Thursday, November 20, 2008

LibraryThing: Social Cataloging and Social Networking

Tim Spalding, the creater of LibraryThing, was the luncheon keynote speaker at the Minnesota Library Association conference yesterday. He definitely made some provocative comments, and raised some excellent points, many of which I agree with. Bloggers at SELCO and Kasson Public Library again have summarized his presentation. A few things he said and some commentary, noting that these are huge paraphrases and not verbatim:
  • Be afraid of OCLC
    Okay, this is a little "inside baseball" talk... I am further convinced that OCLC is evil and ultimately does not have our best interests in mind. They have grown too big for their britches, and the organization that was originally created by libraries to help libraries do what they need to do is now dictating to libraries how to do what they need to do. Their lastest announcement about essentially claiming copyright to the intellectual property in bibliographic records is the last straw, and while they're backpeddling as fast as they can, I say we need to stage a coup and retake our organization. Barring that, we need to take our toys (and intellectual property) and stop giving it to them in what has turned out to be a "work for hire" arrangement.

  • Choose "bandwagons" strategically
    Specifically, Spalding suggested libraries should quit spending time creating Facebook and MySpace pages and hosting gaming events in libraries, just because they are the Latest Things and are Things Young People Do. Just because young people do them doesn't mean the library should too. He actually said something quite funny, but I won't remember enough of it... It was something to the effect of starting a MySpace page for the library and ending up with two teen social misfit friends, a bunch of pedophiles, and the last update being 6 months ago... Okay, he didn't say the 'bunch of pedophiles' part, but one can see it coming. Remember, I went to the library security preconference earlier, where a fair amount of conversation was around using library computers for exchange of child porn. My take: when you're hangin' with your "friends," are you really going to "friend" the library?

  • Use Web 2.0 where it makes sense
    There are certainly places where web 2.0 makes sense, but Spalding suggests that libraries didn't even really get web 1.0 right; why even bother with web 2.0? Okay, I don't go THAT far, but he has a point. We ARE way behind Amazon and Google and... Well, the list goes on... as far as dumping information goes and ease of use and getting "good enough" information. Where we have a strategic advantage is that we know how people USE information, and can get at better information, and of course there's the old what's free and what you have to pay for issue.

  • Tagging can help us catalog
    I agree that individually, tags have a limited use beyond the personal. Your tags aren't going to mean too much to me, and my tags won't mean too much to you. If I tag my picture of a menorah on Flickr with
    Judaica, that has some meaning to someone else, but wedding gift? Eh, not so much. So, tags in individual iterations are not particularly meaningful. But, in the aggregate? Much moreso. Using LibraryThing for example (of course), he pointed out the use of the tag, chick lit, which incidently is now a Library of Congress official genre heading. Some 86,000+ items tagged cooking, but only 5,800+ tagged cookery. I had a flashback to Sandy Berman and the Good Old Days of Hennepin County Subject Headings - a man ahead of his time. Give the public their own language. And, FWIW, there are real humans who "vet" the tags and do some co-location (i.e. create see references)
A couple of cool LibraryThing Things:

I See Dead People's Books This is a group for those interested and involved in entering the personal libraries of famous readers into LibraryThing as Legacy Libraries. Explore the personal libraries of Thomas Jefferson, Willa Cather, and Tupac Shakur among others.

Open Shelves Classification A project to build a new Dewey-like classification system that would be in the public domain (unlike DDC).