If you’re a book lover and not too secretive, visit as fast as you can.
Keeps a convenient online catalog of book collections. Lets you browse other collections. Connects you with other book lovers. Gives book recommendations.
You can’t expose your online book catalog solely to specific friends and family—it’s either completely private or completely public.
Notes: Free for up to 200 cataloged books; for more than 200 books, shell out either $10 per year or $25 for a lifetime membership.
LibraryThing is a social network of bibliophiles. That’s right. Bibliophiles. Despite its reputation as a frivolous fad among teenagers and twentysomethings, online social networking has the power to serve almost anyone—including people with a passion for books.
Created by Chicagoan Tim Spaulding, this grass-roots site follows in the footsteps of Flickr and del.icio.us. Just as Flickr built an online community around digital photos and del.icio.us fashioned a similar social network around browser “favorites,” LibraryThing connects people through their book collections.
To date, more than 39,000 people have cataloged their personal book collections on the site, posting information about more than 2.8 million titles. Some use it to keep tabs on their vast home libraries. Others are merely interested in, well, showing off. But first and foremost it puts you in touch with people who share your tastes. You can browse each other’s collections, trade recommendations, and even forge relationships. It isn’t called social networking for nothing.
At the very least, you should spend a few minutes perusing this vast catalog of book titles. Search on your favorite authors—just to see how popular they are. Track down reviews people have posted about your favorite novels. Find out what else they’re reading. Check out the “Zeitgeist” page, where you’ll find the top 25 most popular titles, the top 75 authors, and more.
I particularly enjoy browsing via “tags.” As with Flickr and del.icio.us, LibraryThing encourages its users to tag their books with keywords, a process that essentially sorts titles into ad hoc subcategories. Tags associated with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince include “adventure,” “british,” and “children,” and if you click on “adventure,” you’ll find a list of other titles carrying the same tag. The Zeitgeist page includes a list of the 75 most popular tags, letting you peruse everything from “historical fiction” to “young adult” books. I could spend hours on the Zeitgeist page alone.
Of course, LibraryThing is even more useful if you post your book collection, and the process is wonderfully easy. Once you key in a username and password—nothing more—you can immediately start cataloging. Simply enter a title or an author, and the site searches Amazon.com and major library sites for matching books. Then, with another click, you can add a book to your list. Within 15 seconds of first visiting LibraryThing, I’d added the first three titles to my catalog. If you’ve got a rare or unusual book that LibraryThing can’t find, you can add it manually.
Assuming the book is found (and most will be), each time you add a book, LibraryThing automatically posts an image of its front cover, its date of publication, its ISBN (International Standard Book Number), a list of other editions, and even where you can buy new copies online. If you like, you can add other information, including tags, a star rating, a Dewey decimal number, the date you acquired the book, the day you started reading, and the date you finished. You can add comments. You even can post a review.
At the very least, this gives you a detailed record of your personal library. That’s a good thing to have on hand, whether you’re giving book recommendations to a friend or trying to remember if there’s a particular title buried somewhere in your collection. I recently bought a copy of Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, not realizing I already owned it. That’s a common problem among big book collectors, and LibraryThing solves it. The site even lets you browse your titles using only their cover images, as if each was propped up on a vast bookshelf.
Better still, posting your collection proves to be an even easier way to leverage that vast LibraryThing network. The site automatically generates book recommendations based on the titles you own. It gives you a list of other users who own the same books. Perhaps my favorite thing about LibraryThing is that you can track down someone who shares your tastes and request a direct recommendation or ask them if a book you’re thinking of buying is any good. You can easily trade comments with users, and you may even develop running relationships. Why not meet up with someone and trade books? Spaulding claims his brother uses the site to meet women.
Don’t want others to see your book collection? No problem. If you like, you can make your catalog completely private. Unfortunately, you can’t expose your collection to specified individuals. I’m hoping this semiprivate option will be added in the future.
Users aren’t afforded a full-fledged Web presence on LibraryThing—you can’t really customize the look and feel of your profile, for instance—but the site does let you sign up for RSS feeds that alert you to newly added books and reviews. How much does it cost? You can browse for free, and you can post up to 200 books for free. Beyond that, you have to pay either $10 for a yearly membership or $25 for a lifetime account.
Yes, LibraryThing has much the same appeal as Gen Y sites like MySpace and FaceBook. In letting you post your book collection for all the world to see, it’s a means of connecting with other people—and a way of feeding your vanity. If you’re not into books, you may not see it that way, but trust me, book lovers are very vain when it comes to their books. On the other hand, there’s a more civilized side to LibraryThing: Not only do you have the option to keep your collection private, but the site also has a very practical purpose of providing book recommendations. For a book lover, nothing’s more practical than that.