load the right tags and recommendations info. It uses a combination of our new What Work API and the LibraryThing Connector (the JavaScript that powers LTFL) to pull title and author information out of the catalog’s HTML and then match it against our system. This new feature should help our academic libraries in particular, since they tend to have a lot of older pre-ISBN books.

Labels: apis, CIL, CIL2009, conference, librarything for libraries, rhinos

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Polaris support for LibraryThing for Libraries

Following on yesterday’s announcement of Koha support, we’re happy to announce that LibraryThing for Libraries catalog enhancements are now available for Polaris OPACs.

First off, we probably owe the Polaris people a public apology for this being such a long time coming. They first contacted me about integrating LTFL in their systems a year and a half ago, when we only had 5 or 6 customers. One of their libraries had asked about it, and as a company, they’ve decided to be incredibly responsive to the cutting edge things their libraries want to do. They’ve kept pushing us (on behalf of their customers), even as technical and non-technical obstacles (mostly non-technical) have prevented us from seeing it through.

It’s a great corporate philosophy, and far too rare in the library world. Now that everybody takes our phone calls and wants to work with us, they deserve a lot of credit from being down from day one. It’s unsurprising to me that they scored among the highest customer satisfaction of any commercial ILS vendor in a recent poll; clearly service is a high priority for them.

Want to see the catalog enhancements in action? Here are a couple of examples from our first Polaris customer to go live, Glendora Public Library: (dogs), (fantasy). Several more Polaris libraries are testng it.

Because of the way Polaris’ system works, you currently have to press the LibraryThing button to get the content for a particular item. In the next version of Polaris, not only with LTFL be installable without editing any template files, but there will be no LibraryThing button; our content will load when somebody clicks on the “full display” button. So far, we haven’t added review support, but we’re happy to do it if there are interested customers.

Currently we have two installation options: the first only requires a single line of code to be added to your templates, but it does the LibraryThing button instead of loading with the details. This is what Glendora is using. The other installation option (provided by an engineer at Polaris) requires more involved editing of their templates but makes the current version of Polaris work with LTFL like the forthcoming version will.

Interested in getting LibraryThing for Libraries for your Polaris catalog? Contact us through the Interested? form.

Labels: librarything for libraries, ltfl

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Koha Support / Introducing Chris Catalfo

LibraryThing for Libraries, our innovative project to put tags, recommendation, reviews and other great enhancements inside the library catalog, now supports Koha.

You can see a quick demo of LibraryThing for Libraries/Koha integration.

The “library” has only seven books and is not as “pretty” as it could be. And there’s some question whether to integrate our tags into Koha’s tags–sometimes worse, sometimes better. But anyway, the beauty is all underneath—our code brings LibraryThing content into Koha seamlessly and rapidly.

Koha (, is the first and most popular open-source ILS (Integrated Library System). Started in New Zealand, Koha development is a community affair, but it’s spearheaded by LibLime in the US. LibLime also provides support services for Koha, and develops other open-source products.

Koha (and LibLime) are emblematic of the positive changes that have been dawning over libraryland. It’s hard for technical people outside the library “industry” to imagine how backward library tech generally is—a layered mess of proprietary, stone-age solutions maintained by a dysfunctional relationship between vendors and libraries. Koha stands at the head of efforts to change that.

LibLime’s most audacious and hopeful project is not Koha, but ‡Biblios* (‡ and ‡ (‡, respectively an open-source cataloging application and an open-data repository of bibliographic records. ‡Biblios was started by Chris Catalfo for the 2007 Google Summer of Code.

In essense, ‡Biblios is an open-source answer to OCLC Connexion, and ‡ is an open-data answer to OCLC’s WorldCat. LibLime is too politic to state things so clearly, but together ‡Biblios and ‡ are a serious challenge to that dysfunctional monopoly. (For background see my OCLC posts; for more on ‡Biblios see this blog post or this LJ article.)

Introducing Chris Catalfo! The Koha integration was done by LibraryThing’s newest employee, the aforementioned Chris Catalfo (member: ccatalfo), of ‡Biblios fame.

Chris joins LibraryThing from LibLime. (The two companies are still friends, we promise.) Before LibLime, Chris worked at the Johns Hopkins and UNCW libraries, and got his MLS at North Carolina Central University.** He also has a masters in Italian Literature, and lived in Florence, Italy. (He fits right in at LibraryThing; his favorite book is Historical Linguistics and Language Change!) He now lives in western Connecticut.

Chris is going to be working on LibraryThing for Libraries and on library data issues generally. He’s a library-technology nerd par excellence. As he put it to me, “I like library technology so much I put up a Z39.50 server to search my blog.” (Try it at

The goal in hiring Casey, our first library developer, was to ramp up the library data generally. We did add more sources, and our MARC parsing got better, but we never took full advantage of the data. Casey is working on a number of projects to do just that.

*‡Biblios presents me, a typography nerd, with a rare opportunity—even necessity—of using the double dagger, or diesis. It gives me real pleasure. Should LibraryThing change its name to ‡LibraryThing?
**Chris is our third full-time MLS-card-carrying librarian; Abby and Sonya also have their MLSs. Abby and Chris both have two masters degrees, the bastards. Giovanni and Chris both speak Italian.

Labels: biblios, chris catalfo, koha, liblime, librarything for libraries

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Congrats to Library Journal Movers and Shakers

Congratulations to the 2009 Library Journal Movers and Shakers.

Andy Warhol said something about enjoying celebrity magazines, because so many celebrities were his friends, and who wouldn’t enjoy reading a magazine about their friends?* Well, that was my feeling about the LJ article.

The honored include Jenica P. Rogers-Urbanek (blog), Jason Griffey and Karen Coombs (blog, blog), honored together for their BIGWIG work, Michael Porter (blog), and the “Dutch Boys”, (Erik Boekesteijn, Jaap Van De Geer, Geert Van Den Boogaard) and Sarah Houghton (blog).

I was particularly happy to see Dave Pattern‘s name on the list. Pattern, who works at the University of Huddersfield and blogs at “Self Plagarism is in Style”, is one of the library technologists I admire most. Offbeat, relentless, funny, open—he’s a goddamned cyclone of library creativity. But I don’t think his work gets noticed as much as it should. Maybe this will help.

If there’s a trend in all of this, it’s the rise of the funny, creative, disruptive ones. That’s a good sign for libraries.

I also enjoyed reading about a number of M&S’s I don’t know well or at all.

  • It was interesting to see an OPAC-developer, Matt L. Moran of TLC picked. I look forward to TLC’s “LS2 PAC,” formerly (and better) named Indigo.
  • It sounds like Kenning Arlitsch has done good work in digital libraries.
  • Joe Murphy set up SMS at the Yale Science Library. His quote “libraries that don’t offer texting are basically invisible to me” makes me want to smoother a teenager, but he’s no doubt doing something important.
  • Koren Stembridge sounds like a big asset to the Boston Public Library, and as a chronic late-fee depressive, I heartily applaud fine amnesty!
  • Pam Sessoms‘s libraryh3lp is doing good things with IM and reference.
  • Lia Friedman and I probably disagree on marginal tax rates, but I’m with her on cataloging metadata.

*I can’t tree this quote, despite an enjoyable, wasted hour of looking. And my Twitter-buddies aren’t helping. The internet has failed!

Labels: movers and shakers

Monday, March 16th, 2009

More newspaper blood…

Goodbye Post-Intelligencer. Following the demise of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News (see previous post), Seattle has now lost the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is going online-only under much-reduced circumstances.

It could be worse. Denver and Seattle were two-newspaper towns. The Denver Post and the Seattle Times remain, and may be expected to benefit from their competitors’ death.

The watch is therefore on for the first one-newspaper city to lose a newspaper. LibraryThing’s home town, Portland, Maine, is likely to lose its newspaper, the Portland-Press Herald (good report). But Portland is a small city. Losing the San Francisco Chronicle would be a real disaster.

The economy is one factor, of course. But the underlying shift is technological—the web is killing newspapers.

Should we care? Ultimately, as Clay Shirky writes: “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” (Shirky’s post should be required reading for publishers and libraries as well.) But, as Shirky realizes, there’s no guarantee that new models and new media—which will surely do interesting things—can support what traditional print journalism did. Bloggers can do a lot of good, but traditional journalism tackled the tedious and expensive tasks bloggers won’t. Ultimately, it’s unimportant whether we get our news online or in print, but it’s worth it to have someone who sits through all the city-council meetings and has longstanding sources where it counts.

There’s no question that newspapers have failed to adapt, but mostly in the sense that your head fails to adapt when it’s hit by a hammer. “New models” or no, newspapers, print and online, are in decline. Amateurs are great, but you need money in the system, and print newspapers were simply much better “money machines” than online is or will ever be. Printing costs bulk large in the imagination, but they don’t begin to make up the difference. And the audience won’t grow to make it up. The shrink is real. The internet is giving and will give us much, but it’s taking this away.

Goodbye Book World. In related news, The Washington Post is ending its Book World section, which will be downsized and folded into the regular Sunday paper.

Newspaper book reviews were going extinct before the recession. They’re practically ivory-billed woodpeckers now. Online reviews are largely to blame, and partially make up for the loss. But, again, if something is gained, we can’t deny that something is certainly being lost.

Am I wrong? I hope so. Tell me so on Talk.

Labels: newspapers

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

New API: What work?

I’ve added a small, but nifty new API that provides a sure-fire way of connecting any site’s book data to LibraryThing.

The “What work?” API takes an ISBN and/or the book title and author and returns the LibraryThing work number, with link URL in XML.

It’s a very forgiving algorithm—these all lead to my wife’s The Mermaids Singing.

In sum, if you can’t connect your data to LibraryThing now, you aren’t trying!

If there’s interest, I can add a JSON version.

*You need to provide either an ISBN (ISBN10 or 13; with dashes or not) or a title and author. Authors can be in last-first (preferred) or first-last (fine). You can omit the author and tack it onto the title, eg., “Huckleberry Finn / Twain, Mark.” It’s very forgiving about punctuation, capitalization and so forth. It doesn’t make wild guesses, but it makes sensible ones.

Labels: apis, new features