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LibraryThing

Here’s another cool tool that talks about the social aspects of reading. It is called LibraryThing and you can look at it here.
There are apparently some mini-librarians out there! There may even be enough to be drawn to this site which allows them to:
– Catalog their personal books online.
– Show everyone your library, or keep it private.
– Find people with the same books that you own and get reading suggestions from people who like what you like.
– Tag your books such as is done on Del.icio.us and Flickr (eg., wwii, magical realism, knitting, christian living, cats).
– Search Amazon, the Library of Congress and 30 other world libraries.
– Export your data or import from almost anywhere too.
– Free to a point – enter 200 books for free, as many as you like for $10 (year) or $25 (life).
– Put a widget on your blog to show people what you’re reading.
Hmmm. Here’s a next generation application that could teach something to libraries and Amazon alike. Maybe we’re too hasty in universally cleansing reading profiles a la USA PATRIOT Act. Maybe we could provide services like this and promote the social nature of reading – with the informed consent of our users. At what point do we cross the line between protecting our users or potentially infantilizing them and removing the personal right for them to make independent decisions about their level of privacy? The Amazon and eBay lesson seems to be that many users will supply some information in an informed way to personalize or enhance their web experiences. A larger debate probably needs to occur on this front. All those 2.0 ideas and opportunities might be nullified by too dogmatic or paternalistic an apporach to these ideas. Then again, maybe not. It’s still worth a better discussion than is occuring now.
Hmmmm.
Stephen

Posted on: December 13, 2005, 11:39 pm Category: Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. Stephen: I think you’re spot-on that more debate needs to happen on this privacy vs enhanced user-experience topic. I’m generally cautious with all things privacy, although in this case, I think we’ve dismissed a lot of service opportunities due to knee-jerk instincts on protecting privacy at all costs. (Of course, privacy could just be an excuse for libraries being slow to innovate, but that would be another discussion altogether…)
    Allowing users to opt-in (very important to understand this in terms of a willing, informed consent on their part) to a social software system that will provide them with benefits in the form of service enhancements, increased functionality, profiling and personalization, could be extremely useful both for them and for us. Assuming we’re forthright and upfront about what data we’re storing and for what reasons we’re collecting it, I would think that a lot of people would opt in to use social bookmarks, recommendation services and any number of “2.0” services that we might offer (as opposed to sitting by and watching these other LibraryThing types do all the work of helping those cool metadata-lovin’ “mini-librarians”).
    Why do we always err on the side of assuming our users are stupid or incapable of making decisions for themselves? 80,000+ photos uploaded to Flickr/hour ( I read that stat somewhere and was blown away) and stats like this for social bookmarking (http://tinyurl.com/d44z6) help illustrate the point that there is clearly a large percentage of people that see some good in sharing pieces of their digital (information?) life.
    One of the many benefits for libraries of course is that users dig(g) their way into our stuff and they’ll discover and use more of it. Enough said.
    Thanks for the soapbox. I’m so glad you’re blogging! 🙂

  2. Hey. Thanks for picking up the site. Send me an email some time and let’s talk about if there’s any way we can work together.

  3. Thanks Stephen – Great idea. I personally relate to the “mini-librarian” idea and I intend to implement a LibraryThing bookroll on my blog. I acknowledged your post in my blog – thanks again! –patrick

  4. I wish there were some place to actually discuss these issues. But here’s another thought.
    The privacy issues are not trivial. Worse, perhaps, are people’s expectations that libraries and their catalogs are fair, reasonable and non-objectionable.
    Where is all this web 2.0 stuff going? One answer would be that library patrons could tag books for themselves and others and edit wikified descriptions. But what happens when someone stumbles upon an objectionable tag. Leaving aside “kink,” “erotica” and so forth, what about when someone tags the Diary of Anne Frank as “so-called holocaust”? And if you think tags are bad, just put a wiki up.
    There’s no use pretending this won’t happen. You could never “control” it without eviscerating it. And I don’t think any public library’s tagging experiment could survive it. Do you recall the turmoil over Google’s results for “jew”? That was easy to explain, I think, and Google isn’t susceptible to public presure in the same way.
    If there’s an answer it’s in *very* large quantities of data. If Anne Frank’s been tagged 1,000,000 times, and you only provide the top ten tags, you’re just not going to get objectionable ones. The same goes for wikified cataloging. That means that it can’t be an initiative by individual libraries, but of large numbers of them, perhaps aggregated around an OPAC supplier.
    Another option would be to get the data from LibraryThing. People will never tag items in their public library with the same gusto that they tag their own books. And LibraryThing’s growing like crazy…

  5. People likely wouldn’t randomly tag library books. They would, however, want to tag items they have read. Especially if the system would allow them to access a list of what they have read previously. Lots of people track the books they have read, which is one of the reasons why LibraryThing and BookCrossing http://www.bookcrossing.com are popular. Libraries could make this easier.
    With regard to inappropriate tagging, aren’t we (speaking as a librarian) supposed to be enabling freedom of speech and diversity of ideas? Gets into dangerous grounds when we try to limit what can or cannot be tagged.
    I’m thinking one would need a forum or other area for discussion of the tags used so people have a chance to talk about what they see being used for tags and put it into context. For example, if someone sees a tag that is objectionable, bring it to people’s attention and talk about why it is objectionable. This could be used as a good talking point. [Naively says she in the private sector, who hasn’t actually faced these discussions first-hand!]

  6. Some further thoughts on potentially objectionable tagging:
    Blogger currently has a “flag” system which allows people to flag blogs which they find objectionable. The folks at blogger can then decide if they want to relegate said blog to a less public space on the web so fewer folks find it. See this discussion on flagging: http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=1200
    For an example, see the top of my blog where it says “Flag” (top right): http://conniecrosby.blogspot.com
    Something similar could happen with tagging in the library catalogue. A tag could be flagged as objectionable. Then, after review if it was found that the flag would be objectionable, it could be made “private” so that only the individual who created it could see it.
    That would not be removing the person’s freedom of thought, but make the tag space less threatening.
    What do others think of that idea? You can sure tell something has captured my imagination if I am still thinking about it a day later…..

  7. Daniel Truslove said

    I think Connie has really hit on something with this idea of public v. private tagging. As it is I would love to be able to use private tags on my flickr or librarything account. I would allow me to put those sorts of things I don’t really want to share: location, read/not read, on loan to Bill; on the work without having to worry about privacy issues.
    On the issue of OPAC tie-ins: LibraryThing is already offering API’s to link tag, recommendation and review data into existing cataloging systems.