/ 1 June 2008

It’s a library thing

Mike Farquhar, who lives in the British Midlands, owns 163 books that also stand on my shelf. ‘Kiracle” in Los Angeles also has Etienne van Heerden’s Toorberg, but did not like it much. Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novels are outnumbering copies of JRR Tolkien’s works on readers’ shelves.

How do I know all this? The chasm between social networking junkies on the web and book lovers has been bridged by a neat solution: LibraryThing (www.librarything.com). All serious book lovers fancy themselves secret librarians, and this website makes it reality.

Simply put, you catalogue all your books online, in remarkable depth. But there’s no need to know the ins and outs of Dewey: LibraryThing instantly hooks up to multiple databases ranging from Amazon.com and the Library of Congress to the National Library of South Africa to provide you with all the data you need for your book.

You also tag your books. You can use ‘to buy”, ‘at office” or ‘to read”, for example, or assign subjects and categories — whatever your heart’s desire. You can rate books, write your own reviews (or read others’) and scan your book’s cover if it’s not on the system.

Then, when you’ve added a few books to your catalogue, the magic starts. Your catalogue is compared with those of other users worldwide (15-million books so far), and you can see and communicate with those who share your tastes. You can even tell whether there is exactly one other person who owns a copy of your book. Automatically, your ‘tag cloud” and ‘author cloud” is generated — fun, graphic ways of browsing your collection, or those of fellow LibraryThingers.

There are also myriad discussion groups on any kind of book-related subject imaginable, and even here tech wizardry produces clever book links and other useful bits and pieces. And never again will you accidentally buy a second copy of a book at that crazy sale: simply call up LibraryThing on your cellphone and search your home catalogue on the spot.

LibraryThing is a work in progress, and new functionality is added almost daily with the help and advice of its 227 000 users. It is expanding into real libraries — librarians can now search collections through tags such as ‘chick lit” that’s not quite standard Dewey fare — and a new project in the United States sees publishers sending review copies of new books to LibraryThing users whose collections show they will be interested.

It’s Library 2.0: the internet celebrating the book, not killing it. And you can even take it a step further: do join the LibraryThing group on Facebook …