In which a GoodReads’ User explores LibraryThing

In preparation for next week’s LibraryThing in-class workshop, I’ve decided to use this learning journal entry to explore LibraryThing and to try to apply principles of information organization. I’m especially intrigued to see if it makes use of linked data, item vs. work concept, and how LibraryThing functions as a database. The tagline of LibraryThing, “Catalog Your Books Online,” leaves the impression that the tagging interface for texts on GoodReads will be comprehensive and that certain functionalities may be more interlinked as with OCLCs. An added nuance will be my history with GoodReads. I’ve been using GoodReads on and off since 2011. For better or worse, I have some preferential bias as I have already made an active community of friends and familiarity. I wanted to acknowledge my bias, while also stating that I’ve been unhappy with a lot of Amazon-acquisition drive changes.

I’m going to start my project by taking importing my GoodReads library into LibraryThing from one interface to another. Immediately, the system prompted me on titles that were missing ISBNs and asked me what resources I wanted to use to search for my titles (Amazon.com, WorldCat, LOC). The breadth of LibraryThing’s search function to crosscheck information is impressive and helps fill data-gaps.

List of favorite books from 2018. This will be the list of books transferred to LibraryThing.

Let’s take a closer look at The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara. From the main page, we are given quite a bit of information. Immediately, the LibraryThing user is giving a numerical value for how many other users’ have The House of Impossible Beauties on their shelves. GoodReads gives the number of ratings and provides many reviews, but doesn’t include information for how many users have put the text on their shelves. This information could be guessed at by looking at the top shelves (GoodRead’s tagging system) and through the number of ratings, but this isn’t an accurate method. LibraryThing also has a more straightforward method of ensuring that the user finds the correct manifestation (Tillett, 2003) of the work. Selecting a different cover on the popular covers’ section and selecting information will confirm what format and ISBN that new cover may have. Switching to that edition is a matter of pressing the “choose this cover button” (The House, n.d.).

Main page for The House of Impossible Beauties on LibraryThing

LibraryThing has more of a concept for Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) (Tillett, 2003) in that it differentiates between the item (in LibraryThing’s system the Book) and the work. In the work portion of the LibraryThing entry, you are given more generalized, catalog centric information. The title, amount of members shelving the text, number of ISBNs associated with the text, the text’s popularity amongst other LibraryThing users, DDC/MDS (Melvil Decimal System) number, and the original language of the text. Here, one can also find the Library of Congress classification and the Library of Congress Subject Heading.

Work details page of The House of Impossible Beauties on LibraryThing

The Book entry in The House of Impossible Beauties is intended to represent the user’s actual book. There are fields for more expect book data points like title, author, rating, media, publication date, publication, and ISBN. Some attributes, like the physical description field and item comments, allow the user to personalize the book entry. The physical description on GoodReads is limited to the information entered on the original manifestation entry into GoodReads. The LibraryThing book-entry also includes a date acquired field, which GoodReads neglects to do.

Book details of The House of Impossible Beauties when in user edit mode.

The Book entry in The House of Impossible Beauties is intended to represent the user’s actual book. There are fields for more expect book data points like title, author, rating, media, publication date, publication, and ISBN. Some attributes, like the physical description field and item comments, allow the user to personalize the book entry. The physical description on GoodReads is limited to the information entered on the original manifestation entry into GoodReads. The LibraryThing book-entry also includes a date acquired field, which GoodReads neglects to do.

Conversations page of The House of Impossible Beauties.

The clear separation between the work and the item leads one to think that LibraryThing has more of a database step up. Every user (entity) has a relationship (has shelved) an item (book) that was created by the author (another entity) (Harrington, 2009). The author’s relationship to the item is that of creating it. The different users on the LibraryThing website can have book-specific conversations with one another, which creates another relationship between the users and the book.

LibraryThing allows users to contribute tags to publications. These tags, if utilized by enough users, feed into the main page. Any given entity’s (user’s) tags go into their TagClouds. Other users are able to see what tags folks have used for their books in the Tag Mirror.

Overall, LibraryThing is a useful interface for cataloging one’s shelves. It has many capabilities for those with small libraries, including a TinyCat OCLC, for those who may want to start micro-community libraries or have an OCLC for their own shelves. The website itself is less user-friendly than GoodReads and has less easily found social networking functions, but it’s statistics and organization features are far superior.

References

Harrington, Jan L.(2016). Relational database design and implementation clearly explained (Fourth Edition) Amsterdam; Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier.

Favorites of 2018. (2019). In GoodReads. Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/5883786-sarah?shelf=favorites-of-2018

Tillett, B. (2003). What is FRBR? A conceptual model for the bibliographic universe. Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/cds/downloads/FRBR.PDF.

TinyCat. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.librarycat.org/

The House of Impossible Beauties. (2019). In LibraryThing. Retrieved from: https://www.librarything.com/work/20935787/book/174987095

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