Duck Duck Book

26 – library thing
11.22.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: websites

Library thing / Tim Spalding.

Library Thing is an example of something that is much talked-about in the library techie world of late: social software. No doubt other people are talking about it too.

Social software is any software system that allows users to produce collaborative work or content. There are lots of different kinds, but one of the most talked-about are websites that allow users to create lists and classify the items in them, in a shared environment. This is called tagging, and here’s how it works:

I add something to my list, and I create some tags for that thing. Then if you look at my list, you can see my tags. If you look at the list of tags I’ve attached to one thing, you can see my tags and use them to look at what anyone else has tagged with each tag. Usually you can also search or browse through a list of all the tags used by all the users, or search the entire system by keyword. There are websites that will allow you to do this with your favorite websites, digital photographs, and now, with Library Thing, books.

Using Library Thing, you can get library cataloging records (yes, the real thing, MARC standard format) from a long list of libraries around the world or from Then you can add your own information to the record for each book: tags, comments, and reviews.

Tags work kind of like the Library of Congress Subject Headings in library catalogs (or, in the olden days, the “subject” file in the card catalog). The big difference is that library catalogs are put together according to a whole lot of strict rules (really!), while tagging is higgledy-piggeldy, as sloppy as the person making the tags wants it to be. So you might have the tags “vegetables,” “veggies,” “greens,” “roots and tubers,” and “veg.” Do they mean the same thing? The answer is, maybe, maybe not.

My friend Davey brought all this together for me recently when he suggested that big library catalogs might be more useful if they incorporated tags as well as Library of Congress Subject Headings or other standard subject taxonomies. Hmmm. Then people would be able to add tags to the books they had read, maybe post reviews like people do at booksellers’ websites, and thus provide a whole new avenue for people to find what they want at the library. Pretty smart. This is not something that will happen soon in big institutional libraries, but Library Thing allows us to experiment with something similar in the meantime. And, according to Library Thing’s creator Tim Spalding, someday in the near future Library Thing will include Library of Congress Subject Headings, and then you will be able use either to find books by topic.

I’ve used Library Thing to make a small library catalog with the items from the last few numbers of the booklist. If you click on the little person’s head icon on the right hand side you’ll see the “social data” for each of the books I’ve entered. You can see the tags I chose and use them to link to books that other people cataloged with the same tags. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to jump from my list to other lists that include the same books because this booklist hasn’t included many items that were superpopular among other Library Thing users. But you can with a few of the titles.

You can make your own account and catalog your own books, if you like. Library Thing has a very nice “about” page which explains how everything works.

The librarianish among you may want to see what other librarians are saying about social software. I’d recommend you start by checking out Jenny Levine’s The Shifted Librarian.


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