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From Bookworms to Bookmates
LibraryThing creator spins a growing social web for avid readers
Tim Spalding

1_APRIL_2008. What could be more appealing to a Harry Potter fan than cozying up with The Deathly Hallows? If the 300,000 users of Tim Spalding's LibraryThing are any indication, book fans are just as enamored of discovering other readers and their favorite books. Spalding gives U-Me faculty and students a look under the cover at his quickly growing online community.

LibraryThingNamed one of the year's "Movers and Shakers" by Library Journal, Spalding takes a "folksonomy" approach to book cataloguing. Readers are responsible for tagging books with descriptive keywords, translating content into languages like Welsh or Turkish, and even combining duplicate records ("Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is the same as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"). LibraryThing's software treats such additions or revisions of content like Wikipedia edits--they can be immediately submitted or reversed by ordinary users.

Relying on readers has its advantages. So far users of this Portland, Maine-based service have catalogued 25 million books on its virtual shelves and tagged them with 32 million keywords.  LibraryThing users have applied the tag "chick lit" to over 20,000 books, including "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Confessions of a Shopaholic." Its larger but slower moving ancestor, the Library of Congress, just added the term to its own subject headings--which unfortunately means it may only be applied to books acquired from this point forward. This fact prompted Spalding to quip that "the Library of Congress will miss out on the great flowering of chick lit in the 90s and aughts."

Tim Spalding"What I love about Tim's project with LibraryThing," says Associate Professor of English Steve Evans, "is that it demonstrates that bibliophiles need not be technophobes. Basically it takes the culture of reading and book collecting and gives it the digital platform it deserves: one that enriches the literacy not just of individual readers, but of whole communities.  Some of these already existed, while some are emerging within and because of the new media context.

Tim Spalding

"These communities now have a new instrument for connecting with one another on the basis of a shared passion for literature," says Evans. "I've already put more than a thousand books of poetry from my own collection on-line, and added the UMaine New Writing Series to the new 'local' feature.  Having Tim Spalding visit the UMaine campus offers us an great opportunity for exploring the future of literacy in the digital world."

Tim SpaldingThis presentation is co-sponsored by Fogler Library and the English and New Media departments. For more information, contact Gretchen Gfeller via First Class or (207) 581-1696.


ABOVE: Tim Spalding presents LibraryThing at Fogler Library on 1 April 2008. Following the formal presentation, Mike Scott's NMD 306 class discusses Spalding's approach to community design. Photos by Gretchen Gfeller and Steve Evans.


Updated: 2008-04-05 by Jon Ippolito

Updated: 2008-04-21 by Jon Ippolito
Posted 2008-04-04 14:11:46 by Jon Ippolito
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