Why aren’t you on LibraryThing?

If you spend a lot of time online, seemingly every week you get an invitation to join whatever new service is hot at the moment. Or – the same problem in microcosm – you get half a dozen requests a day to join ridiculous groups or play ridiculous games “on the Facebook.” You mostly ignore those, don’t you?

Don’t ignore this one: LibraryThing. It’s social cataloguing for all your books. That means you catalogue your books online and can find out who else is reading the same books. You can then use a huge range of online resources, one or two clicks away, to find that book in an(other) library or buy it.

It’s much more than that. They’ve got an early-adopters club that hands out free review copies every month. There’s a vast set of local resources (seriously underplayed on the site), including a subpage for every branch of the Toronto Public Library (e.g., Jones). They’ve got discussions and groups; now there’s one for this blog (TPLFans on LibraryThing). You can find people nearby, including people with similar collections. There’s an iApp. There are a million feeds and subscription options. It works in 30 languages.

If you write your own blog, you may find that linking to the entry for a book on LibraryThing is less ethically unpleasant than, say, linking to an Amazon entry. (Amazon is an investor in LibraryThing, but they’re perfectly willing to bite the hand that feeds them if need be – see LibraryThing’s epic takedown of the competition, which Amazon bought outright even after they were caught acting deceptively.)

(Video of presentation by LibraryThing’s founder, Tim Spalding.)

It only works if you and all your friends sign up

One person on LibraryThing is like one person with a fax machine. It’s beside the point.

Having a hundred people makes more sense: There’s enough data for you to compare and explore. A hundred thousand people make even more sense. This is a classic case of the network effect.

From what I can tell, barely anyone in Toronto uses LibraryThing. I don’t know what everybody’s problem is, but people who like TPL enough to read this blog are exactly the people who should be online.

How do you enter all your books?

You don’t have to enter “all” of them. It is no trouble to add a couple of books a week; its first guess of what you mean is almost always right. If you have any kind of list at all, the system can just inhale it and figure it all out.

You don’t have to do it retroactively. You can just start today and keep doing it. I have put pretty much every book I own into the system, plus every book on my reading list (among others).

Or you can just join for the community aspect.

Lanierism

OH HAI. We’re back.

Shall we start with a quick quote from Jaron Lanier?

I have a feeling there’ll be a new life for the library to provide the thinking space for civilization. For instance, my book, you might not know this, but I at one point had the most overdue book contract in New York publishing… it’s over 20 years or something. And the reason is I have such a crazy, busy life and I have so many things going on.

I was actually in London not that long ago, and a friend of mine, who’s a writer, said “The only way you’re going to write a book is in a library” and sat me down in the wonderful, big library, the British Library…. I sat down in that place and actually had the quietude to actually sit down and write a book. So this book wouldn’t exist without a library. […]

[W]e have no lack of access to material and yet I didn’t have access to my own head until I went to the library.

To me, there’s clearly something missing in the formula that we’re developing for civilization. There’s something missing, and I think that the library will naturally come to fill that gap. And making the library into some sort of alternate Facebook access point is exactly the wrong way to achieve that.