Posts Tagged ‘library’


Publishing your virtual bookshelf online with Goodreads

Last month, I described how I created a virtual bookshelf, resulting in a digital database of my library's metadata. Once I had that local index, I wanted to find an elegant way to publish it online. The software I used offers a "Publish to FTP site" that produces an HTML listing, but it doesn't integrate with any CMS or social network that I use. I chose instead to investigate Web sites that specialize in this service and which offer social networking features that allow me to share my library with friends.

First I looked at LibraryThing, recommended to me by a librarian. Although its online tour presented a visually attractive interface, I eliminated LibraryThing as a potential contender almost immediately upon reading this caveat: "A free account allows you to catalog up to 200 books. A paid account allows you to catalog any number of books." Anyone with a sufficiently extensive collection that warrants indexing likely has more than 200 books. Since mine is in excess of 600, I chose not to join this community of 1.2 million readers.

By contrast, Shelfari is free and features a bookshelf that looks similar to the one on my computer. It's owned by Amazon.com and integrates with one's purchases there, which ostensibly is a benefit, but I actually don't prefer consolidation — Amazon.com is a store, not a social network, and I'd like to keep those needs distinct. Otherwise, I'd likely just use Amazon.com's own media library service.

One online service I did not investigate was aNobii. bookarmy, closed in December 2010, was also not a contender.

Ultimately, I chose Goodreads, which was founded in October 2006 (two months after Shelfari) and has 4.4 million members. Being one of the older and larger online book cataloging services, it seemed more likely to offer an extensive member and book database for me to exploit. Goodreads also provides a widget that I can easily embed into Wordbits.net to dynamically inform visitors what I'm currently reading.

Exporting my library out of my Mac software and into Goodreads was simple but required editing the CSV file's headers from the former's "Creator" to the latter's "Author" and the like. Even then, Goodreads did not acknowledge all metadata made available to it: importation of whether or not I owned a copy of the book, as well as when and where it was purchased, is not supported, even though that same metadata is included in an export out of Goodreads. I had to manually edit batches of my books to identify which I owned (ie, all of them). But since books can exist in my Goodreads collection without me actually owning them, Goodreads thus becomes practical as a list not just of my books, but of any books that I want to read or purchase, or books that I have read without having purchased (courtesy my local public library).

Goodreads has a couple other quirks. For example, it's not immediately obvious how to move a book among the mutually exclusive "To Read", "Currently Reading", and "Read" shelves. Simply removing it from its current shelf won't do; it must instead be added to one of the other two.

But that's a result of Goodreads being used not just for static metadata, like my local index, but also for dynamic content. I can mark when I started reading a book, how far I've progressed each day, when I finished, and what I thought of it when I was done. Each of these updates can be put into a newsfeed for your friends can see and comment on — though, despite its large audience, very few people I know are on the service, which limits its usefulness.

I don't know if I would find myself with more friends if Goodreads tried harder to be more like Facebook, but I'm glad it doesn't. In its discussion groups have been requests for half-star ratings and thumbs up/down on individual comments, both of which have been flatly denied. Neither of those features would encourage the sort of intelligent and literary discourse that will help me find and interpret books, and I'm glad to leave them to other social networks to implement. (That said, the Goodreads application for Facebook seems quite popular.)

I haven't yet found a ton of value in publishing my catalog to Goodreads, though once I start rating more of my books, it may help me find similar books to read — a problem I've never had, as indicated by the 132 entries on my "to-read" shelf! But as a social complement to my own inventory tracking software, I find Goodreads an effective and free service, and one I hope more of my friends will join me on.


Cataloging a collection with Delicious Library

I have what I consider a vast book collection. I'd never quantified its contents except to observe the growing physical space it occupied in my home, not always knowing how it was doing so. A few times, I bought a book twice, not realizing I already had a copy on my "to-read" shelf. I decided it would be a worthwhile undertaking to make some sort of index of my library, not only as reference but also as a backup: should my books ever be lost or damaged, I'll know what to replace.

Delicious Library 2I'd already compiled a similar catalog of my DVDs using the Macintosh program Delicious Library. It was a project that had to wait until I had a computer with an inbuilt webcam, as then I could hold my DVD cases up to the monitor and have their barcodes scanned, downloading all their metadata from Amazon.com. It didn't take long to scan all 200 movies or so.

But books are a different matter: they're larger, bulkier, and sometimes more fragile. It seemed too laborious to lug my laptop to each shelf of books (or to carry each book to my computer desk) and scan the titles individually.

I decided to get a handheld barcode scanner. Delicious Library supports Bluetooth devices and recommends (and sells) the Microvision RoV scanner, which costs hundreds of dollars. I opted instead for a secondhand Microvision Flic scanner off eBay, which proved to be a mistake. Although the scanner paired with my MacBook just fine and emitted the expected red light and beeped in recognition of a barcode, it never transmitted that data back to the computer, indicating a wasted purchase. Faced with that defeat, my project stalled.

But a pending move threatens those books with storage, and I wanted to know what I'd collected before they went out of sight. I finally caved and went about the scanning process the cumbersome way.

The part of the process that was least curmudgeonly was the software. Delicious Library recognized the barcodes easily and spoke their names as it downloaded their information. If I accidentally scanned something twice, it pulled up the existing entry rather than make a new one.

There were a few special cases that required manual entry. Some books didn't list their ISBNs at all, so I went searching on Amazon.com or Google for that data. And many older paperbacks have barcodes on their back covers that scan incorrectly; the right barcode is on the inside front cover.

Altogether, indexing just over 600 books took less time than I'd spent trying to get the Bluetooth scanner working. Many of those books had their original receipts tucked inside, so I later added the purchase date, place, and price to my digital metadata. This second pass was more tedious than the first, requiring as it did no scanning, just data entry.

Delicious Library book collection

A sampling of my actual shelf, represented virtually.

The result is an exhaustive and beautiful virtual bookshelf that catalogs my collection. With the trend toward e-books, this database of metadata only, without the books' actual contents, may seem antiquated — but I find it to be the best of both worlds.


Library theft results in jail time

The Associated Press is reporting that Brian Linebach is facing five years in prison for second-degree theft by failing to return 40 books and DVDs to the Kirkendall Public Library of Ankeny, Iowa. I can empathize — with the library.

Fifteen years ago, when I worked for Blockbuster Video, movies were released exclusively to rental outlets on VHS for $100/copy. It was only months later that these tapes became available to consumers at a more reasonable rate. Before DVDs turned that market upside-down, losing a copy of a movie was an expensive proposition, which is why BBV required credit card numbers on record for each of its customers: should a product disappear, its value could be reimbursed.

Libraries show their patrons much more faith: expensive books and videos can be borrowed with no more credential than a driver's license. That information is no guarantee against theft, and though DVDs are cheaper to replace now than VHS tapes once were, libraries lack the financial backing of multimedia conglomerates with which to do so. I tried to find some statistics about library material return rates, but the ALA's exhaustive Web site, which was instrumental in researching my recent column for Worcester Magazine, doesn't have any obvious reports on this data. Nonetheless, anyone who uses the public library to donate to his own collection has things backward, to the detriment of his community.

Why Mr. Linebach didn't return the products once confronted, or how long they were overdue, I don't know. But it could've been worse — imagine the penalties George Washington would pay for books 221 years overdue!


Local libraries' budgetary issues — and solutions

A few months ago, I was driving through Bolton and stopped to check out their expansion to the public library. It's a beautiful and natural extension of their existing building that is proportionate to the community's needs.


The visit had me wondering how it is that the Bolton, Leominster, and Worcester libraries have all afforded to expand in a decade when library budgets are being slashed by dangerous amounts. The answer was obvious — such expansions were planned well before the current economic crisis — but this question led to others about the budgetary issues being faced by local libraries and how they're coping. I decided it was an issue that warranted further investigation.

Fortunately, my social circle includes many librarian and literary people who were willing to engage me on this topic. I spoke with both CMRLS librarian Carolyn Noah and New York Times best-selling author R. A. Salvatore, two people who had previously spoken to each other on the topic of library funding (see time index 2:54 – 3:52 especially). I was also fortunate to speak with Christine Drew for her perspective as an academic librarian at WPI.

The result is "Bad economy checks us out of libraries", an editorial that ran in Worcester Magazine on Apr 22, 2010. It appears almost entirely intact, except for this sentence in Mr. Salvatore's interview: "Would there be some equitable way to consolidate town libraries into regional ones?" Of the entire piece, this is the most provocative proposal and the one with the greatest potential to cure what ails local libraries. As one concerned citizen recently told me, "It isn't good stewardship to duplicate services in towns [so] close … even in a good economy."

Independently, PCWorld.com recently suggested that libraries should take this opportunity to reinvent themselves as not just archivists, but studios and producers of original content by local artists. This approach similarly requires a community-oriented mindset in which content creators collaborate, not compete, with their neighbors. Is it possible?

Whatever fate befalls libraries, we cannot allow such a valuable institution to disappear. From a purely financial perspective, libraries offer an unparalleled return on investment. Cutting their funding to save the economy would be "like cutting West Point from the military pipeline to reduce the defense budget" — it's incredibly short-sighted. These are not easy times to live in, which means making hard decisions. Let's make sure they're the right ones.


R.A. Salvatore on libraries and Massachusetts Question #1

Carolyn Noah, adminstrator of the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System, recently sat down with fantasy author and Leominster resident R. A. Salvatore to discuss his views on Question #1, which invites Massachusetts voters this November 4th to eliminate the state income tax. Mr. Salvatore speaks at length about the role public libraries and schools play and the mindset that will get Americans through current and upcoming economic hardships.

Here's the interview:


Highlights from the Stacks

Courtesy Tech_Space, here's a list of the top 1000 books held in public libraries.

I'm gratified that a pop book like The Da Vinci Code is #469, proving no threat to Homer, Shakespeare, Twain, and Tolkien. But does that mean the list does not accurately represent demand? These books are available, but is their supply still justified?