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.
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.
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."