ALA 2008: The Future of Cataloging (as seen from LibraryThing) – Tim Spalding

What is LibraryThing?

  • 450,000 registered users
  • 28 million books
  • 37 million tags
  • 50+ imitators
  • LibraryThing is your friend 🙂

LibraryThing use often follows the pattern:

  • Personal cataloging
  • Social networking
  • Social Cataloging

Social cataloging happens in both implicit and explicit ways.

Using examples of ‘Thomas Jefferson‘ and other famous users – where their library collections have been added to LibraryThing

LibraryThing has ‘common knowledge’ fields – things such as characters etc.

A page such as contains more knowledge about the Star Wars series of books than anywhere else in the world.

Showing the power of librarything – tags, bringing together editions etc.

The ‘tag war’ is over. Tim does not believe tags are ‘better’ than subjects – but tags are just great for finding stuff. If you care about finding stuff not asserting ontological reality – then tags are great – you just have to spend some time using them to see this.

The physical basis of classification:

  • A book has 3-6 subject (‘cos that what fits on a card)
  • Subjects are equally true (can’t express degrees of relation to a subject – either a book is about it or not – black and white)
  • Subjects never change (once subjects are allocated you don’t go back – even if terminology changes on in the real world)
  • Only librarians get to add subjects
    • There is only one answer – someone ‘wins’
    • You don’t get a say in how books are classified – you don’t want users writing on the cards – but not relevant in virtual environment
  • Only books are cataloged
  • Cataloging has to be done in the library
  • Most librarian can’t help you, each other, themselves
    • Libraries are NOT good at sharing metadata (contradicting Jennifer) – we tend to pull down records from a central source – very few libraries push back
  • Record creating and editing can’t be distribute
  • Record sharing can’t be shared freely

Two futures:

  • The world ends
    • You (catalogers) are paid less
    • Programmers still get paid
  • You move up the stack
    • An IT-industry analogy – with open source software
    • Demand increasing
    • Low leve work and data becomes commoditized, distributed, free
    • You move higher, get paid more

Tim wants a new shelf order:

  • Replaces Dewey
    • Free (Open Source)
    • Modern
    • Humble – not trying to model the whole world
  • Decided socially, level by level
  • Tested against the world
  • Assignment is distributed
  • I write the code
  • You (cataloguers) be Jimmy Wales (audience asked – who is Jimmy Wales – one of the founders of wikipedia) – look over it, but has no power!

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