Archive for the ‘libraries’ Category

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 Personal recommendations at your library

We’re thrilled to announce the public launch of BookPsychic, a new way to get your library’s books into the hands of eager readers.

BookPsychic is an easy and fun personal recommender system for library patrons—like Netflix or Amazon, but all about what’s in and what’s popular at your library.

BookPsychic is simple to use. You can get to it from within your library catalog or at As you rate books and DVDs there, BookPsychic learns more and more about your tastes, and comes up with recommendation lists. And everything shown or recommended is available at your library. Simple “bookstore” genres, like “Recent fiction” and “History,” help you zero in on the books you want.

We’ve partnered with Portland Public Library, in Portland, Maine, as the first library to go with BookPsychic. You can read their blog post or go straight to their BookPsychic. Please note that the recommendations you get will come from Portland Public Library’s holdings.

BookPsychic in action in the Portland Public Library’s Catalog

BookPsychic works without any sign-up process at all. To save your ratings and recommendations, however, we’ve made it easy to sign up or sign in through Facebook, Twitter and LibraryThing. If you’ve rated books elsewhere, you can import them from Facebook, LibraryThing or Goodreads. For more details about how BookPsychic works, see the About BookPsychic page.

BookPsychic works with all libraries and all library systems, and is easy to set up and cheaper than you’d think! If you’re interested in getting BookPsychic for your library, drop Abby a line at We can set you up on the double.

Here’s a nifty logo. Chris (ConceptDawg) was aiming for a certain “Bewitched” flavor:

We’d like to thank our Board for Extreme Thing Advances for smoke-testing the service in the last few days. While BookPsychic was designed for libraries, LibraryThing members will quickly realize that it presents some interesting possibilities for LibraryThing itself. Come over to Talk and let’s discuss them.

Labels: BookPsychic, libraries, recommendations

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

New group: “Books in 2025—The Future of the Book World”

I’ve started a new discussion group LibraryThing Group, Books in 2025.

The group aims to centralize and restart a site-wide conversation about the future of books and reading. It’s a conversation that’s been going on for years here and there on Talk, especially Book talk and the librarians group, in comments to my Thingology posts about ebooks and my Twitter stream. It needs it’s own group. It will also be refreshing to hear more from LibraryThing members–not technologists or industry people. After all, who better to discuss the future of books than the people who love them most?

Anything about the future of books is welcome, but the focus will be on how ebooks and social reading are and will change things, with 15 years as a proposed timeframe:

  • How will ebooks change reading? Has it changed your reading?
  • How fast will ebooks rise, and how high will they go? Is the paper book dead?
  • Where is social reading going? What’s core and what’s fad?
  • Will sites like LibraryThing continue to exist, or will ereaders leverage their advantages to make book discussion a platform-dependent activity?
  • Will libraries contract or prosper in an ebook world? What can they do to make sure things turn out right?
  • How will ebooks change the world for publishers?
  • Will writers see increased opportunities–or be decimated by piracy? How will ebooks change literature?
  • Are physical bookstores doomed?
  • What about the rest of the book world–small and informal libraries, agents, rare books, small presses, book reviewers, etc.?
  • Amazon, B&N, Apple… How many will win, and how will they evolve?

Anyone can post, and start a topic. But we’re going to keep this a LibraryThing project. We’ll be starting some topics ourselves, and bringing in authors and other book people to discuss what they know, and where they think things are going.

So, come check out the group “Books in 2025,” and participate in a first topic, “Welcome to this group / Books in 2025?

Group image by Javier Candeira, released under CC-Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (see on Flickr).

Labels: books, bookstores, ebooks, libraries

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

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

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

NYT: A Hipper Crowd of Shushers

New York Times article A Hipper Crowd of Shushers. Extra points for mentioning both Library 2.0 and Jessamyn West (LT: jessamyn ).

Jessamyn West, 38, an editor of “Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out” a book that promotes social responsibility in librarianship, and the librarian behind the Web site (its tagline is “putting the rarin’ back in librarian since 1999”) agreed that many new librarians are attracted to what they call the “Library 2.0” phenomenon. “It’s become a techie profession,” she said.

Labels: librarians, libraries

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Libraries as Conversations: Gorman, Hives and Catalogs

This is a disturbing ad.

This was my introduction to a twenty-minute talk on social cataloging and LibraryThing given at an ALA RUSA MARS (gesundheit!) session called “Harnessing the Hive: Social Networks and Libaries,” with Meredith Farkas and Matthew Bejune. The meat of the talk—showing and talking about tags on LibraryThing—got all the attention (one blogger called it “jaw-dropping”). The introduction didn’t, despite attacking a former ALA president and being something of a rant. Comments appreciated!

Gorman and Knowledge. Former ALA President Michael Gorman wrote a piece recently for the Britannica blog titled “Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason.” He takes a curious starting point.

“Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do.”

There is something attractive about this conception. Some people have experiences, and they pass it on, directly or through writing. Knowledge happens. We get it one way or the other.

But this has never been quite right. Learning and knowledge, at least important learning and knowledge, are a conversation.*

The education of scholar is an ascent through this conversation. We start with encyclopedias and straightforward books of facts—books that talk at us; certain books. We move to monographs, which seem at first like books of facts, but which we soon learn are really “arguments.” We learn to write papers that are arguments too—”Don’t just say what you know, have a thesis!”

At some point we discover academic journals, and our eyes are opened to just how complex and contentious and uncertain this certain thing is. And, if we go on long enough, we graduate to conferences, and we learn that knowledge is an actual conversation, with alcohol.

Conversations work because, at their best, they know more and produce more than their members. They work because the knowledge is in the conversation. It happens in the very interplay of ideas—asserting, contesting, extending, simplifying and complexifying the dizzying whirl of fact and opinion, creative and synthetic, smart and dumb, right and wrong, from this angle and that. Literature works like this too, but can be even more meaningless without “conversational” context—genre, alusion and immitation and so forth.

So, quiet or not, the library is a buzzing cocktail party—better and better the more people are there and the more they interact. It is already “hive” this session promises. It is, in point of fact, very much like the web.

I think Gorman is wrong. But there is a lot of productive debate to be had about what digitization, mass amateurization and similar trends “do” to knowledge. There are downsides and reasons for concern. But we should not forget that the greatest thing the library has to offer—has ever had to offer—is not the relative fixity and contested reliability some now stridently set against the web, but the bubbling river of conversation it embraces.

To go back to the beginning, Timon of Phlius mocked the “many cloistered bookworms twittering in the bird-cage of the muses.” And he had a point. But today we rather admire the Library of Alexandria, with all its damned twittering.**

The catalog as conversation. If the contents of the library is a conversation, the online catalog is not. It is, at best, a tool to get you to the conversation. Is this the way it has to be? Can the catalog be a conversation too?

When I was a graduate student, I did not usually figure out what books to read in Classics by looking through the Library of Congress Subject Headings or going to the shelf and poking around. I got them from fellow graduate students, professors and from the books, reviews and articles I was reading.*** (Like many graduate students I occasionally read a book’s footnotes looking for interesting reading suggestions and SKIPPED the text!) But I did—and do—check out the subjects and the shelf order for topics I know less about.

I think that, in finding books, we ascend through a conversation. The library catalog is too often an encyclopedia, talking at you. It’s useful in the first staged of discovery. But as we ascend through a topic we gravitate to more conversational forms of discovery—reviews, articles, footnotes, bibliographies and the recommendations of others. And, I think, we leave the catalog behind. For some things, like finding new fiction, almost everyone skips the catalog right off, and reads reviews and talks to friends.

LibraryThing is called “social cataloging”—one small step toward the catalog as conversation. Let me show you what I mean….

*I’m channeling David Weinberger in much of this. Indeed, if there is one thing that irks me about his Everything is Miscellaneous it is the sense that “swimming in the complex” is new. Digitization has kicked things up a notch—made us more aware of the arbitrariness of categorization, the necessity of thinking for yourself and the value of conversations—but these are old lessons.

**I’ve removed the end of his quote, which hits the poets and scholars of the Museum—a sort of branch of the library—for getting paid. Still, the Library of Alexandria didn’t merely gather Greek knowledge and art together. It kicked off the fanastically allusive—that is, conversational—creature known as Hellenistic Poetry. Suddenly, the books were all together and they started jabbering at each other non-stop!

Since we’re on the topic, it also deserves mentioning that the Hellenistic Age saw a shocking increase in the quantity of *bad* writing. The barriers were lowered, and a lot of junk got through. In general, the good stuff rose and the bad stuff sank. The blogosphere anyone?

***I particularly recall how one of my professors tended never to know the *titles* of books she’d recommended to me. She’d say “that new book on Athenian demes by so-and-so.” The authors were all colleagues and friends of hers. She had followed them for years. She was completely in the conversation, and it was about people and ideas, not book titles. It didn’t help that the titles in academics are often bland affairs, “aiming higher” than their obscure topic in the hope of appealing to a broader audience—”Art, Difference and Culture” subtitled, “16th-century non-guild stonemasons in Malta,” etc.

Labels: ala, ala2007, libraries, michael gorman, rusa mars, weinberger