There’s a good overview of LibraryThing in today’s free Wall Street Journal. LibraryThing is a social software site for books. I remember looking at it about a year ago and being like, yeah whateva. I don’t have much time to read never mind catalog, review, and tag my books. I’m not sure I care that much about finding other sick individuals who have the same tastes as me, and the whole privacy thing gives me the creeps. Yes you can use an alias but won’t you be found out eventually? And then there’s the P.J. O’Rourke problem–“always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” Maybe I’m just being grumpy and the site is incredibly popular, so perhaps LibraryThing deserves a second look. Any academic librarians out there using LibraryThing? Anybody use it in their library somehow? On the blog Thingology I noticed a detailed discussion (written by Abby, the LibraryThing librarian) about the pros and cons of subject headings and tags that I plan to incorporate into my lessons on subject headings. LibraryThing is worth checking out, but notice that the WSJ has the article under the headline “Time Waster.”

9 thoughts on “LibraryThing”

  1. I use LibraryThing for my personal book collection, and I find it a lot of fun. As for the privacy issue, you can turn your account to “private” instead of “public”, and then no one will be able to view it except yourself.

  2. I think it’s fascinating that this social software has developed for book lovers. I haven’t had the time to join in (I have enough trouble keeping my references up to date in my RefWorks account) but it’s both a populaization of cataloging and do-it-yourself readers advisory. Librarians have largely ignored the fact that the Internet has been a thriving social space for readers – as an example, last time I looked Yahoo Groups had over 36,000 groups in the category “books and writing.” It’s not surprising the WSJ considers it a “time waster” – while reading is almost automatically considered a good thing (unlike watching television) reading for pleasure isn’t considered particularly productive among adults. (Though among college students it certainly is a predictor of writing ability.)

    But like Marc, I also have an automatic problem wtih the privacy thing. Though librarians have gone to lengths to protect people’s reading privacy, we haven’t figured out how to do that in a social sharing environment. You can opt for privacy, but those records are only a subpoena away. (Or an NSL…) We’re going to have to find a way to support people’s desire to publicly display and share their reading lives and our appropriate concerns for privacy.

  3. Like Marc I haven’t felt the need for LibraryThing just yet. I tend to spend more time on journal and magazine articles these days anyway. Perhaps that’s one reason I find H20 Playlist useful as a site for storing, organizing, and sharing my resources with others. In general I’ve been thinking lately that social collaboration sites make good alternatives to search engines. Why not start out by discovering what others with similar interests are reading – and what they say about it. Should we be integrating these social collaboration tools into our user education programs? I’ve been considering it.

  4. I’ve used LT for several months to keep track of my personal reading history. I agree that the privacy issues are there, but there are similar issues with most other social softwares I use as well (Flickr, LJ, MySpace). ‘ve reconciled in my head that I am willingly choosing to share this information with the greater world. That said, I choose very deliberately what to put out there. It’s the grandparent rule of thumb – if I’d be comfortable with my grandparents knowing something about me, I’m fine putting it on Teh Internets.

    And then there are the obvious social aspects of LT that I love, especially since I’ve just moved, don’t know my public librarians yet, and don’t know how they do reader’s advisory. Finding books that are in some way related to my LT collection – whether it be because of commonalities or dissimilarities – is really fun.

    I’m not sure how I’d integrate this into the flow of things at MPOW. Food for thought.

  5. You raise an interesting point, Megan – I read a lot and my best advice comes from an online community of like-minded readers. (I was so interested in this discovery I wrote about it.) It’s fascinating to see how patrons are joining in to do what librarians have traditionally do. Who knew cataloging was something people would do for fun? Or that tagging practices could be so fascinating?

    Of course not all patrons have super-powers

  6. I’m not a librarian yet, but I work in an academic library full time and I’m a library student and I love LibraryThing. I use it for my personal collection but I do think it’s fun and I find a lot of other interesting books by using it. Personally privacy issues don’t really bother me for my own self- I use myspace, flickr, delicious, etc. and love being able to find new stuff and share my stuff.

  7. Lisa, I was mulling over your response, thinking about how differently people feel about sharing their personal lives now, and the benefits of that weighed against my ingrained suspiciousness (J. Edgar was still running the country when I was a child) when I came across this New Scientist story via Boing Boing.

    Identity theft, literal and figurative, is the dark shadow of this wonderfully social and networked world we live in.

    Glad to see you joining the party, Lisa – it’s a profession full of interesting things to mull over.

  8. On the privacy issue I had to provide more personal information for this reply than I had to to set up and run a LibraryThing account!

    Library thing requires only a username and password. everything else is optional.

  9. I am the Librarian of a small academic college in St. Louis, and I use Library Thing to catalog our books. Other than the minor problems with the site being down, I find it an easy and inexpensive way to catalog books in our small collection.

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