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 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. is getting fewer visitors, whereas 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).

4 thoughts on “LITA 2008: What is “Social Cataloging” and Why Should You Care?”

  1. Thanks for giving me a name for the types of social networks that I like best. The first one I joined wasn’t about books at all. It was Ravelry, which is devoted to knitting and crocheting. I knew right away that it was different. The social aspect is there, but it is not the main reason you join a site like Ravelry. I use it to keep track of the knitting books I own, the ones I’ve used but don’t own, the projects I’ve done, and the projects I want to do. I occasionally use the social side, but I can still get a lot out of the site even if I don’t.

    I’d be interested to learn why you prefer LibraryThing over Goodreads or Shelfari. Right now I’m using Goodreads because the interface is prettier and it gives me the option of listing books that I’ve read but don’t own. Then again, I’m not a librarian, so there may be other features that I want but don’t know that I want yet :-).

  2. I haven’t used Goodreads or Shelfari. They weren’t around when I set up my LibraryThing. I think that LT appeals to librarians more because of the data sources and the ability to tweak records to your heart’s content.

    LibraryThing allows you to list any books you want, even if you don’t actually own them. I’ve started noting books that I have owned in the past but no longer have, particularly if I contributed a review, which I can only do if I still have the book in my “collection.” I suggest you enter 20 or so books in LibraryThing and see if some of the features are appealing enough to keep on with more.

  3. I guess the term “collection” is my hang-up with LibraryThing. When you enter a book on your shelf at Goodreads, there is a check box for whether you actually own the book or not. It’s important for me to see what I have somewhere in this house!

    Two other things that play into my decision are which site my online acquaintances are using and whether the site has good blog widgets. Just like we’ve seen with services like Pounce and Jaiku, they can be great but that doesn’t mean anything if your friends aren’t using them. In the case of a book site, I would use it even if no one else I know uses it but I’d rather not have to make new friends on every site I use. As for the widgets, I like being able to take what I’m doing on the site and show it on my book blog.

    I guess I’ll spend a little more time with LibraryThing and try Shelfari, as well. I usually try to figure which site I like best so I don’t have a bunch of inactive accounts out there, but sometimes you have to spend some time on a site before you know whether you like it.

  4. LibraryThing has widgets. 🙂

    I’m with you on the main benefit of a social networking site being that your friends are using it too. That’s part of why LibraryThing works for me – many of my librarian friends are on it.

Leave a Reply