LITA 2008: What is "Social Cataloging" and Why Should You Care?

“Having games in the library strikes me as being like having bocce in the frat house.”

Speaker: Tim Spalding, Founder of LibraryThing

“I have no practical advice for you, but I have inspiration and screen shots.” Such as, images from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and book pile photo submissions.

Social cataloging does not need to be defined. LibraryThing is a good example of social cataloging, but it’s not the only resource out there like that. (LibraryThing is now larger than the Library of Congress.) Good Reads focuses more on the social aspects, and Shelfari is being revived by Amazon. There are other sites like CiteULike and Last.fm that do social cataloging of things other than books.

Social cataloging explores the socialization. LibraryThing embraces the social and the digital because there is no physical aspect (except for what you have in your own collection).

Social cataloging ladder:

  • personal cataloging – your stuff
  • exhibitionism, voyeurism – about you and your stuff
  • self expression – book pile photos, reviews
  • implicit social cataloging – tag clouds on books that incorporate data from all owners, recommendations, connect with other owners of more obscure books
  • social networking – “friends” lists, users who share your books, groups
  • sharing – book covers of different editions, author photos
  • explicit social cataloging – work-level records (any title you would agree on at a cocktail party) for both books and authors, series data
  • collaborative cataloging – building the catalogs of famous dead people, developing an open-source alternative to Dewey

Regarding why Spalding felt it necessary to pull data from libraries and not just Amazon, he says, “Once you are over the age of 30 and you are not a Philistine, you have books that Amazon is not currently selling.”

Interesting factoid about how things are tagged on LibraryThing: LGBT and GLBT tags have two completely different lists of books.

Traditional cataloging is based on the physical form of cataloging with cards. It was too difficult to change subjects or to add weight to particular subjects because you couldn’t do that with physical cards. We need to get away from this now that we have all the flexibility of digital cataloging. Digital cataloging is social cataloging.

LibraryThing users are doing about 1,000 work combinations per day! Voluntarily! Experts on book topics are the ones pulling the data together, not experts on cataloging.

LibraryThing members figured out what books are on Dr. Horrible’s shelf based on a fuzzy still from the video. And then the guy who lives in the apartment where it was filmed corrected the editions listed.

There are many non-librarians who are passionate about books and classification. People care about libraries and library data.

On the other hand, we suck. Our catalogs are fundamentally not open to the web because our pages are often session-specific and not friendly to index spiders. Worldcat.org is getting fewer visitors, whereas Dogster.com is getting more.

Library 2.0 is in danger. Libraries are concentrating on what they can do, not what they can do best. We don’t need to have blogs or pages on Facebook. “Having games in the library strikes me as being like having bocce in the frat house.”

Do not pay anyone for Library 2.0 stuff. Do it yourself. OCLC is not yourself.

Or, pay Spalding for his 2.0 enhancements (LibraryThing for Libraries).

Social cataloging is about the catalog, about what you can do right now, about passion, and about giving (not taking).

press creds

LibraryThing creator Tim Spalding was looking for some press coverage of hitting two million books cataloged last week, so I wrote up a little news article for Blogcritics.org. Check it out.