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« Introduction: Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago Chris Ware @ Wisconsin Book Festival »

Feature Thu Nov 23 2006

Share Your Library Online

Some people snoop in strangers' medicine cabinets to get an idea of what someone is really like. Do they use the same toothpaste? Buy the same cold medicine? But, like most avid readers, I browse people's bookshelves.

Books are a much better indicator of a person's personality than toothpaste, anyway. Books express interests, hobbies or even areas of expertise. And if a person doesn't have any books? Well, that says something, too.

But now, you don't need to wait for an invitation in order to find out what the neighbors are reading. Social cataloging services, which allow you to catalog your books and share your home library online, are multiplying. These sites aim to do what del.icio.us did for bookmarks or Flickr for personal photography, with varying degrees of success.

Bibliophil.org is thought to be the first social cataloging website. Currently it has about 10,000 registered users, who have cataloged close to 200,000 titles. Bibliophil is a free service, and creating an account is easy. Just choose a username and provide a valid email address. Then a temporary password is emailed to you, and you are ready to log in and start building your collection.

Like many of the social cataloging services that have sprung up since, Bibliophil relies on Amazon.com data to create your library. You can search by keyword or ISBN and choose from several Amazon databases, such as Amazon.uk (Great Britain), Amazon.ca (Canada) and Amazon.de (Germany).

Once you select a title, you may rate the book, add tags, indicate whether or not you've read the book, and write a review of the book. After the title has been added to your library, you can read the reviews of other Bibliophil users and find out which other users own the title.

Bibliophil is fine to use for organizing your wishlists or keeping track of books you've read. It may also be a good solution for small personal libraries. But if you have a lot of old, rare or out of print books, Bibliophil may not be for you, because if the book is not available on Amazon, you will not be able to add it to your online library.

By far, the most popular social cataloging service is LibraryThing, and for good reason. Of all the applications currently available, LibraryThing is the only one that succeeds equally well as both an online cataloging tool and a social space.

LibraryThing was launched in August 2005, but it already has over 100,000 registered users who have cataloged more than 7 million books. And only about 54,000 of those were written by J.K. Rowling.

To add books to your catalog on LibraryThing, you can search not only Amazon.com data, but also the Library of Congress and more than 40 other major libraries worldwide. And, if you still cannot find a record to match your book, you can create an original record and enter the bibliographic information (title, author, publisher, etc.) yourself.

Once a title is added to your catalog, you may add tags, rate the book or write a review. You can see other users who have also cataloged the title, plus view their tags, ratings and reviews. And, LibraryThing has some of the best book recommendation algorithms anywhere online. Get reading suggestions based on other users' libraries, view similarly tagged books and try out a unique LibraryThing creation, the UnSuggester, which can tell you what books you're not reading.

The site also has groups, which enhances the social aspect of LibraryThing. Find other users who share your interests. Some of the most popular groups include Librarians who LibraryThing, The Green Dragon (Tolkien fans will get it) and Crime, Thriller & Mystery fans. And don't miss the active group of Chicagoans using LibraryThing.

You may catalog up to 200 books with a free account. Upgrade to a paid account for $10 a year or $25 for a "lifetime" membership, and you are allowed to catalog an unlimited number of titles.

LibraryThing is the best all-round social cataloging service. It's one minor limitation may be that it's heavily book-centric. This is not a issue for most bibliophiles, but if you would also like to catalog your CDs, DVDs and other multimedia — in addition to books — sites such as GuruLib or lib.rario.us may be worth a look.

If you have any special collections of books you'd like to show off online — first editions, signed books, rare books, etc. — you definitely want to check out Squirl. Trust me. Squirl is a collector's dream come true. It's fun to browse (salt and pepper shakers, anyone?), very easy to use and addictive.

These sites give you plenty of options for cataloging your home library online and fulfilling a bibliophile's need to snoop around other people's bookshelves. For even more choices, however, Wikipedia has a decent list of current social cataloging services for a variety of media. But, if you spend all day online looking for people who share your love of 19th century French literature, don't say I didn't warn you.

 
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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

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