Cataloguing books online

by Yule Heibel on September 19, 2005

Have any of my one or three readers checked out either Library Thing or the Delicious Library and are you willing to offer your feedback or thoughts on same?

Cataloguing my library is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I have to say that doing it electronically, with all the options of tagging each title, thereby cross-referencing each one, is very very tempting. I’m not so sure about giving over all that data about my reading preferences, though. Nor am I clear about where the data actually resides.

But it’s tempting. It has an appeal to vanity, too, of course, which, I suspect, all these new emerging applications have to build in, if they wish to succeed. Appeal to vanity, as in: my “tag clouds” (via Library Thing) could sprinkle on another user’s tags, and I’m sure the site could be a total time sink in terms of vanity searches for other users whose book titles match my own.

~~~~~ ** ~~~~~

PS: ok, maybe it’s an unlucky fluke, but I have to state that loading Delicious Library has now twice frozen my browser (Firefox) to the point where I had to go into “terminal” and “kill -9” it. I did have 6 or 7 other tags open, but I don’t like going to sites that seem to make my browser freeze or crash or turn to toast.


JS September 20, 2005 at 11:07 am

I signed up with LibraryThing last Friday. I love it; it has become my latest online obsession. Drop-dead easy, and fun. You can choose to keep your library private if you wish. I haven’t — so if you want to see what a collection looks like and how profiles link to others with the same books, my profile is jlspad.

Yule Heibel September 20, 2005 at 4:06 pm

Thanks for leaving a comment, JS — and I’m looking forward to rooting around on your intriguingly titled blog (12 Frogs) when I have a bit more time. Hmm, why frogs?, why not monkeys?, why 12?… 😉

I do like the LibraryThing and think it’s tempting, but I’m still concerned about privacy on the one hand (and although I can keep my library private vs. public, there’s still the question of all that data), and about security/ back-up (as well as transferability) on the other. I don’t have a library as huge as LanguageHat, for example (the son & I discovered his hoarde because he wanted to explore the tag “military history”), but even my humble collection will take me months to catalog. What, then, if their server goes boom and the whole thing is lost? Is there a way for me to make a backup of all that data and have it somewhere on my computer?

Maybe these questions are already answered on the site (or the blog), but they haven’t popped out at me yet and it’s something I’m concerned about.

But it does look like fun. For those of us weirdos who really like books… 😉

I need to wrap my head around your entry (on your blog, Sept.15) about creating a notes manager, too. Sounds interesting.

Yule Heibel September 20, 2005 at 4:10 pm

PS @ JS: I love your about page!

maria September 20, 2005 at 9:23 pm

Oh, just what I need — another time sinker and back-breaker form sitting too long on my behind just keep feeding the ever-growing appetites of the cyber ego…

But it does look interesting. Still, I have much the same concerns you have about privacy. Also, call me old-fashioned, but I do like to keep a few secrets … among them the books I read.

Maybe this paranoia around public reading lists and the secret joys of reading are leftovers from a childhood from behind the old Iron Curtain … but still, I do have some limits!

JS September 22, 2005 at 5:38 pm

A group of frogs is called an army. A group of monkeys, what are they? A thousand of them and enough time you get Shakespeare? 😉 I’m glad you are enjoying my site. Drop me an email if you want to talk more about installing Instiki, I’ve been happy with it.

As far as LibraryThing goes, yes someone else will have your data. But they don’t have to know anything about you that you don’t want to tell them. I think you need to give up an email address, but you don’t need a Real Name. It supports exporting as a csv file, which means any spreadsheet app out there can read it. I’m curious — do you have an Amazon wishlist? Do you back it up? (Is that even possible?)

Tim Spalding October 2, 2005 at 7:08 pm

Hi. The developer here. As a lawyer you main concern should be that the site has no terms of use or privacy policy. It took off so fast and so unexpectedly I just never got around to it. (I figured I’d be chatting with LanguageHat for months before it was noticed outside of that sphere.) I’m writing them tonight. (Do you think “developer gets to take naked pictures of you” should be in or out?) But seriously, the exporting is one hedge. Another is that it’s run by a real person, not some corporation that has to turn the electricity off when the next round of funding falls through. I know a lot of the early users—including my brother with 3,000 books—and that’ll make it hard to shut down. On the other side, it would certainly be in peril if I were to die suddenly.

Incidentally, I’m going to be adding private *books*, so your colleagues won’t know everything you read. That said, the privacy policy is going to make it clear I can’t be sued if info spills. Even even Amazon had a day when all the “anonymous” reviewers were exposed. (Bedlam ensued; not a few writers, even big writers, had reviewed themselves.)

Let me know if you have any questions, or if there’s anything you want out of the site that it’s not giving you. I grew up and spent most of my life just outside of Harvard Square, so you’re something of a neighbor…

Yule Heibel October 3, 2005 at 3:54 pm

Tim — thanks so much for dropping by, and for developing The LibaryThing in the first place. I’m glad to see that you’re taking care of the privacy policy issue, and it sounds like you’re very committed to the service / providing access for all those folks who put their data in there. I think I could probably get around the privacy worries if I used an alias — I don’t have anything to hide and would only be annoyed at the local (virtual) gossip looking into my data; the real spooky snoops could hack whatever anyone comes up with anyway, and in that sense there’s no privacy anymore…

The other issue is access — from what you say, is it possible to export one’s data to a backup? That would be nice because then you don’t have to fret about the potentially hundreds of hours you’re putting into cataloguing the books being for nothing…

If it were the case that I had time right now to start entering data, I would use your LibraryThing, no question. I like the interface, the way it looks, and all the options of tagging and seeing who else has same or similar items by category: it’s really great. In fact, I’d love to see my own eclectic collection of books up — it might give me some clues!! Unfortunately, I don’t have another “me” who can sit here and put this stuff in right now, but that’s not to say that I won’t do it in some future month, so I hope your service thrives, grows, and brings you fame and riches…

I missed the Amazon fracas you mentioned, btw — that must have been fun…

And now I get to use that dubious email/ chat abbreviation: IANAL (I am not a lawyer). The blogs are hosted by the Berkman Center / Law School at Harvard, but anyone with a Harvard email address can open a blog here — and all alumni automatically can get a Harvard email address.

And alas (or hooray, depending on one’s perspective), I have escaped the Cambridge orbit and now live where I grew up, in Victoria British Columbia on Vancouver Island. So I’m far far from Massachusetts these days… If you’re ever in our lovely Pacific Northwest region, let me know.

Tim Spalding October 9, 2005 at 6:33 am

Hi. Sorry not to get back right away. Checking blogs gets cumbersome.

Yes, you can export. Currently it has a CSV backup, ideal for Excel. I will add an XML backup someday (when I add RSS generally). Some of the desktop cataloging programs will read CSV, although I’m not sure what you’d have to do to it.

Since I wrote (I think) LibraryThing added a whole slew of libraries, including a bunch in Canada.

I’d love to grep the daily AOL IM logs for IANAL. I’m guessing typo beats disclaimer hands down.

Best, Tim

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