Launched by Tim Spalding on August 29, 2005, “LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily.” (Spalding) A web-based platform, LibraryThing combines elements of social media (like customizable user profiles and group discussions) with the capability for an individual or an institution to catalog and manage their library collections.
LibraryThing sources its metadata from six national Amazon sites, the Library of Congress, and over 2,200 global libraries that provide open access to their collections with the Z39.50 protocol (Pinder). Libraries provide LibraryThing members can edit, search, and sort information about the titles in their collection, tag books with their own subjects, and use existing or create their own classification systems (Spalding). LibraryThing does not require additional software beyond internet access and a browser. To create an account only requires creating a username and password (inputting an email address is optional). LibraryThing uses a subscription-based model with free accounts support collections under 200 items while two payment options allow for collections of any size: $10 yearly or $25 for a lifetime membership (Melton). In physical libraries, collections are usually grouped together by their location or presumed function (for example, reference books are located in the reference area and are non-circulating because they are intended to be used for quick reference) whereas on LibraryThing the user can designate collections by other criteria like subject matter and material type (Melton).
LibraryThing uses algorithms to suggest recommended reading for its users by aggregating user-generated “tags” about the book, but also by comparing and cross-referencing the entire contents of one users library to another. (Pinder 76) LibraryThing relies on metadata tweaks and input from “helpers” who are constantly cleaning the data input into the site, and tracks and publicly logs every change made to the data. LibraryThing also uses algorithms to suggest books that are not like any the user has catalogued with their self-aware Unsuggestor feature which recommends a book that does not match any of the users data at all to burst the “you may also like” bubble.
LibraryThing uses the metadata attributed to individual titles in the user’s collections to support other functions of the platform. Because of their member-supported model, LibraryThing takes pride in never selling user data, but rather using that data to create more data for users to do with what they will. For example, the site’s Zeitgeist feature aggregates data from the site about use and various statistics, while the Common Knowledge wiki where users add their own personal knowledge to the evolving body of information about the title. (Pinder) The feature "CoverGuess” shows users a random cover and asks them to describe it. LibraryThing uses these descriptions to create a search by cover option to give users a chance to find a title if they can only vaguely remember a cover (Melton).
Pinder, Julian. 2012. "Online Literary Communities: A Case Study of LibraryThing." In From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, edited by Anouk Lang, In Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book, 68-87. Amherst, MA: U of Massachusetts P.
Spalding, Tim. 2013. “What Makes LibraryThing LibraryThing?” LibraryThing. https://blog.librarything.com/main/2013/04/what-makes-librarything-librarything/
Photograph 1: Screenshot from LibraryThing.com homepage.
Photograph 2: Screenshot from LibraryThing.com's Zeitgeist data.
Photograph 3: Screenshot from LibraryThing's helper's log.