About Anything

The personal blog of Al Stevens. Focus is overrated.

LibraryThing — expose your books to all

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I heard about LibraryThing over a year ago, but couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to list their personal books on a public website. I looked at a couple of early reviews, including one by Jim Regan in the Christian Science Monitor (Do Your Own LibraryThing). He pointed out that you could use your online list to file insurance claims, keep track of what you own and keep track of books you’ve loaned to friends. I’ve accidentally bought a book I already own a couple of times, but they were easily returned. If I lost my library, I’d be worrying about bigger problems than the claim for the books and when I loan out a book, I’ve usually already read it, so don’t worry too much about getting it back.

I work with librarians and several of these colleagues are LibraryThing members. They set my views straight. What I’d missed was all of the social aspects that come from exposing your books. LibraryThing has all of the obvious social networking features like discussions groups, reviews, recommendations, and announcements that you would expect in a mega online book club. But if you expose your books (you can keep them private, but most members don’t), you get automatically connected to other members with similar interests. That looked promising.

So I joined — a basic membership is free, but with some limits. A life long membership costs $25, (it’s a recommended amount and you are welcome to pay more) which seemed like such a bargain that I signed up.


I spent an hour adding books. I’m up to 86 — a small number. The largest library is over 23,000 and there are forty over 7,000.

But now, I get loads of recommendations, automatic and member driven. I’ve got 563 automatic recommendations. For each, I can see the average rating, the number of copies that others have, the number of reviews and click why, which gives me a list of the books in my library that LibraryThing used to create the recommendation. Many of these are obvious — Islam : a Short History by Karen Armstrong
is recommended because I have A History of God and The Battle for God both by Karen Armstrong. Some are less so. Churchill, Hitler and “The Unnecessary War” by Patrick J. Buchanan is recommended because I have Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker.

My members recommendations list is considerably smaller and more focused — after all, they are generated by people. An interesting one, that I intend to purchase is After Man : a Zoology of the Future by Dougal Dixon, a children’s book recommended because I  have The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. I’ll read it to my Grandson.

For fun, there is the unsuggester, which suggests incompatible books. First on this list for me is Shopaholic Ties the Knot by Sophie Kinsella, which is a pretty decent example of books I avoid.


You can set up connections with other members, but LibraryThing gives you a jump start by picking 50 other members who have libraries most similar to yours. Click the link and you can see the recent books your connections have added. Thames: Sacred River by Peter Ackroyd was on my first page, which I’ve added to my to-read list.


Set your location and you get a list of local events, many of them hard to find listed in any one place. These range from readings to kids events. In Boston,. there are 3-4 per day. You can also get a lsit of members in your area. Not all members list their location, so this is a short list, but still offers the possibility to connect with like-, or unlike-minded book fans.


LibaryThing was founded by Tim Spalding in Portland, Maine. He articulates strict privacy rules as a core value and strongly supports libraries and independent bookstores. The contents of thousands of individuals libraries is obviously of high value to companies like Amazon — they could really target their suggestions if they knew not what you’d bought from them, but what you owned. Abebooks, an online bookseller is a minority investor in LibraryThing. In August, Amazon aquired Abebooks, which makes Amazon the investor. Spalding has offered strong assurances that LibraryThing will remain as it was, and they seem correct, so I’m not going to worry.

There’s a lot more to LibraryThing than I’ve described, including groups, talk and tags, but it’s better seen by exploring than by reading about it, so sign up and give it a try: www.librarything.com

Written by Al Stevens

November 18th, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Posted in One Thing Well

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