LibraryThing Redux (and a glimpse into my real world book collection)

I just wrote about LibraryThing last Friday (indirectly when mentioning a new competitor it has called Shelfari.)  But that entry inspired me to revisit the site and my explorations since then have, in turn, inspired a more in-depth post about LibraryThing. 

First off, for anyone who doesn't know, LibraryThing is a Web 2.0 web site that automates the process of adding your book collection faciliates interaction with people who share similar tastes.  I think you can enter 200 or so books for free before having to buy a $10 annual membership or a $25 lifetime one.  (A percentage of the site was also bought by ABEBooks.com so it's got a fair bit of stability and shouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon.)

I'm going to go back a bit and explain a bit about how I tend to use hot new sites like this one.  Even though I consider myself fairly  “techie” in a lot of ways, I often tend to be a late adopter as well.  I'd been reading MetaFilter for years but was only inspired to join  after September 11 and I *had* to make comments on what happened that day.  I only really got into Digg last year even though I've been aware of the site for awhile. I only started a blog last year (I have a Blogger account I created in 2001 though it had a grand total of one post.  And that post is a joke about how I'm three years behind the trends by starting a blog at that time – which is pretty much the same joke I used in my very first entry when I started this blog in 2006!)  I resisted RSS for a long time but now love it. 

It's not just hot new web sites and cutting-edge Internet technologies that I sometimes am slow to come around to.  I only bought my first digital camera and my first MP3 player this year.  And I'd joined LibraryThing over a year ago (Sept 15, 2005) according to my Profile page on that site but added a couple books initially then promptly forgot about it. 

But as I said, writing about LibraryThing and its newest competitor (and having some time on my hands) inspired me to revisit the site.  Also, seeing “What I'm Reading” widgets on a few blogs I visit regularly made me want to add something similar to my site (which meant, of course, that a catalogue of just two books would never do.) 

So I've added 100 books so far – mostly my favourites but also with a bias towards ones that had cover images already associated with them since that's the only type of book that I've setup the widget to display. 

(Slight tangent: I looked up the difference between setup, set-up and set up the other day and have promptly forgotten the difference – I think one is a noun, one is a verb and one is an adverb? For the purposes of this blog, I will ignore proper grammar and use whichever one looks best at the moment I type it, similar to how I reserve the right to use both “color” and “colour” interchangeably, often within the same entry.)

I've got a lot of work to do if I want to add every book I own.  Here's a photo of the library in my office (it's usually not that messy but I still haven't unpacked a lot of the paperwork/boxes we brought back from London.  That's the curse of selling off all your bookshelves, desks, etc. but keeping all the stuff that would normally go on them!) 

In addition to the books shown, I have another bookshelf in the office that's just to the right of the camera, one upstairs (and Shea has one specifically for her cookbook collection).  And on top of that, I have another college-style bricks and 2×4's bookshelf with a similar number of books in my parent's basement.  (That phrase about real world stores being “bricks and mortar” has a definite relevance when thinking about my book collection!)


The question everyone who comes over inevitably asks if “Have you read all of those?” and the inevitable answer is: No, of course not – I read fairly fast but I'm not a speed reader by any means.  “So why do you have so many books?”

Well, I just like books.  I like how they look and the potential they have, even just sitting on a shelf.  Also, part of my problem is that I can't resist them.  I go to garage sales and used book sales and bookstores and will basically take anything that looks semi-interesting and/or is cheap. 

I was out at the local technical college the other day and they had a book sale going on.  I bought a book on cardiac nursing for Shea, a book on the government policy in the 1970's in Saskatchewan, a book on book-related careers and a slightly outdated sociology textbook that would probably cost $80+ if new.  Grand cost to me for all four books?  A loonie!

I also get a lot of free books – from working with publishers and writers, from doing book reviews.  I've belonged to book clubs.  I've been to BookExpo Canada twice and probably brought home a few dozen books from it each time.

Hmmm, can anybody make out anything embarrassing or incriminating in that photo?  I hope not!  (It's like the “Where's Waldo” of messy bookshelves – see if you can spot the Elvis biography!  Hint: top right.  And worse, there are a few of them.   In my defence, I borrowed them from my dad when I was working on a screenplay when I was participating in the Calgary Screenwriters Group.)

That actually leads nicely into my next point.  As much as I love what sites like LibraryThing (and LastFM for music and Digg for news and so on) offer in terms of being to see what other people with similar tastes are reading/listening to, the flip side is that you have to put yourself out there as well to be effective. 

I don't know if anybody pays attention to the “Recently Played” songs on the right side of this blog but I know there have been times when say, a Paris Hilton song, would pop up there after I listened to it.  Then I'd go to CLA for a week and it's be stuck there as if that was the only song I ever listened to that week.  Embarrassing but I mean, I did listen to it (and didn't even mind it that much.  It can't be Sujfan Stevens all the time, right?) 

The same with the books I've put in LibraryThing.  I debated only adding the books I wanted to “represent” me – the cool ones and the controversial ones, the literary ones and the legendary ones.  But that's not really the purpose of the site, again, especially if you want it to be as effective as it can be.  For instance, the more books you enter from your library, the more likely you are to find people with similar books in their libraries.  (The person I link to has 5 books out of the 131 they've catalogued in common with me.)

So my goal is to upload all of my books someday (if you're not a member, it's very easy.  Type in the name of the book – or author or ISBN or whatever – and the site queries the Library of Congress or Amazon or a University catalogue or another site of your choice – then presents a list.  You select your book from the list and it, along with all relevant information, is added to your profile.  If you have a laptop with wireless to take right to the bookshelf, it is an incredibly fast process.)

We learned at library school that you should never be embarrassed
abouty our reading so, as I said, I'm going to upload everything…eventually.  My
biggest secret shame is that I used to be a huge pro wrestling fan
growing up (Stampede Wrestling was inevitably a big part of your childhood if you were a boy growing up on the Prairies in the 80's.)  And I'm sure that the few wrestling books I own aren't even the most embarrassing things in my collection.  Some people look down their noses at any plebian who would own a Stephen King paperback.  I (not Shea) own at least a few Harlequin romance novels.  I own way more self-published books than is healthy for your sanity.

There's still a lot of exploring left to do.  Can you classify books as “read”, “to read”, “own”, “to own”?  That would be handy.  Tagging would probably do it, I guess.  But I'd like the option to keep that information private – maybe I don't want everything about my reading habits out there!

So anyhow, this has turned into yet another long, rambling, middle of the night entry.  But getting to the whole reason I decided to write about LibraryThing – when I was entering some books tonight and exploring the site some more, I realised they now also have social networking functions, one of which is groups.  So you can join a group of like-minded people – based on genre or occupation or whatever – and post messages to a discussion board, see what the others in the group are reading, etc. 

Here's a group called “Librarians Who LibraryThing” (and really, this could've been a single line entry consisting of those seven words if I wasn't such a windbag tonight.)  Librarians Who LibraryThing happens to also be the largest group on LibraryThing with twice as many members as its next most popular one (a group for SF fans.)  Librarians rock! 

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I love the bookcase made out of bricks and some boards. We use to have the exact same one in our old apartment. I thought it was an original, damn IKEA.

    Posted 25 Jan 2007 at 12:05 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    It's definitely a cost-effective option. Each of those shelves costs around $10. The bricks came to $30 maybe? So that's $100 for three or four times the shelf space you might get from an IKEA bookshelf for the same price. Not the most aesthetically appealing but okay if you don't mind “undergrad chic”.

    Posted 25 Jan 2007 at 9:11 am

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