Tuesday, January 08, 2008

LibraryThing & GoodReads quick comparison

Are you like my friends Audrey, Barb and me who look for great ways to organize our genealogy book, CD & audio tape libraries? (There's that "O" word again.)

WAY BACK in the 1990s, we dabbled with SkyIndexing, used a Lotus 1-2-3, and later switched to Microsoft Excel, but it was a pain to manually type all identifying info for each item, including at the least:

  • author
  • title
  • publisher
  • publication date
  • ISBN
  • format: soft cover / hard cover, CD, cassette tape, fiche, film
  • price
Our plan was to:

1. Reference each of the items in our individual libraries, so we could find them on specific shelves in eachother's libraries.

2. Find the Dewey Decimal number for the book, to arrange items in that order in our individual libraries. Since the books we purchased didn't list this on the title or copyright page, we resorted to checking the few online library catalogs available in the mid-1990s for a Dewey number. The theory was to append the Dewey with my own first name if I owned the book. If it had Audrey's name, I knew to ask her if I could borrow it the next Sunday when we got together for a research trip, and the same for one of Barb's cataloged items.

3. To determine what each already owned, so we wouldn't purchase a duplicate inadvertently.

The home-style book cataloging project soon became unwieldy, given the sheer number of our genealogy reference works and the copious amount of typing time required to complete a book's entry after pulling it off the shelf.

If genealogists hardly have enough time to type in each new ancestral family, complete with scanned images and source citations, why would we bother to catalog their books?

Needless to say, we abandoned our plan.

FAST FORWARD to 2007/8, and the task is DOABLE. There are several free websites providing members search capabilities for locating a book title or author. When one selects an item from this hit list, that info is automatically imported into one's book list, complete with all sorts of additional publication info. There is also space for your personal comments. One may also add items manually, such as microfilm numbers not found because they aren't in book format.

For this blog entry, Ol' Myrt provides a quick comparison between GoodReads.com and LibraryThing.com:

Here’s the link to Ol' Myrt's Good Reads (GR) user page, reflecting books I've read during the past 2 years or so: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/690427 .

I joined Good Reads in mid-December and find it more “user friendly” for casual readers. Ol' Myrt here would even go so far as to term GR a “facebooky” version of Library Thing, meaning it emphasizes friends, especially through the use of periodic email notifications when a friend adds a book or posts a comment.

Although I think of Good Reads as more “casual” I do see that members include apparent bibliophiles listing many books in a variety of genres. The “feel” of the Good Reads pages is less studious in my opinion perhaps because of the fewer number of fields available to describe a book.

Ol' Myrt joined GR in response to my daughter’s invitation. The books I thought to add first included some basic genealogy books. I soon realized my list of books would outnumber and overwhelm the other members of my group. Folders can be created, so those genealogy books could be filed there and avoid clouding up my general listing.

Library Thing (LT) imports more technical info on each book such as Dewey & Library of Congress classification – useful for shelving one’s books in reasonable order without having to do look-ups. It is also a great option if one spots a book on someone else’s list and wishes to find the book on the shelf at the local library. Because the call number is right there in the usual LT info import on a given title, one can eliminate the extra step of looking the book up in the local library’s catalog to obtain the call number. (Assuming of course, the library uses the Dewey system.) LT's book descriptions include subject headings that provide clues to search criteria if one is not familiar with jargon in a particular discipline.

See Myrt's sample list at LibraryThing: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/dearmyrtle

LT offers the option to include public and private comments about a title. Ol' Myrt here would use the private comment field for notations when a book is missing from my shelf. For instance, if I loaned the book to someone or sent it for rebinding I’d make a note so I’d know where the book is at this point in time. Indicating the location of the book one owns would help snowbirds who have two homes -- no point looking for a book in the Florida condo if it is back home in Michigan.

Don't get me wrong, LT does have groups and friends. Today when I checked, there are several tiny genealogy special interest groups, so there is some social networking on LT. One of the strongest groups at LibraryThing.com is a group of librarians, which is perhaps another reason why I think of LT as being a little more studious. (I tend to love and appreciate librarians -- can you tell?)

Both sites offer “auto-complete” of a listing when locating a title from Amazon.com or Google; however, Library Thing also has “175 other sources throughout the world”.

The fact that your personal listings at GR & LT are available 24/7 on the internet makes it easy for you to access your listing anywhere in the world -- even if your PC's hard drive crashes.

I think the two sites are appropriately named, with the target audience fairly reflected in each site’s name.

Now, how about some reader feedback on cataloging one's own books. Have you had experiences with these or other cataloging websites? What are your favorite options? What options fail to meet the mark?

Drop me an email: Myrt@DearMYRTLE.com and I'll be glad to create a follow-up blog entry with your ideas.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

(c) 2007 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

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