Bibliophiles Unite! (It's a Library Thing)

Story posted October 18, 2007

When you think of online social networking, the "friending" that goes on among popular Web sites MySpace and Facebook may come to mind, but book lovers in particular are checking out a social network that has become a Web page turner of its own. LibraryThing, a prominent social cataloging site, connects its visitors to others based on the books they share. Library Thing has given the Bowdoin College Library kudos for using its services in creative new ways, and has taken inspiration from the creativity and technical know-how within the Library to prompt product improvements of its own.

H-L cups-computer200.jpg
Innovative ideas have been brewing inside the Bowdoin College Library.

In much the same way Flickr built an online community around digital images, LibraryThing urges users to tag their books with keywords that describe the book's content. Tags associated with Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss include "contemporary fiction," "Himalayas," "Nepal" and "Booker Prize." If you click on "Himalayas," you'll find a list of other titles with that tag. So now, in addition to library-supplied subject headings and tags, users can also define their own vocabulary for searching the catalog. Bowdoin has used LibraryThing to add user-defined tags and lists of similar books into the College's catalog. In the next release of the software, campus users will be able to take advantage of "social bookmarking" to add their own tags or subject identifiers and similar titles. For an example of the Bowdoin College Library's social bookmarking feature, click here.

H-L social circle.jpg
Book-loving social circles have embraced Library Thing and its Bowdoin-inspired features.

LibraryThing's "Thingology Blog" posted its accolades: "For a small library, they are doing a lot of innovative things and have a good-looking, easy-to-use website." Some of Bowdoin's compliment-eliciting innovations include a dynamic book locator, book jackets with book summaries and tables of contents, a search for full-text book reviews and the ability to instant message the catalog records to a cell phone in the event a student is in his or her room and wants to make a list of items to get from the stacks. "They've put in a neat little JavaScript tooltip to explain what tags are that we just might have to steal," added Library Thing's blog. Read the entire blog entry here.

Testing the software this summer, Associate Librarian Judy Montgomery searched the catalog for The Wizard of the Crow by Thiong'o Ngugi. "It's a wonderful novel I had just finished reading and found under the list of similar titles a novel by Richard Powers," says Montgomery. "It was a terrific read. A reader contributing to LibraryThing had turned me on to new books and new authors. That's what I call social networking."

H-L exterior.jpg

« Back | Campus News | Academic Spotlight | | Subscribe to Bowdoin News by Email