Let me start out by saying 1) I LOVE LibraryThing, and 2) I don’t work for them!
I have a couple LibraryThing accounts – one personal, and one that I use at work. I started the personal one a little over three years ago as a way to track the books I read. I just recently went over 200 books and very happily paid the $25 for a lifetime membership – WELL worth the money! Of my 202 books, I have written reviews for 163 of them (and of the 39 without reviews, 9 are sitting in my finished-but-need-to-write-a-review pile – my husband’s hospitalization in May followed by a couple trips and then a substitute college teaching gig have put me behind schedule). I think because I have written so many reviews, I get a lot of books through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
What I really want to write about is how I am using LibraryThing at work. I manage the curriculum collection at an academic library. This includes (besides teacher resources and state-adopted PK-12 textbooks) children’s literature. “Introduction to Children’s Literature” is a required course for future elementary education teachers at my university. Students in this class have to produce annotated bibliographies for eight genres of about 35 picture books and one chapter book/novel per genre.
Students were having problems finding books with our traditional catalog in particular genres. They often don’t show up in MARC records and even when they do, they aren’t searchable with our integrated library system (Sirsi). Subject headings work OK for some genres (poetry, biographies, for example), but you have to get the wording just right.
My first solution to this problem was to create spreadsheets for each genre with books in our collection published since 1998* (*Originally, when the current professor started teaching this class in 2007, she only wanted students to use books published in the last ten years). The spreadsheets were uploaded to a wiki (more on that in Thing 18) that the students in the class could access. We also printed copies of the spreadsheets and kept them in a binder near the children’s literature collection.
However, I quickly found that the spreadsheets were a pain to maintain, particularly when we received new books. I first started using LibraryThing in the class as a way to let them know (with a post in Blackboard, the campus’ course management software) that new books were available. I would tag the books by genre and type (picture book, chapter book, etc.).
LibraryThing proved to be so flexible that I ponied up the money to add over 200 books. Fortuitously, about the same time I was assigned an intern (a student graduating from a campus major that requires an internship who is thinking about going to library school) and I made it her primary project to add books from the spreadsheets into LibraryThing – plus a whole lot more beyond that – using the tags I already had in the spreadsheets and more.
At one point my full-time assistant, two student workers, and the intern were all adding items to LibraryThing, sometimes up to three at once! One of them was able to use our bar code scanner (used for marking items as used in our circulation system) to input the books, but we also found that typing in the ISBN worked just as well. We’d always use Library of Congress data when it was available.
The recent addition of the collections feature to LibraryThing is making this project even more useful. One problem I had previously was that it was hard to do a search on two or more tags – there is a way to do it, but results were inconsistent. For example, if I wanted to search for books tagged both as biography and picture book, I sometimes got results that were neither. With collections though, you can easily pull up books within just one collection with one tag. Currently we’re putting all the books into collections based on type – picture, chapter, etc. Since a book can be in more than one collection at a time, later we’ll go back and add genre collections as well. This way users could search for all books tagged biography in the picture book collection, or all books tagged picture book in the biography collection.
We’ve pretty much got all the children’s books published in 1998 or later in our LibraryThing account. After we finish placing these in their respective type and genre collections, we’ll start working backwards, adding books published in 1997, 1996, 1995, etc. Besides the children’s literature class, I have introduced this tool to a math content area class (one of the assignments there is to develop a math lesson around a children’s literature book), and to a couple of graduate-level education classes. One professor recently told me one student got a grant to implement LibraryThing in her classroom library; I’ll add more details about that in an edit to this post later!
More here on Thing 16.