LibraryThing for (Academic) Libraries

I joined LibraryThing a while ago and find it a handy place for me to keep track of what I’ve been reading (yes, I’m a crime fiction junkie) and to share ideas about what to read next with like-minded readers. I’ve have been intrigued by LibraryThing for Libraries – without knowing entirely how academic libraries might use it. So I fired off some questions for the “technology triumvirate” of the Claremont Colleges, Candace Lebel, their Integrated Library Systems Manager, Alexandra Chappell, a Reference and Instruction Librarian, and Jezmynne Westcott, Science Librarian.

1) What is LibraryThing for Libraries and why did you all decide it would enhance your catalog?

Candace Lebel: LibraryThing is an online book cataloging resource for individuals to keep track of their personal book collections and share that information with others. Users can organize and search their collections by adding descriptive “tags” to each book. LibraryThing allows users to network socially by reviewing books, exploring similarly tagged books, sharing books, and participating in discussion boards. We’d felt that we weren’t moving quickly enough toward incorporating Web 2.0 tools into our online catalog and were impressed with the ease and speed of implementation of LibraryThing for Libraries.

Alexandra Chappell: As a LibraryThing for Libraries (LTFL) library, we do not have a conventional user account with LibraryThing. Rather, we send LibraryThing a list of our books with ISBNs and they send us back a piece of code that we paste into the footer of our OPAC code. When you do a search in our OPAC, LTFL matches the ISBNs for books in our OPAC
with ISBNs for books in LibraryThing and then inserts tags and similar books suggestions (from LibraryThing) into the display of the bibliographic record.

One of our goals is to improve our OPAC and to explore/implement next generation opac ideas. When we heard about LTFL, we thought it would be a great way for us to test out a Web 2.0 idea, without having to make a huge change to the catalog. LTFL was a quick and easy way for us to incorporate tags and book suggestions into our catalogs without having
to start from scratch by building it locally over time.

2) Does including LT tags confuse users? Is it easier or harder to teach students how catalogs work when LC headings are supplemented by user-generated tags? In general, how have students and faculty responded?

Alexandra Chappell: I don’t think that including LT tags is confusing–I think it provides another way for users to explore our catalog, and that the language of tags is generally less confusing than that of LCSH. However, I’m really not sure how much either gets used. To be honest, I believe that many of our users don’t even notice the LCSH when they search the catalog on their own (let alone the LT tags). My reason for thinking this is that every time I’m working with a student on the reference desk and I point out the LCSH and explain that they can tell us what the book is about, they are amazed and astounded by how useful this is.

I will say, however, that there are librarians on our staff who were concerned that our users would think that the LT tags are authoritative and created/added by our librarians. We tried to alleviate their concerns by changing the language of the label to read “LibraryThing tags.”

We do not currently have a formal way to collect feedback, but the little feedback we have received has been positive.

Jezmynne Westcott: I’d like to add that I don’t think our users will find the tags confusing. So many popular web applications have some element of tagging, like Flickr,,, and, of course, LibraryThing, that our users will recognize a tag cloud and understand its purpose and functionality.

3) I notice Blais has a “similar books” feature – is that generated by LT? (In any case, it rocks.)

Candace Lebel: Glad you like it. Yes, the “similar books” feature in Blais comes to us from LibraryThing.

Alexandra Chappell: Yeah, it is cool, isn’t it? Definitely gets a positive response from users.

Jezmynne Westcott: Delightful! I get lost in it, and I use it to find new novels to read.

4) Are there any privacy issues to consider when using a social networking system like LT?

Candace Lebel: I don’t think so. The tags themselves don’t give any indication of their creator; we’ve chosen to only show the ten most popular tags for any given title; and the tags used for LTFL are vetted by LT before we get them.

5) How hard is it to implement? Are there things about it that have been frustrating? Are there changes you’d like to see?

Candace Lebel: It is incredibly easy to implement LTFL. The most frustrating part is the lack of time I have to play with it. There are “look-and-feel” customizations I would make if I had the time. I do wish that it had a real-time link to our catalog. As it is now I must send a list of ISBNs of our holdings to LT and then remember to update it every so often as new material is added. If there was a real-time connection, that wouldn’t be necessary.

Alexandra Chappell: In general, I think LTFL is great. There are some changes that I would like to see.

–I’d like to be able to show tags for books in our collection that do not have ISBNs. We have a lot of books in our collection that were published before the existence of ISBNs but that are popular enough to exist in LT in a later edition. For example, a 1904 edition of Emma in our collection will not show any tags because it does not have an ISBN, but there are tags for the title Emma within LT. I would like to see a way for our older copies to have tags display as well. LT says they are working on a way to link books by LCCN and OCLC numbers, which could help fix this problem.

–I would like our local users to be able to add tags. I really like being able to take advantage of the huge user population of LT, but would like to be able to add local flavor to the tags as well.

–I’d like to be able to search the tags from our OPAC search box. Currently you can only search for a tag while in the Tag Browser, which is an intermediate page you get taken to when you click on a tag in our OPAC.

I’d like to be able search for more than one tag at once. Currently you can only search for one tag at a time–no Boolean searching in the Tag Browser.

Jezmynne Westcott: I’d like to include LCSH in the tag clouds!

6) In view of the recent LC report and the growing move toward open source software for catalogs, do you have any thoughts on how social cataloging might fit into the mix?

Jezmynne Westcott: I prefer something like “Catalog, 2.0” over “social cataloging” as I think, with the exchange and sharing of MARC records across libraries for years now, we’ve already been “socially cataloging.” But getting back to your question, I think this will become more commonplace. 2.0 concepts like tagging, community reviews, and rating items involves the user and gives them a feeling of engagement and ownership with the content. Isn’t this what we want? Our users to feel engaged in our resources? Feel ownership of our community collections? I would love to see library catalogs with streams of discussions and comments about the materials, like you see with online forums. I would love to see the rating of books and tagging of items to pair natural language descriptors to the LCSH. As a web user, I’ve come to expect these things in the sites I use, and I feel our users should
expect them from us, as well. Additionally, with the movement towards defining “active” collections in a local setting and other collections in page-able repositories, the context the community provides will prove helpful for us and them in determining what is useful and valuable.

Thanks for indulging my curiosity! By the way, I love so many things about the way your catalog is laid out. It’s much more user friendly than the catalog at my own library, in spite of our efforts.

Candace Lebel: Thanks! It’s a work-in-progress so keep checking back.

Alexandra Chappell: Thanks for the compliment!

Jezmynne Westcott: I say, try some things out! Gather a few interested people at your place of employ, look at some options, and try on some wrappers like LTFL or others. There are some really cool things out there! Or, chuck it all and migrate! : )

Final comments: If you’re curious and want to keep up with all things LibraryThing, their blog can help (there are actually two, but you can use a combined blog feed to follow both). LT is always up to something. One of the newest innovations is LibraryThing Local, where you can see bookstores and libraries in a particular area and find out what events are on tap. Is your library there yet?

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

7 thoughts on “LibraryThing for (Academic) Libraries”

  1. Barbara,

    Thanks for posting — we use LibraryThing to showcase our new books (in a small academic library at a satellite campus) so it’s great to hear about this new development. BTW, thanks for sharing your LibraryThing library too — I’m always on the look-out for new authors to read!

  2. Barbara
    Your posting here is exactly why I love this ACRL Blog! The LibraryThing library is something I had not heard about before, and I want to take a serious look at it for my library catalog. Thank you so much for your interview with the Claremont Colleges librarians. Their comments were very descriptive and useful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.