The Big List of Things I Like About LibraryThing

#3: book covers.

A year ago I rounded up a fairly big list of bookish social networks. I’ve since tried a number of them (as the list has grown to something like 40 bookish competitors) and was pretty hyped up about Google Book Search until their embeddable book clippings started breaking and I realized their full-text search only covers a small percentage of the books I’m interested in searching.

This week, at long last, LibraryThing won me over with:

  • LibraryThing Local: This is what led me to click ‘register’ and apparently I’m not alone. LibraryThing Local aggregates and maps user-submitted book-related places and events and allows you to keep track of your favorite book spots. So LibraryThing not only makes it easy to bump into book enthusiasts online but also makes it easy to bump into them at your favorite bookstores. I’ve been waiting for this since 2003, when I attempted a one-man, manual New York version in the form of Bookcircuit. Books + community go together. But clearly the user-submitted path is the only way to make this scale.
  • Selection: Most book-focused social networks get their book data exclusively from Amazon’s ASIN database, which is basically a clone of the International Standard Book Number system. The ISBN system was introduced just over 40 years ago and there are plenty of books out there that aren’t in it. If you happen to be into old, rare or weird books, chances are you own some. LibraryThing goes beyond Amazon to tap into 255 library databases from around the world. Go ahead and try to find a book that isn’t in one of these databases.
  • Member-uploaded covers: Book covers, I like them. I buy old editions of books I’ve read for the covers, and seek out cover designers. When you add books to your library on LibraryThing, you get to choose the cover. Members have uploaded a lot of interesting ones that you might not have seen. If you can’t bear to look at the modern editions of old books, LibraryThing is your bookish social network.
  • Book collection comparisons: As you start adding books to your library, you’ll see a box on your profile called “Members with your books.” Prepare to be amazed at the number of LibraryThing members who share your unique taste. They’ll lead you to new books. Compare this experience to that of GoodReads, which has been growing fast and is by some measures the dominant bookish social network at the moment. GoodReads is focused on book recommendations from friends, and while you’re more likely to listen to people you know, there are undoubtedly people out there who you don’t yet know who could teach you something. Try stepping outside your social graph sometime : )
  • Community: All the true book freaks are on LibraryThing: the booksellers and librarians, collectors and hoarders (and writers—a lot of authors are members and you’re alerted when you add their books). If this appeals to you, LibraryThing is the right place for you. But besides the level of bookishness on display on LibraryThing, there is a real community feel to the site that is largely a result of the tone set by founder Tim Spalding and his team. New features are continually rolled out, blogged openly and chewed over in depth. And while I tend to be partial to the 37signals school of simplicity, this is an area where you want rich functionality and customization. LibraryThing’s got it.

And sure, it’s not as pretty as some of the other bookish social networks but guess what? You’re invited to help out with that, too.

8 Comments

  1. Sean, this is all good to know. YOu are the source!

    Posted by Martha Woodroof on 07 Mar 2008 at 3:46 pm
  2. I just started using LibraryThing about a week ago too! I lent a book to a friend and I needed to store that somewhere and that’s how I ended up at LibraryThing. I must say that the design could definitely need an update and that the Dutch translations are horrible (so I switched back to English) but the whole idea is great.

    As a tag cloud addict I couldn’t be happier with the tag cloud and author cloud.

    Posted by Anne Helmond on 10 Mar 2008 at 9:14 am
  3. I started using LT for the most superficial of reasons — a book widget for the ol’ blog sidebar. I must admit, I have yet to use it for much else…including responding to friend requests! Sorry guys.

    Posted by lauren on 11 Mar 2008 at 5:19 pm
  4. LT’s community includes a wide range of people. Serious folks can stray into “The Green Dragon Inn” for foolishness (and find a caring community who share birthdays and recipies for upset stomachs); locate a special interest group, or, of course, become aware of interests that overlap their own. We bless Tim for keeping it free of commercials. We thank the staff for their responsiveness.

    Posted by esta on 21 Mar 2008 at 5:42 pm
  5. Users can stick with straight personal cataloging or social interaction, or any mixture of the two. Get involved as you wish. If you are the social sort, you can join (and create) book groups to discuss just about everything book-related. If you aren’t interested in the social aspects, you can turn off the “friend request” functions if you desire, or make your library totally private. No apologies needed. Flexibility is the key to LibraryThing’s success.

    Posted by _Celeste_ on 22 Mar 2008 at 12:32 pm
  6. I love love love Library Thing, for all the reasons you mention. (Except number 1, I didn’t know that before. One more thing to love!)

    Posted by Jeane on 27 Mar 2008 at 9:38 pm
  7. i am glad i found your site doing and odd random image search for finnegans wake. i, too, like librarything. but what struck me most about this post was seeing your image of sabbath’s theater. i have a signed first edition of the anatomy lesson by roth. i’m kindof a geek for his dirty old man stuff. great blog. added you on flickr, as well. – kelly

    Posted by paperballet on 02 Apr 2008 at 12:11 am
  8. Interesting stuff. Online searchable book catalogues seem to be getting more and more intelligent – I came across another site that offers a similar service to LibraryThing, and allows you to recommend books to others. It’s also in its beta phase and is still being developed, but has some really interesting features available already, including loads of book-related videos and forums .

    Posted by somervillerose on 14 Apr 2009 at 10:17 am

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