Thoughts on LibraryThing

I recently found myself in the rather odd position of trying to explain LibraryThing to several of my colleagues. Without getting too much into that conversation, let me just relate what for me was the best moment: Evelyn‘s question, “Why do people feel the compulsion to catalog their own books?” And this is why I love Evelyn: she has the rare ability to be snarky and simultaneously make it clear that she loves the world and all the people in it.

I have a library on LibraryThing, consisting of exactly 10 items, which are some of the things that happened to be on and scattered on the floor near my desk when I created my account. (I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader which were which. I suppose a bibliotherapist could make much of this sample. In particular, I’d like to point out that The 100-Mile Diet and The Singularity is Near are mutually exclusive.) Anyway, I can absolutely see how LibraryThing could be totally addictive. I even considered buying a CueCat for about 15 seconds. And I have attempted to catalog my own books in the past, mostly by attempting to develop my own databases. I say “attempted” because these were always failed attempts. I lay the failure of these projects to the fact that I was, well, attempting to develop my own databases. This was before I discovered tools like EndNote, which would have made the job considerably easier. But by the time I had discovered tools like EndNote, I had better things to do with my time.

Anyway, why do people feel the compulsion to catalog their own books? I’ve already admitted that I have this compulsion, so I can hardly criticize it. But on reflection, cataloging one’s own books does seem to me to miss one important fact: books have variable half-lives. That is to say, there are some books that I buy because I want to keep them, and there are some books that I buy fully intending to donate them to the next book sale. Usually the books in this latter category were purchased at a book sale, appropriately enough. Of course one could simply delete the books from one’s LibraryThing library that one purges. But does anyone actually do that? Cataloging one’s books just seems to me to give a permanence to stuff that stuff doesn’t really have or deserve. Of course, libraries weed their collections too. After all, the library is a growing organism.

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2 Responses to Thoughts on LibraryThing

  1. Lori says:

    I started a LibraryThing account in Fall, 2006 as a part of a Ph.D. seminar project. However, as I began to put my books into it, I suddenly realized that hours had gone by and I had put hundreds of books in my online catalog. Once I had done that, it just seemed to make sense to put the rest in, lol.

    However, why do it?
    (1) This is probably akin to Helen Tibbo’s idea of people’s fetishism for documents in archiving — I just love my books and seeing a list of all the books I have was immensely satisfying.
    (2) Furthermore, as I began to add books, I also realized that there were some real gems there that I had totally forgotten about having. I put them back in my “to read again” list.
    (3) Library Thing was really cool because I have a few rather esoteric interests and it was amazingly fascinating to see the handful of other people that owned the same oddball books.
    (4) Finally, I usually DON’T get rid of books. Or if I do, it comes in one fell swoop every five years or so. I got rid of several hundred books right before I moved to Chapel Hill, but have been collecting again since then.

    With that all said, however, I haven’t been back to add more books since early Spring, 2007, and don’t have any particularly strong wish to do so right now. So I have an uneasy feeling about those new books that are now side-by-side with already cataloged books. How will I ever find them?

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on meeting Abby Blachly and reading The Long Tail | Jeffrey Pomerantz

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