LibraryThing and Social Cataloging

LibraryThing is a free website that helps people catalog their personal libraries and connect with thousands of other readers with similar interests. Started on 2005, it now has more than 173,000 users who have cataloged more than 11 million books. It’s also a social space, making book recommendations based on your cataloged collection. Abby Blachly, the LibraryThing librarian, gives an overview of the site and discusses aspects of social cataloging including tagging. Kate Sheehan ( of Danbury (CT) Library describes the implementation of LibraryThing into their catalog.

note to self for next year: when going to a LibraryThing presentation, come early!

Abby on LibraryThing
Quick Demo of LT (within an individual library)

  • Add Books: enter isbn and/or title, etc, which searches amazon (or your chosen library), and click on book to add to your library
  • Library display is sortable and changeable
  • Add tags, dates of acquisition, reading, etc
  • Within your catalog, all data is editable

Global View of LT

  • Shows tags for all LT members, recommendations based on all libraries that contain this book
  • Different editions and versions of each book are combined into single “works.” Users do this, based on guidelines provided by LT. This allows users to see reviews and other information for all versions at once.
  • Users also combine author names (LT has no Authority File) to compile all variations of a name into a single author page
  • Users upload cover images, photos of authors (requires permission from author), translate site text into other languages, contribute to discussions about books and authors
  • Social Cataloging (Common Knowledge): includes extra fields for works and authors, like author gender, dates of birth/death, awards, primary characters, important locations – all supplied by users. All edits are tracked by user, and allows reverting to previous versions
  • Edits can be made by members and non-members (a user doesn’t need to be logged into the website to make changes)


  • 25 million tags in the system
  • Tags mean the most to the person tagging, based on their memory of the book
  • With such a large number of tags, even sporadic and personal tags become meaningful to everyone, as errors and offensive washout statistically
  • Tagging is like fluffing pillows – you’ll do it at home or friends houses, to help them, but you wouldn’t volunteer to fluff pillows at a hotel (akin to tagging at
  • Tags like “chicklit” and “unread” are great for readers advisory. Tags also have “related tags” to link to similar books (although subject headings are included on “works” pages, they are usually less helpful than user-supplied tags)
  • Tagging does have problems: “sf” could mean “science fiction” or “san franscico;” “Katrina” could be books about Hurricane Katrina or books lost in the storm

Readers Advisory

  • Provides recommendations based on a large variy of data (including amazon’s suggestions)
  • There is also an “Unsuggester” which lists books totally unlike a given book – all based on LT data statistics

Kate on adding LT to an OPAC
Using LibraryThing for Libraries. Their site offers a sign up to be a tester, an faq, and updates (via Thingology. The entire process has been very open and transparent, versus secretiveness.

  • Puts LT data right into the library’s OPAC, such as similar books, tags, etc (the same links and data as provided on the LT site, but within the OPAC)
  • The data resides on LT servers
  • The data relates to and includes only books in the OPAC
  • LTfL allows patrons to be involved in the process
  • The entire process was quick and easy – did not have to go through vendor (Innovative Interfaces)
  • Problems: had to do some code workaround a bit to make data show up in the right place in the catalog. Other problems were fixed by LT staff in under an hour
  • Staff loves it – wonderful for readers advisory. Patrons love it, once they are shown that it’s there
  • The library could not have done this on their own or with a typical ILS vendor
  • This does not require patrons to change how they use the library or learn how to use new tools – the data is provided right in the catalog, which people already understand

Presentation is available on

Does LT include information on music CDs and/or DVD/VHS?
Non-book formats can be added, but they are not officially supported by LT

A lot of childrens books?

Audio Books?
Yes – there are entire libraries of just audio books. THis also shows up in “other editions”

Readaway is a very similar program – can I upload to LT?
Yes – there is a universal import feature that relies on ISBNs. As long as ISBNs are in the file, it’ll work.

How to people pay for LT?
non-profile $15/year to use it as your OPAC (free for under 200 books)
LTfL pricing depends on circulation – email for more information

Is Casey prepared for a flood of interest in LTfL?
Yes. There are 15 live and 100s in process.

What about consortiums?
Yes, it’ll work (there aren’t any consortiums using it yet, but some are close)

Are searched libraries being expanded?
Yes. Currently 82, soon to add 300 more. Trying to add more public, but they need to have open Z39.50 systems.

Is there a desktop application?

How does LT know what books Danbury Library has?
Danbury has to upload new list, which DPL does once a month. Other libraries do it more frequently.

What are the demographics of LT users?
LT does not keep people data on the system, so this sort of thing really isn’t tracked. All that is needed is a username. A lot of traffic comes from blogs and word of mouth.

What is SRU?
It’s a transfer protocol to move data from one library catalog to another.

How are new titles uploaded for LTfL?
Go to website, and there is an easy upload form (however, be careful when choosing “append” or “overwrite”). Using this same form, you can also change in-OPAC settings on the fly (how many tags to show, etc.)

Does LTfL work with all ILSs?