Monday, April 09, 2007

Sneak peek: LibraryThing for Libraries

Update: Comments also broke out on the much shorter note I wrote on the main blog.

I'm giving two talks at the upcoming Computers in Libraries conference (April 16-18) in DC. And LibraryThing will be unveiling a major new thing*: "LibraryThing for Libraries." We've been developing it for a few weeks, and it's time to start talking about it!

How it works: LibraryThing for Libraries is composed of a series of widgets, designed to enhancing library catalogs with LibraryThing data and functionality. The achievement is that the widgets require NO back-end integration.

We're serious. Just add a single Javascript tag, and one
tag for every widget you want to display and we do the rest. To make sure the widgets use your library's version of a title and that some widgets only refer to books you have, you also need to upload a file with ISBNs in it—just ISBNs or all mixed together in MARC records or whatever. The whole thing should work with any catalog.

Sneak Peak: Here's a demo page, inserted into the New York Public Library catalog, showing "Similar Books" and "Related Editions."**** Please note that we are NOT working with the NYPL, and they did not approve this. But it shows how our widgets can integrate with an OPAC (in this case Horizon). I can't imagine they'll mind seeing what we can do.

(sneak-peak link and here's what it looked like before)

Pricing: LibraryThing for Libraries will have both free and paid widgets. In keeping with our policy on thingISBN, our "related editions" widget will be free—allowing any library in the country to "FRBRize their catalog" without paying LibraryThing or anyone else a dime.** The paid widgets will include book recommendations, tag-based browsing, ratings, reviews and so forth. We'll only be releasing two or three at CIL, but the rest will come out over the next few months.

Help us! We mocked it up on the NYPL because haven't enrolled any US public library beta testers—just two academic libraries overseas. LibraryThing's data is strongest in public library catalogs, so they make the best examples. If you want to see what widgets would look like in your library, let us know. All we'll need are a big file with ISBN in it. We can show you what it would look like without you changing anything in your actual OPAC. If you send us your data in the next week, we'll give you six months free if you end up bringing the widgets live.

Lastly our vagueness about pricing is not secrecy, but uncertainty. We want it to be cheap enough for it to spread everywhere it would be welcome, and not fall victim to the sort of procedural delays a big-ticket OPAC decision would entail. But beyond that, we're not certain. Tiny libraries should pay less than large ones. What should we peg it to? Budget? Librarians? Employees Does anyone have any idea what features like recommendations and tag-browsing would be worth to a library.

Expect more sneak peaks as we get closer to the conference! Next-up: "How do we integrate with your OPAC without integrating with your OPAC, or Is Altay an amazing JavaScript programmer or what?"

Obligatory footnotes:
*I hate the terms "product" and "service." Blech. LibraryThing is reflexively open, but we didn't live up to our principles on this one. We're entering a "space"*** occupied by some frighteningly large and well-established companies, and got a little scared about revealing too much. But, what the heck? We're young and quick and have data the established providers don't.
**If we end up with lots of libraries using this service, and nobody using paid widgets, we may eventually need institute some sort of charge for the bandwidth and ISBN storage. But the related editions will certainly have no marginal price. If, as I anticipate, many libraries who are using "related editions" also use another widget, there will be no problem.
***A weasle-word for "market," although at CIL we're also literally entering a space, or rather a 'hood with some well-established territories. There may be knife fights.
****The widgets are JS, but the demo page shows only the "rendered" HTML—the HTML after the JS has done its work. The integration requires some exceptional JavaScript-foo, and we're keeping it under wraps for now.


Anonymous Melissa Rethlefsen said...

Congratulations! I am excited to see this project going forward--it looks great. Now, if only my library would subscribe...

4/09/2007 2:11 PM  
Blogger Monty said...

What about using this widget for other services? I'm writing a webapp so that I can manage my library holds like a netflix queue. More details here:

I realized that part of my app needed to do recommendations, etc. That would be great if I could just drop it in!



4/09/2007 3:04 PM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Amazing... just amazing. Definitely makes me wish I worked in a public library, because I totally agree that it's more useful there. I can't wait to hear more about it and to finally meet you at CIL!

4/10/2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger Roger Hiles said...

Great news! It'll be interesting to see how this catches on and how the pricing model works out.

4/10/2007 4:56 PM  
Anonymous GeekChic said...

Nice work! Just one question. I understand the focus on US public libraries - but will you be willing to work with foreign libraries as well?

4/10/2007 5:24 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

>Non-US libraries.

Yes, of course. The coverage will not be as good. The data underneath is LibraryThing data, and that's stronger on US books than elsewhere. For the more popular stuff, someone will have combined the US and British editions, but more obscure stuff or stuff only published in Britain is harder. The overlap with British academic libraries was more like 20%. I don't know about British publics.

Non-English-speaking libraries are possible for the future. My worry now is that details of the "works" system will cause French books to recommend English books, provided the library has them. And that won't do.

4/10/2007 5:33 PM  
Anonymous GeekChic said...

Thanks for your reply Tim. My current place of work is a Canadian public library that has British, Chinese and Japanese items - so we'd be an interesting case study I'm sure.

4/10/2007 5:53 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

It would be interesting. Someone just sent me a very specific--if US--science collection. I'm thinking a Canadian one will match better than British but worse than US. We also have a fair number of LibraryThing-ers who add Japanese books, albeit mostly manga...

4/10/2007 5:55 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

>What should we peg it to?
>Budget? Librarians? Employees
>Does anyone have any idea what
>features like recommendations
>and tag-browsing would be
>worth to a library.

Besides, "priceless"? :-)

Actually, at least in public libraries, the "asking price" of many electronic resources are based on the size of the population served (such as the number of people in a City for a City library.) Usually there are negotiations that alter the initial asking price.

I don't know what libraries would pay for various LibraryThing widget features like recommendations, etc., but many libraries do pay for cover art/reviews/synopses (from Syndetics or from Ebsco's Content Cafe product.) Looking at that pricing might define the range you could charge a bit more clearly.

4/11/2007 3:46 AM  
Anonymous Eileen said...

Actually in our case we pay based on number of card holders, not total service population.

I like what you have done but am wondering if you are able to display more information within the related title display that details material type (large print, unabridged CD, abridged Cassette, etc)?

4/11/2007 1:46 PM  
Anonymous herzogbr said...

I like this a lot. I ran it by some of my coworkers, hoping to get them on board with it, and they offered some interesting comments:

1. What are the limitations for ongoing updating - will there be an isbn queue, or can we enter them individually as quickly as we process our new materials?

2. [Harry Potter example] The related books are good, but why doesn't it list all 5 of the previous books? It seems that the previous books in the series are more "related" than Eragon and Eldrest

3. In the Related Editions section, "Harry Potter and the half-blood prince" is listed 5 times - but you actually have to click on each one to find out if it is print, large print, audiobook, etc. That should be included in the listing, or else all those titles should be grouped as one search link.

They assured me that these are not naysayer comments, just observations on the way they would like it to work. I'll be at your CIL session, so maybe I can pick up some answers then - I'll be the 6' redhaired guy in the back.

4/11/2007 2:14 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

Have you gave any thought to school libraries (specifically high schools)? I can see where recommendations would be helpful for a high school library, but I am unsure as to what they might be willing to pay.

4/12/2007 12:10 AM  
Blogger Glenn said...

For similar and related links to work correctly in the Horizon example, they would need to include the session id (or patrons would be logged out and need to re-authenticate). Can the widgets handle this?

4/12/2007 11:42 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

>1. What are the limitations for ongoing updating - will there be an isbn queue, or can we enter them individually as quickly as we process our new materials?

You can upload new ISBNs. I suspect it will work best as a batch thing.

>2. [Harry Potter example] The related books are good, but why doesn't it list all 5 of the previous books? It seems that the previous books in the series are more "related" than Eragon and Eldrest

It purposefully "throttles" authors. On Amazon, by contrast, the five recommendations for a HP book are the other five. If you're interested enough in HP to want recommendations, don't you know that?

The throttle is controllable, however. Maybe we should expose that.

3. In the Related Editions section, "Harry Potter and the half-blood prince" is listed 5 times - but you actually have to click on each one to find out if it is print, large print, audiobook, etc. That should be included in the listing, or else all those titles should be grouped as one search link.

I agree. The trick is that the format is harder for LT to get and show. But I thin it would help.

We're changing "Related editions" to "Other editions and translations." That's a better term, I think. Either way, the library can label it what they want.

4/12/2007 1:37 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Hi Tim, I tried emailing you, but my message bounced back. I work with a public library consortium in Wisconsin, and we would be interested in helping you develop this tool. Our shared OPAC is available at Please contact me at bcarpent at if you are interested in working with us. Thanks! Beth

4/12/2007 3:02 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Thanks. I emailed you. I hope it get through!

4/12/2007 3:17 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

This is an amazing way to go! I work for a large public library in Canada and was wondering if anybody has used this or is using it with SirsiDynix Unicorn GL3.1 with iBistro? Because the sneak peek at NYPL was on their SirsiDynix Horizon product, so it gives me hope that we can use LT for our system.

4/25/2007 3:45 PM  
Blogger Greg Tramel said...

I would like to show a demo of the "premium" LibraryThing to our System Administrators, we use Horizon

Greg Tramel
Adult Services Coordinator
Montgomery County Memorial Library System
104 I-45 North
Conroe TX 77301

4/28/2007 5:10 PM  
Blogger JSN said...

This looks really good. I'm concerned about the updates, though. We add new books everyday, and weed books every week. Is there an easy way to delete ISBNs from our file?

5/08/2007 1:03 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

At present, you can either add ISBNs or provide a revised feed of the whole (which replaces the old). I think that having a an explicit "insert these, delete these" could get fiddly. But I'm open to hearing otherwise.

5/08/2007 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Kate Hall said...


I just heard about this at a conference a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it. I use LT with my staff, but love the idea of something that the patrons could use. I spoke with my director and she is interested also. Would it work even if we were part of a consortium and only we particpated or would the entire group have to do it? Could we see a mock-up of our library? Please let me know if that is possible and I will send you the details. My email is:

Thank you for all the wonderful things you are doing with this!

Kate Hall

5/23/2007 12:27 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Someone earlier mentioned high school libraries. I recently sent my fiction collection (about 6000 titles) to LT (Abby) and am waiting to find out what LT can do for us. We are also in the process of installing AquaBrowser which has some of the features folks are mentioning, e.g. grouping materials by type, etc. LT has the added advantage of tags and showing similar titles. I'm at Redwood HS in Larkspur, Calif. and have really had fun using LT both at home and at school where I have a widget on my home page to newly added titles.

6/03/2007 6:56 PM  

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