The best idea since Flickr

“Librarything is”: a combination lookup tool for bibliographic information, a way to tag and catalogue your books collection, and a social service, where you can browse other people’s libraries. Type in a few identifying words from a book’s spine, and it will go off and find corresponding entries in the Library of Congress then add your selection to your library, with optional tags. these library collections are all public by default (though they can be private); if someone else has a book you own, you can copy it into your own library, saving more typing. I think this is just stupefying for anyone who needs to organise their bookshelves, and who likes other book lovers.

I’ve done a wormseye about it, which I will probably post later. But there’s some stuff I left out of that. There are a couple of web-based[1] competitors — “reader2,”: “bibliophil,”: [“Alexandria”:]. The last two seem to have rotted like most linux ideas; the first seems to me to be aimed at people who don’t read all that much. There’s a huge emphasis on the covers of books, and all the lookups are done from the Amazon catalogue, rather than the LoC.

Librarything uses Amazon as a fallback and (at my request) will also use the European amazons. But Spalding would rather use the British library, which has to be the right thing to do. From a cataloguing point of view, I really don’t care what the cover of the book looks like. The only useful service would be a picture of the _spine,_ and no one provides that.

The service is free for up to 200 books (but, as he says, why would anyone want to catalogue so few) and $10 for any greater quantity. This is a lifetime fee. I think that’s a fantastic bargain. Even if the whole thing blows up and dies in a year’s time I can export all my records from it — and will, once they’re all entered. then I have paid $10 for a complete catalogue of my books that can by fed into any other database.

I do know about Delicious LIbrary. It is pure mac software: glossy and narcissistic. But it’s also more expensive, and lacks the social aspect. $40 is a perfectly reasonable price for thesoftware. But then you must add in the bar code reader, and the mac mini. That’s a lot of books foregone.

fn1. I know there are hundreds of programs that require you to type in all the details of books yourself. Forget them.

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10 Responses to The best idea since Flickr

  1. Sharon says:

    I’ve been wanting to catalogue my books for ages but kept putting it off for two reasons:

    Most of my collection is on another island 🙂
    I kept procrastinating…

    But this should make things so much easier. Great, great link! Keep surfing, and blogging!

  2. jim says:

    The problem for me with Delicious is the assumption that all/most books have a barcode. Too many of ours don’t. But scanning a barcode is fast. I just tried Librarything. It took me roughly half an hour to catalogue 21 of the 22 books nearest my desk. Some of them didn’t come up with a match, so I had to take the nearest thing and edit it. One book produced nothing even close. I would have had to enter it entirely manually.

    So I’m not sure.

  3. acb says:

    Where are you, if I may ask? I find it takes me about ten minutes a bookshelf, a pleasant interstitial task. I can only think that more of my books are in the databases he uses — I have it set to search amazon UK first, and then the LoC.

    If it ever really takes off, there will be scope for a CDDB type lookup of books that other people already have.

  4. jim says:

    In the US. Near Washington DC.

    It may well be that it gets faster as you get used to it. On several I had to add search terms to get the list of possibles down. I imagine over time, I’ll be able to better come up with optimal search terms.

    But the real slowdown is not getting a hit for the actual edition you’ve got. In 22 books, I had four of these.

    The three that I had to edit were a softcover edition of a book that only came up as hardcover, an Elibron reprint, and an 18th century American edition.

    The one that didn’t come up at all was Feneon’s translation of Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland.

    I’ll stay with it for a little while at least. If I get to 200, I’ll probably carry on.

  5. acb says:

    I agree that finding lots of editions is slow and irritating. I don’t see any way around that, though, except a barcode scan. If you now your own edition, you can probably add key terms, like th epublisher, to the search. I haven’t tried this, but it ought to work.

  6. Tim says:

    You can try the ISBN. ISBNs are tied to the edition. The LC tends not to have as many paperback reprints, so, when you have one it’s often best to skip right by them to the Amazon results.

  7. Jaana says:

    You may also like which has more social elements.

  8. Tom says:

    For cataloguing DVD’s, music and games you might want to check out Listal (

  9. jim says:

    I still can’t reach 10 minutes a bookshelf. It’s more like 40 minutes a bookshelf. But I went through four shelves and added 160+ books and have gone and paid my $10.

    It’s become clear that for me at least it’s worth taking the time to pull the book down and use the ISBN if it has one. I can’t guess good search terms.

    It’s also worth using the commas for the LoC search.

    I think this will be a hit.

  10. soxfan says:

    There’s also “”:, which covers books, movies, and music. I think it’s also limited to the Amazon database, though you can add items under the “other” category.

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