Thursday, April 10, 2008

More useful than you might think

I've known about LibraryThing for a long time, although I never set up an account. I suppose it never seemed necessary, because while I own a lot of books, they spent a lot of time in boxes while I lived with my parents. Actually, when I finally moved into my apartment this past September, one of the things I was most excited about was being able to put all of my books on shelves to be organized and gazed upon adoringly. Still, I didn't ever really feel a need to catalog them all online. I work at a library, I don't really need to catalog things in my free time.

But I signed up for LibraryThing for this challenge and I have to say, I may be a convert. Maybe. I'm not entirely sure quite yet. You can view my library here. So far, I have only added the books I've read most recently. I definitely like the ability to add my own tags. Since so many of the books I've been reading lately are library books and not books I own personally, I added a tag "fromthelibrary" to indicate books that I read but do not own. (I wouldn't want to misrepresent my personal library! just kidding. sort of.) So that was all well and good, until I realized that I can use tags in all sorts of ways.

I have been keeping track of all of the books I've read each year since 2005. I'm not sure why I started; probably just because. But it sort of evolved as the years went by, and now I've been making book resolutions, like "in 2007 I'm going to read more than 25 books". But what I realized this morning is that I can use tags like "read2008" to help me keep track of the books I'm reading each year... rather than using a plain old text file. You heard it here first: LibraryThing is useful!

But LibraryThing actually helped me at the reference desk one day a few months ago, which caught me by complete surprise at the time. A customer came up to the desk and said, “I’m looking for a book. Except I don’t know the title. Or the author.” My colleague and I exchanged a brief glance and then I said, “Okay, well what DO you know?” The customer went on, “It’s about a girl who travels back in time to the black plague.” Every once in a while, I can figure the book out right away, and in this case, my colleague knew it was Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I had already begun my google search, so I saw it through to see if I could come up with the same answer, just as an exercise. I googled “novel time travel black plague” and the first result was a link this page on LibraryThing: Books tagged bubonic plague. One of the first results? Was Doomsday Book! How cool is that? Very.

It completely changed how I think about LibraryThing and reader's advisory. I know that tags are one of the most defining features of 2.0 resources, and I was able to see them in action, helping me answer a real-life reference question. Do I use LibraryThing now as my first resource when someone comes to the reference desk with a question like that? Definitely.


abird said...

Thaks for blogging about The Doomsday Book. Iloved it and now you reminded me to add it to my LibraryThing. AB

abird said...

Sorry about the typo. I was trying to say thanks, of course.

elizabeth said...

Oh cool! I haven't actually read it, but after the question and writing about it again, I think I'll have to check it out.