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Date: Friday, 23 Apr 2010 07:19
Techcrunch just reported an interesting development with Barnes and Noble's Nook eReader, a feature called "Read in Store."

The idea is simple. If you've got a Nook and you're in a physical Barnes and Noble store, you can read any ebook they carry. When you leave the store, the book goes away. As TechCrunch writes, "It’s the Brigadoon of ebook reading." (allusion explanation)

There are limitations, of course. Just as the Nook's "lending" feature only works once per book, and then never again, Read in Store is only good for an hour of book reading per day, plus another 20 minutes for magazine and newspaper content.

Retail sense. It certainly makes retail sense. There was always something risky about the Nook. Was Barnes and Noble preparing for a future without stores or just speeding its own demise? Many ereader owners give up on physical bookstores.(1) Read in Store is designed to keep them there. As the press release puts it, "Our digital customers will feel at home in our stores" where they can read books on their Nook while "enjoying their favorite beverage in our café."(2)

Best of all, this is territory Amazon and Apple can't follow. Amazon has no stores, and will never add them. (As Indie Booksellers never tire of pointing out, Amazon's success depends in part upon avoiding sales tax, which requires having no physical presence in a state.) Amazon has stores, but they're not exactly set up for reading.

If I were Apple, I'd be talking to Borders right now. If I were Apple, there was no disease, and animals didn't eat each other, I'd be talking to independent booksellers. Maybe it's time indies got together, presumably through IndieBound, and tried to wring a similar deal with someone--Kobo, Sony, or the congruently social Copia.

An answer for libraries? What works for Barnes and Noble could also work for libraries. Indeed, since every Barnes and Noble has suddenly turned into a limitless library, real libraries risk losing a core value to a mere bookstore.

Fortunately, the change to a "Brigadoon Library" would be gentle. Libraries are already accustomed to in-library database access. This would be an extension of an established concept--very helpful in selling new ideas to institutions that are too often hostile to them. And it should be easy to set up--just submit your wifi's IP address to an ereader's website and you're good to go.

Best of all, this is a library solution that makes sense to publishers and could therefore actually happen.(4) Publishers signed on with Barnes and Noble because they calculated that the sales they lost from free reading would be more than offset by the sales they gained from people who bought the book after tiring of the physical limitation--and by the extra word of mouth.(5) With libraries, the publisher incentive is less, but still significant. Readers cannot turn from an ereader to buy a physical copy, as they could at a Barnes and Noble store. But, as at a store, they can buy the ebook. There's no reason publishers wouldn't provide such a service for free, or, more probably, a low cost.(6)

What about outside the library? Will many in libraryland object to "read in the library for free but pay to take it home"? Certainly. But here's where ebook rental comes in. The library will pay to have some books available for take-home rental.

As I've pointed out in the past, ebook rental is a serious down-elevator for libraries. Through the magic of the First Sale doctrine, libraries could extract a lot more value from paper books that "regular" buyers--something like nine times as much. This surplus value was to a large degree why libraries came about, and why they continue to make economic sense. But now that publishers aren't bound by First Sale, they have no incentive whatsoever to allow libraries similarly generous terms. Libraries will have to pay full price for the value they deliver. Once that happens libraries will have little advantage over renting the book yourself.(7) Libraries become a "simple" book subsidy, not a magical one.

I don't see this regime ending. Publishers will never allow libraries to circulate digital books under the older, physical terms. They will charge for it, and charge what it's worth.(8) But in-library reading can augment necessarily restricted and circumscribed ebook lending. Thus, the library itself--the physical library--can serve as a limitless portal to the world. And, in addition, the library can allow paper books, and some digital books to be taken out.

Library dystopia. The Brigadoon Library holds out some hope that libraries can avoid "library dystopia"--a world in which the loss of First-Sale value and the virtualization of everything undermines public support for the library, and for the other enduring values libraries deliver. It's a world without libraries, or a world with libraries that provide much less.

For me, these enduring values include helping patrons find and understand information, and providing a vibrant community space. Many would also include the provision of free computers, but I see this as a downward race against technology prices--a service that will disappear as the need disappears, much like the telephone service libraries in rural areas once provided.(9)

Instead of a library depleted of books--not to mention CDs and DVDs(10)--and of library patrons not there for babysitting or free computers, the Brigadoon Library would be a full library. It would be full of patrons browsing the entire world of books.

Library utopia? This isn't library utopia. The Brigadoon Library would be a sort of updated closed-stacks library, and closed stacks library are limited libraries. It isn't the universal library, the expected future library where everything is available everywhere--and for free.

I didn't get a shot of the reading room, but here's my son, with the lions. No libraries, no lions. For God's sake, think of the children!
But it's a healthy one. It's healthy for authors and publishers. It's healthy for library budgets. And it's healthy for patrons.

I got a sense of how healthy a closed-stacks library can be a recent trip to the Boston Public Library's Research Library--the beautiful old building next to the ugly modern one. The reading room was full of people studying and browsing the web, but a core group was there because the "Research Collections" at the Boston Public Library are only available for use in-library. Kept from going elsewhere, they were truly limited.

But the limits had their benefits. Researchers and non-researchers enjoyed the air conditioning, the gorgeous room, and the company of others. The building and the people added something. And that's not even mentioning all the restaurants and bookstores nearby, or the library-sponsored readings and music events. The "anywhere library" of solitary individuals in their underwear is not really a better library.

I'll stop there. My blog posts all way to be essays, and my readers prefer they were Twitter posts.

To recap the Brigadoon Library is:
  • Technically easy, so doable.
  • Good for publishers, so possible.
  • Great for patrons, who get access to a world of books.
  • Not expensive.
  • Likely to produce full, vibrant physical spaces.
  • Likely to foster the connection between taxpayer and library.
  • Might save libraries.
  • Named after a Broadway Musical.
Come talk about it in the comments, or on Talk here.


1. Those that don't often use them very cynically--soaking up the nice displays and friendly smiles of the booksellers without the least intention to buy. There is, I think, a special circle of hell for people who do this, alongside the people who browse stores in order to figure out what they're going to buy on Amazon.

2. Does any human being not standing in front of a table with a pad of paper uses the word "beverage."

3. In some cases, libraries would probably have to pay outright for a read-in-library feature. Few patrons are going to buy an encyclopedia, for example. But the payment would be minimized by the limitation.

4. Here and elsewhere I'm going to use "publisher" to mean whoever sells the book. "Publisher" may eventually mean author directly, or some intermediary with no editorial or curatorial role. I despise phrases like "content provider."

5. This ignores the likelihood that publishers were also influenced by Barnes and Noble's outside share of their own book sales.

6. In some cases, libraries would probably have to pay outright for a read-in-library feature. Few patrons are going to buy an encyclopedia, for example. But the payment would be minimized if the item could only be read while in the library.

7. The exception is market power and price discrimination. Libraries buy a lot of books, so they may be able to command moderate discounts. As for price discrimination, it only applies if you need to go to the library to get the book. Price discrimination works by targeting some type of consumer or by imposing some barrier that does the same; for example, paperbacks are price discrimination, big fans and people with money buy the hardback; lesser fans and the cost-conscious wait to buy the paperback.

8. The only real hope is legislation. If Congress passed a bill that forced publishers to sell to libraries at a certain cost, with certain rights, that would change everything. I don't see that happening, and if it did, the costs and rights would be closer to real value extracted than to the First Sale price.

9. That doesn't mean libraries will stop providing computers, just as many will still let you make a phone call. Computers may well be necessary for this or that library-related task. And since libraries will probably continue to be used for low-quality babysitting, computers will keep the children entertained. But the provision of free computers and internet cannot remain a core mission of libraries when the "free" part has become superfluous.

10. CDs and DVDs are going virtual much faster than books. And for all the interest in libraries providing ebook rental nobody is talking about libraries providing free music of video streaming. That will never happen.

Nook photo credit goes to jennifertomaloff on Flickr.
Author: "Tim"
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Date: Monday, 19 Apr 2010 15:49
I've just sent out the April State of the Thing, our monthly newsletter. Sign up to get it, or you can read it online.

This month's State of the Thing introduces some of the new LibraryThing babies, gives book recommendations from Robyn Okrant and David Lipsky (featuring all the David Foster Wallace you could want), and beings an exclusive author interview with Anne Lamott:

Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds is the third in a series about the characters Elizabeth and Rosie (and now-husband James). In Imperfect Birds, the first-person narrative shifts between mother and teen daughter. Elizabeth is simultaneously dealing with her own demons of depression and alcoholism while dealing with her child's growing freedom. Rosie pushes boundaries to the breaking point, with serious drug use and lying forcing Elizabeth to view the unpleasant realities of her daughter's actions and her own desire for polite fiction over impolite truth. Anne's previous books also include the non-fiction Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.

Next month, I'll be interviewing Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, about his new book Beatrice and Virgil. I'll also be interviewing David Baldacci, who's new novel, Deliver Us from Evil, will be out April 20th.

Have a question for Martel or Baldacci? Post them in the Author Interviews—you ask the questions group.

(Photo is of me reading in a cherry tree, taken by me.)
Author: "Sonya"
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Date: Wednesday, 14 Apr 2010 11:47
Many congrats go to LibraryThing developer Mike and his wife Rebecca, on the birth of their daughter, the already impressive Lulu!

Mike liveblogged the event, so you can check out even more cute photos.

If you'd like to send happy thoughts, well wishes or scones, there's a thread here.

Lulu is the third LibraryThing baby born in the past month (Max and William joined the LibraryThing team at the end of March), and we still have two to go (myself, and Chris Catalfo) before July.

If you'd like to see all of the LibraryThing newborns, check out the rest of the LibraryThingBaby birth announcements.
Author: "Sonya"
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Date: Sunday, 11 Apr 2010 18:37
Tim and I are in DC (ok, Arlington, VA) for the Computers in Libraries conference. We're booth 217 in the exhibit hall, so come by and visit us. (We're the ones with the rhinos, as always!)


We're here to show off LibraryThing for Libraries (enhance your OPAC with tags, reviews, shelf browse, recommendations, and more) and our new product, Library Anywhere.

Library Anywhere is a mobile catalog for everyone—it gives you a web version of your OPAC optimized for cell phones, as well as native applications for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. It requires no installation, and is cheap (see the public price list here).

We're extremely proud and excited about Library Anywhere. We released our beta version to over 100 libraries last week, and response has been great. We're busy tweaking and building. Stop by the booth and we'll show you it live.
Author: "Abby"
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Date: Friday, 09 Apr 2010 02:11
A shelf at a church library catalogued by LibraryThing members. (See other flash-mob cataloging events.)
I've argued before (1, 2) that ebooks will hurt or even kill traditional libraries. I'd like to present the even stronger case that ebooks will kill off the small "community" libraries all around us--the shelves and rooms at churches, health centers and many other similar places.

These little, informal lending libraries grow like weeds all around us and contribute to the fabric of social life and community identity. It will be a shame to lose them, but it is probably inevitable.

Ebooks hurt traditional libraries. In brief, the argument is that paper-book libraries made economic sense because libraries owned books like anyone else, but could efficiently organize them to be lent out many times.

This "First Sale Doctrine" falls before the licensed-usage model of contemporary ebooks. It's not in publishers' or writers' interests to allow libraries to buy an item once at a consumer or near-consumer price and lend it out to many people, even serially, forever. Libraries will be forced to pay something closer to the true value of their lending activity, which will cost much more. It will convert libraries from an almost magical value multiplier, into a "simple" book subsidy.

Why are they dead? Ebooks kill small community libraries for the same basic reason—ebooks are and will remain a licensed good, not a freely owned one. The smallest libraries rely on the rights implicit in physical ownership. eBooks change—take back—many of those rights.

This boils down a little differently:
  • Small libraries depend to a large degree on cast-offs and donations. But consumers can't give their ebooks to anyone when they're done with them. They're technically and/or legally locked to a device or personal account.
  • Small collections grow organically and lazily without a "librarian." It's unlikely they will be able to negotiate and organize whatever "institutional subscriptions" will be available for public libraries.
  • If community libraries often can't pay for new paper books, it's unlikely they will have the funds to engage in high-priced site- or multi-use licensing of books.
  • Public libraries have market power. Even if they can't preserve first-sale value, they can use their collective and even individual scale to negotiate deals. Small community libraries are too fragmented and casual for market power.
  • Public libraries are connected to real moral and political power, and it pays dividends. For example, although public libraries weren't even involved in the infamous Google deal, the parties thought it politic to grant public libraries free access to copyrighted books at one terminal per building. This power may come in handy if publishers put the squeeze on them, but the smallest community have neither market or political power.
Counter-arguments. The argument could be made that ebooks will eventually revert to a more traditional "ownership" model. But why? Consumers have already made it clear that they will trade convenience and price to give up traditional rights of resale, lending, donation and inheritance. There has been no large-scale clamor for such rights, and I don't see one emerging. Rather, as ebooks advance, the personal, non-transferable nature of the medium will become increasingly accepted.

It has also been suggested that, although ebook DRM and contracts will stiffle lending, rampant piracy can function as a sort of rough substitute. If ebook piracy reaches music-piracy levels, this may come about--together with a sharp decline in quality writing which, unlike music, can't fall back on concert tickets and t-shirts to make ends meet. But either way, small communities will not be involved. Private citizens may trade ebooks, but a church or a senior center will not put its legal neck on the line to engage in a secondary activity like book lending.

What will we lose? At lot more than you might think, particularly if you're healthy, young and not much of a joiner. But here's a partial inventory of some the small lending libraries within a mile of two of my home:
  • A dozen churches, some with significant libraries
  • Two synagogues
  • A muslim community center
  • A natural birthing and parenting center
  • An Irish heritage center
  • A handful of exclusive private clubs
  • A Masonic temple
  • An arts and theatre center
  • A welter of general health centers
  • A cancer center
  • A center for grieving children
  • A hospice
  • A homeless shelter
  • A left-wing political action center
  • An advocacy group for Maine children
  • A center for transgender youth
  • A fiber-arts group
  • An Audubon Society
  • The YMCA
  • Semi-ornamental collections in a legion of coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and so forth
  • Two "Bookcrossing zones," where strangers leave and grab used books
  • A tiny, poor, seldom-open private library that's been around since 1815 but mostly stocks recent bestsellers
Gloom and Doom? There is another side, of course. We shouldn't forget that ebooks may well turn out to be an overall boon. Convenience, universal selection and writer-reader disintermediation are powerful, largely positive forces.

It may also turn out that, all things being equal, the "ownership premium"—the extra that books cost because they could be transferred to others—was an unnecessary drag on our lives. If we aren't paying for true ownership, we can perhaps rent—and read—more. Maybe with books, as with tuxedos, most people are better off renting.(1) Or, to take another example, where we once dug wells, and "owned our own water supply," we eventually found it was more efficient to socialize the cost of the infrastructure, and pay for usage.

I even expect we don't even know all the good things ebooks will bring about. I'm not even being sarcastic.

But if something is gained, something will definitely be lost. The list of ebook "externalities" is long: the death of physical bookstores, the wounding or death of traditional public libraries, the concentration of retail power in a few hands, surrendering your reading history to corporations, privacy and censorship issues in undemocratic states, leaving your books to your kids, lending books to friends, showing off, subway voyeurism, etc.

So, to that list, add the death of the smallest libraries.


1. I own my own tuxedo, however, and I wear it whenever I can, dammit.
Author: "Tim"
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Date: Monday, 05 Apr 2010 19:01
The April 2010 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We've got 93 books this month, and a grand total of 2,098 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you've already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it's correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, April 23rd at 6PM EST.

NOTE: Two of the ebooks this month are available to read online-only, so make sure before you request that you are willing to read the book on your computer, online (as opposed to downloaded, on your computer/ereader/phone/etc.), because you're responsible for reviewing any book you win.

Eligiblity: Publishers offer books country-by-country. Make sure to check the flags by each title to see if it can be sent to your country.


Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!
Kregel PublicationsPenguinPutnam Books
Grand Central PublishingHenry Holt and CompanyBallantine Books
Canongate BooksBell Bridge BooksTundra Books
WaterBrook PressThe Permanent PressDel Rey
Doubleday BooksDemos Medical PublishingFrog Legs Ink
PublicAffairsHol Art BooksPublishingWorks, Inc.
Hesperus PressFaber and FaberW.W. Norton
Hyperion BooksPicadorSeven Stories Press
HarperCollinsHarper PaperbacksAvon Books
North Atlantic BooksPomegranateWild Wolf Publishing
St. Martin's GriffinZed BooksChalice Press
Bantam DellCandlewickMIRA
Chin Music PressHarlequin Teen
Author: "Sonya"
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Date: Friday, 26 Mar 2010 12:19
Congratulations to John, LibraryThing's systems administrator, and his wife Lou on their new twins, Max and William!

More photos here.

That both were boys is a surprise—the doctors had believed only one was a boy. (William was going to be Willow.) Together with Baz (5) and Ollie (3), John and Lou now have a four-boy family, and more opportunities for John to perfect his Spiderman cake!

There's a best-wishes thread going here.

John's twins are the first of four LibraryThing births coming up in the months ahead—Mike, Sonya and Chris Catalfo are next! They will join three, now five, other LibraryThing babies. There is clearly something in the water.
Author: "Tim"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Mar 2010 20:01
PLA is happening right now in Portland, OR. We don't have our own booth, but Casey is hanging out at the ProQuest booth (booth 2032), along with the Bowker folks. Stop by to talk about LibraryThing for Libraries, and to see live demos of Library Anywhere—a mobile catalog for any library!

(click to see larger images)



The exhibits are open until 5pm today, and from 9:30-4 tomorrow.
Author: "Abby"
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Date: Wednesday, 24 Mar 2010 00:05
I've just sent out State of the Thing, our monthly newsletter. Sign up to get it, or you can read a copy online.

This month's State of the Thing features a round-up of new features, book recommendations from Dexter Palmer and Susan Wilson, and two exclusive author interviews:

Jonathan Maberry is the author of the techno-thriller Patient Zero. His new book, The Dragon Factory, is the sequel. Jonathan is a multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, writing teacher/lecturer and LibraryThing author.

Seth Grahame-Smith broke onto the classics scene with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Now he's taking on the biography genre with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. As we all know, Lincoln rises to political power to become one of the most famous presidents of all time for his fight against the injustice of slavery (and vampirism).

Next month our interviews are with Anne Lamott and Alan Bradley.
Author: "Sonya"
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Date: Friday, 12 Mar 2010 12:51
After much discussion, we've introduced the Hobnob with Authors group, a special place for authors and readers to mingle.

Of course, authors are welcome everywhere on LibraryThing. Authors can become LibraryThing Authors, which links their author and member pages and promotes them on their books and on the home page. Many authors participate in Early Reviewers and Member Giveaways. And authors also participate in our existing groups. We even have a special Author Chat group for organized author events.

But, encouraged as they are, we've also found a certain amount of static between some authors' desire to promote their work, and the tendency for that to seem one-way, non-conversational advertising or even spam, both of which are against the site's Terms of Service. Confronted with the request to avoid promotion, many authors expressed surprise that a book site would hinder their efforts to reach potential readers. Members were in turn divided on just how serious the problem was, the line between acceptable and unacceptable author posts, etc. The situation was sticky all around!

So, Hobnob with Authors was born, a "safe place" for authors to chat with readers, without fear of being accused of spamming. While some standards will be enforced, no reasonable author need worry. As a "Community Project" the group is prominent, and its posts will appear in Talk alongside other groups. But sensitive members will also be able to "ignore" the "Hobnob" group.

So, authors, you're now free to shout to the rooftops all about the book you write. Excited readers will be waiting to hear about it. Join, watch or just read Hobnob with Authors, and support authors who help make LibraryThing what it is.
Author: "Tim"
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Date: Tuesday, 09 Mar 2010 05:04
The March 2010 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We've got 82 books this month, and a grand total of 2,477 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you've already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it's correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

Update: You can now opt to win more than one book per batch. Read the details, and how to opt in.

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, March 26th at 6PM EST.


Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to too many countries to list. Make sure to check each book to see if you're eligible.


Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!
B&H Publishing GroupNorth Atlantic BooksHunter House
Ballantine BooksW.W. NortonDoubleday Canada
St. Martin's GriffinTundra BooksKregel Publications
PenguinBell Bridge BooksPutnam Books
Riverhead BooksHuman KineticsBelleBooks
Bantam DellCemetery DanceJohn Wiley & Sons
Random HouseHenry Holt and CompanyTaylor Trade Publishing
Seven Stories PressNew Village PressSouth Dakota State Historical Society Press
Gefen Publishing HouseDalkey Archive PressQWERTY Publishers
HighBridgeMcBooks PressRovira i Virgili University Press
McClelland & StewartOrca Book PublishersCandlewick
PicadorThe Permanent PressHarperCollins
Doubleday BooksHarperStudioGotham Books
Quirk BooksAvon BooksHarper
CrosswayMIRAHQN
100 Watt PressLUNAWaterBrook Press
Author: "Sonya"
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Date: Thursday, 04 Mar 2010 21:09
Library Anywhere, our upcoming product that provides a mobile catalog (both mobile web and native apps) for any library, just got an excellent write-up on the ALA TechSource blog: LibraryThing Delivers Mobile Access to Library Catalogs.

The article, by Marshall Breeding, will also appear in the March 2010 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter.

Breeding says of Library Anywhere,
"With the high level of functionality and the low pricing, this competition will lower the threshold for mobile technology into the reach of almost any library."
We're certainly excited about Library Anywhere, and are busy at work on it. We'll have more to show off soon!
Author: "Abby"
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Date: Tuesday, 02 Mar 2010 21:56
After the success of cataloging the 1963 White House Library, we've made it into a monthly thing.

This month, starting at 12:00 noon EST Wednesday, March 3, and continuing for 24 hours, we're going to be cataloging the on-board library of the U.S.S. California, as it was in 1905.

This California's library catalog were written up and published by the Government Printing Office, and has been scanned by the Internet Archive. Designed to serve the California's 830-odd officers and men—the libraries were separate—it offers a unique view of the navy of the time, and of the country. The ship, then rechristened the San Diego, and its library, went to the bottom of the ocean in 1918, the victim of a German U-boat. Six sailors died.The "Legacy Mob" is an amalgam of two LibraryThing inventions:
Author: "Tim"
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Date: Tuesday, 02 Mar 2010 17:09
See the main blog. (Posted to the wrong blog and too many links to this to just delete it.)
Author: "Tim"
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Date: Tuesday, 02 Mar 2010 11:07
I just released an amusing diversion called CoverGuess.

Check it out here, and talk about it here.

What is CoverGuess?

CoverGuess is a sort of game. We give you covers, and you describe them in words. If you guess the same things as other players, you get points.

Why are you doing this?

The goal is to have fun, but also to build up a database of cover descriptions, to answer questions like "Do you have that book with bride on the bicycle?"

What's the best way to do it?

Think about it how you'd describe the cover to someone—pick out the most significant elements. Does it have a car or a pair of shoes? Color terms are good, and so are terms like "blurry" or "sepia." Above all, pick terms other players will be using.

How do points work?

You get one point for every matched term, for each other member who had it. So, if you say "car" and "dog" and two other members said "car" and one said "dog," you get three points. Obviously, it's better if you're not the first member to tag the image, but the system randomizes that aspect. When you're the first to tag an item, you get 0.25 points for your effort.

Aren't you trying to use members' free labor to make money?

Yes and no. All the data here is released under a Creative-Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License, and will be available in feed form. That means any non-profit entity, like a library, can use it without charge. We also commit to license it on the same terms to any bookstore with less than $10 million in sales. That leaves huge companies. If any want it, we'll charge them!

Anything else?

It was partially inspired by Google's ImageLabeler. Our anti-spam engine does something similar too.

The whole thing was perhaps summed up best in a tweet to me:

Author: "Tim"
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Date: Monday, 01 Mar 2010 18:47
We now have over 400,000 reviews vetted and available for LibraryThing for Libraries. (Last June we hit 300,000, so over 100,000 reviews have been added in the past 8 months—not bad.)

400,000 is a lot of reviews. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, for example, has 117 reviews. Now you probably don't need to read over 100 reviews. But if a popular book gets that many, then the more obscure books in your catalog could have 20, 10, or 5 reviews. LTFL reviews cover the bestsellers but they also reach down the long tail.

The LTFL Reviews Enhancement also comes with blog widgets and a Facebook application allow your patrons to show off their reviews—and their love for your library—where they "live" online.

The Reviews Enhancement is currently available for Horizon, iBistro, Webvoyage, Voyager 7, Koha, Evergreen, WebPac, WebPac Pro, and Polaris 3.6. We're always expanding this list, so if your OPAC isn't one of these, email abby@librarything.com and we can work on adding support for it.

For more information, email me (abby@librarything.com). For ordering information, contact Peder Christensen at Bowker—877-340-2400 or Peder.Christensen@bowker.com.
Author: "Abby"
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Date: Monday, 01 Mar 2010 09:40
I've pushed through a beta version of a new recommendation engine. The "Read Alikes" recommendations supplement our existing automatic and member recommendations. "Read Alikes" are based directly on the members who have your books—the people who "read alike" you, or whatever.

So far, opinion is divided. Some members love it, and are getting great recommendations. Others report a parade of things they already know about. Is it quite consciously, however, a beta feature. It may be improved, or it may go away. Most likely, it will go away and be replaced by a better overall algorithm, with better tools for managing your recommendations.
Author: "Tim"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Feb 2010 17:00
On Tuesday I sent out February's State of the Thing, our monthly newsletter. Sign up to get it, or you can read a copy online.

This month's State of the Thing features a synopsis of site upgrades, and two exclusive author interviews:

Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel, The Historian was a hugely popular historical mystery. Switching gears from Dracula, it's an art mystery that drives Kostova's second novel The Swan Thieves, which is poised to follow in The Historian's bestselling path.

Holly Black is well-known for The Spiderwick Chronicles and the Modern Tales of Faerie series. The Poison Eaters is Holly's first short story collection. Filled with gritty scenes of magic enhantment and disenchantment, The Poison Eaters features previously published stories as well as new ones.

Next month our interviews will skew to the undead end of the spectrum, with Seth Grahame-Smith and Jonathan Maberry. Have a question for them? Post it here and we might use it in the upcoming interview.
Author: "Sonya"
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Date: Wednesday, 24 Feb 2010 12:55
If you enjoy reviewing books, and like getting free books in the mail, then this is the month to request an Early Reviewer title. There are 3,495 copies of 107 different books, all of which are either not published yet, or just recently published.

In previous months we had half this many copies available, which means this month twice as many members will win a book!

Points to note:
  • E-books are listed at the bottom. Each ebook says "This book is an eBook, not a physical book."
  • You never know what you may win, so only request books you're interested in reviewing yourself.


Sign up for Early Reviewers here. The February batch closes this Friday, February 26th at 6pm EST.
Author: "Sonya"
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Date: Tuesday, 23 Feb 2010 22:03
Then and now photos of the White House Library. ("Now" photo by Flickr user Jay Tamboli).
Overnight, some twenty LibraryThing members(1) entered, or "flash mob cataloged" an entire, historic library—the White House Library of the early 1960s and, largely, today. We did it from a limited-edition "Short-Title List" printed by the White House Historical Society, using LibraryThing's 700-odd library data sources.(2)

The library, WHLibrary1963, contains some 1,700 books. It joins some 128 other "Legacy Libraries" cataloged or being cataloged by members. It's our second Kennedy-themed library, after the incomplete JohnFKennedy—or third, if you count Marilyn Monroe's (interesting) collection.

Why We Did It. An amusing train-wreck of blog outrage moved us to action. Rob Port, a conservative radio host and blogger took a White House tour and spotted some books on the wall that made him jump. Hearing or mis-hearing that the books had been picked by Michelle Obama, Port blogged Photo Evidence: Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books In The White House Library.

Port's picture included books like:
And a number of other, not-so-socialist titles, like U.S. Senators and Their World, all from the 40s, 50s and 60s. (Needless to say it didn't apparently dawn on Port to look the books up, or wonder why they all seemed a tad old.)

The White House Library.The Washington Post's Short Stack blog knocked down the story. Far from being picked by Michelle Obama, the library was in fact assembled at the request of another First Lady—Jacqueline Kennedy.

Kennedy, who also oversay the redecoration of the room itself, delegated the selection to Yale librarian James T. Babb, who convened a small committee, including the editors of the Jefferson and Adams papers and the Kennedy aide and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. The work took about a year.

The book list was published in the New York Times in August 1963. A limited edition Short Title-List was printed in 1967. Between 1963 and 1967 a number of books were added to the list. From some Flickr pictures, it looks like a few more books may have been added—perhaps in the Johnson administration?—to the actual library.

What does it mean? While not a window into Obama's book tastes, still less his socialism, the library is a window into something. Browsing through it, I can't help feeling a sense of the time, and of the opinions and culture of the men who assembled it, and were intended to use it.

As I see it, Kennedy's administration was marked by a rare embrace of intellect, ideas and even scholarship, but was also constrained somewhat by the mental world of contemporary east-coast elites—the "Harvards" that irritated Johnson so much. Although flattened by politic initial choices—it includes no living authors of fiction, and few works by non-US citizens— the 1963 White House Library was, in a sense, the library of the "Best and Brightest," and it reflects their world view. As fun as it was to do, it's perhaps a shame we don't have similar collections for all the presidents since then. However interesting, it would be a shame if the White House Library forever remained a 1960s relic.

Come talk about the library here.

Continuing cataloging and cleanup progress here.


1. amba, ansate, bell7, bokai, carport, cbl_tn, ccc3579, clamairy, cpirmann, jbd1, jjlong, merry10, moibibliomaniac, momerath, SilentInAWay, spookykitten, theophila, timspalding, thornton37814, UtopianPessimist.
2. I kicked it off by driving from Portland down to the University of New Hampshire, which had the closest copy of the limited-edition Short-Title List. I love that my job periodically allows me to get in a car for the sole purpose of getting a book at some far-away library.
Author: "Tim"
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