Monday, September 29, 2008

Extra Credit: LibraryThing in Your Catalog

I’m sorry that this is not a recommendation for any of the amazing items we have at the Urbana Free Library, but hopefully this will help you discover something new and exciting. It doesn’t require any extra effort on your part if you already search our catalog from home/work/wherever. You do use our catalog, right?

Even if you are a regular search-aholic, you may or may not have noticed LibraryThing sneakily infiltrate the catalog. Quick--open up a new window/tab and search for a book. Once you’ve got the book's listing up in front of you, take a look at the lower-left side of the webpage. For example, you'll see the image below on the lower left of the record for David Sedaris's latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

That nifty little block of info is provided by LibraryThing. We’ll go into LibraryThing in more detail some other time—for now, you should know that LibraryThing adds several things to our catalog records:

  1. Alternate formats/editions of the book. For example, it may list an audiobook on CD or large print or paperback edition. In our Sedaris example, you can see a link to the audio version of the book.

  2. Similar books. What makes them similar? Based on LibraryThing's secret data, I suspect some combination of reader preferences and tags are used to determine similarity. Let's look at our example again. Sedaris's book is a collection of humorous biographical essays. Scott McClellan’s book is a memoir, Dear American Airlines is a humorous novel, and I Was Told There'd Be Cake is a humorous essay collection. Some things are more similar than others, but the point is to offer other titles of potential interest to you.

  3. Tags. What’s a tag? In our catalog, librarians list specialized, defined subject headings on item records. Tags, on the other hand, are the people’s subjects. LibraryThing users have come up with single word/phrase descriptors of books in their collections, and they can use whatever word(s) they think are appropriate. This means that you’ve got a pool of everyday-Joe subjects that, when combined, can give you an even more detailed idea of the book.
If that’s not enough, you can click on these tags to discover additional titles so tagged by other readers. Again, let’s look at our example image. Clicking on “Humor” brings up a nice list of books—some I’ve read, some are new. Clicking on “Smoking” brings up an odd variety of titles, but hey, there’s Thank You for Smoking. I’ve been meaning to read that—the movie was excellent.

For more info, check out LibraryThing's blog. I hope you play around with some of these cool little tools next time you’re browsing our catalog. With any luck, you’ll see a title that sounds compelling enough to make you scoot away from the computer, change out of your pajamas, and swing by the library to pick it up. Call ahead and we’ll hold it for you.

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