Things to Know (and Love) About LibraryThing

Inspired by Wallace’s post “How to Get the Most Out of GoodReads” (and a follow-up Twitter discussion with her), I thought I’d tackle my preferred online book site, LibraryThing, in a similar vein. I hope it will be at least half as useful as her GR guide is!

I have a GoodReads account. I have friends on GoodReads through that account. They may wonder why they see so few updates from me there… Here’s why.

When I decided that I wanted to keep track of my books in an online location that wasn’t my blog, I set up accounts on both GoodReads and LibraryThing, figuring I’d try them both and see which worked better for me. It didn’t take me long to determine that, for my goals, LibraryThing was the better choice.

LT vs. GR (getting this out of the way first!)

There are two main reasons I’ve heard from people to explain why they choose GoodReads over LibraryThing; “LibraryThing’s not free” and “LibraryThing isn’t social.” Both are partially true.

LibraryThing accounts are free if you list less than 200 books. That’s insufficient for most avidly-reading, book-blogging types, so LT also offers unlimited listing for $10 per year or $25 lifetime. I have the lifetime membership and it’s been totally worth it. I’ve even done a few gift-membership giveaways here to bring new members into the fold (and it just might be time for another one – see below!).

LT does allow users to add friends and follow “interesting libraries,” and you can see what those contacts are doing via the “connection news” page linked to your profile, but its social functions are admittedly less robust than GoodReads. There are no updates via e-mail, so you actually have to visit the LT site to keep up with your friends there. However, LT does have strong forums and discussion groups; in fact, I know of a few book bloggers who got into blogging in the first place via their activity on the LT boards.


For me, though, the primary reason for using LibraryThing is how easily it lets me catalog my books. Adding books by ISBN is usually most efficient (unless you mis-type their numbers as frequently as I do), but LT will search its many (700+) sources for matches based on ISBN, title, author, or other identifying criteria – and if it can’t find one, you can add the book manually. Once it’s in, the book will automatically be added to a “collection” folder called “Your library,” but you can add it to as many other “collections” as you like. Some collections are defaults (Your library, To Read, Currently reading, Wishlist, and Favorites), but you can create additional collections for your own purposes – for example, I have set up collections for Review Copies and E-books. 

You can further refine how you identify the books within those collections by using tags. Tags are completely user-defined and are sortable and searchable, whether within a single collection or across all of them. Since tags existed on LT prior to collections, I have some redundancies in my own library, but that’s avoidable (and fixable if I ever get around to it). My most-used tags are the source of a book (ARC, book tour), ratings, genre, and the year I reviewed it.

Speaking of ratings, I love the fact that LT’s system allows for half-stars. However, since my own system includes quarter-ratings, I use a tag to refine the rating of a book that falls in between (such as 3.75/5). Collections can be sorted on star ratings. Collections can be sorted on any display field, actually, and can be displayed up to five different ways, styled according to your preference. (Potentially overwhelming options – a blessing of LibraryThing, or another reason to use another site?)

Rating, Reviewing, and Interacting

If you review and/or rate the books you read on your blog, you can easily add that information to your LibraryThing. As already mentioned, books can be rated on a 0 to 5-star scale that functions with half-stars. You can copy-and-paste part or all of your blog review on your LT record for the book, just link back to it, or write a separate review specifically for LT; the text area for reviews is flexibly sized and can accommodate wordiness. You can choose to have links to your LT reviews automatically posted on Twitter and/or Facebook on an per-book basis. (I do this; my aunt, who rarely gets around to reading my blog, finds most of my reviews this way via Facebook, and now I’ve become a source for her book club.)

Posting your own ratings and reviews will help LT’s recommendations algorithm work more effectively in making book suggestions for you; you can also post your own recommendations in “if you liked this, try that” style on any book’s record.

As I mentioned, LT isn’t as overtly social as GoodReads, but it is a community and there are a variety of ways to participate, including editing and updating book information. Most fields in a book’s record can be edited, including publication-related data (note to BookCrossers: there’s an available field for BCID!). In addition, you can add all sorts of interesting facts and trivia related to a book – order in a series, names of significant places and characters, awards, quotes, alternate titles and more – in its Common Knowledge section.

LibraryThing does fall short in easily finding and adding “friends,” but it can be done. Often, however, it’s in a roundabout manner, such as finding a link to someone’s LT profile elsewhere, like on of the discussion groups or via a widget on their blog; unlike more socially-oriented sites, there’s no “search your address book” utility to find connections the site added a “friend finder” that connects with Facebook and Twitter in late 2011. I don’t really do much on the LT boards myself, but they seem to be the hub of the site’s social activity.

Fun Stuff, On- and Off-site

The most popular place on LibraryThing, besides the discussion groups, may well be the Early Reviewers Program page, where members can request free books to review on LibraryThing (in advance/galley, finished, and e-book formats). The books are awarded on a lottery system, but not completely at random. LT does monitor recipients to confirm that a review gets posted; they don’t care whether you love or hate the book, just that you post your thoughts about it. (You can also post them on your blog or anywhere else, but LibraryThing will only count the posting on LibraryThing.) Not reviewing books received through LTER will reduce your chances of having future LTER requests granted. 

A LibraryThing user’s Statistics and Memes page is a great source of entertainment (and potential blog-post fodder). In addition to standard, useful number-crunching – total books, total tags, bar graphs of review dates and ratings – you can get information on the pages, dimensions, and weight of your books (my catalog would fill 2.4 bathtubs and is 0.09 the weight of an elephant); identify all the series in your library; see how your books break down between male/female and alive/dead authors; and more.

One of the first bookmarks I added to my iPhone was my LibraryThing page; it allows me to consult my wishlist while browsing a bookstore and, in theory, I’ll never buy a book I already own again (that problem was what made me decide to start cataloging my books in the first place). LibraryThing does not yet have a full-scale smartphone app (!), and the app it does have is too simplified to be of much use (for me, anyway), so the bookmark is the way to go, for now. However, LT’s “Local Books” app, driven by the community-sourced LibraryThing Local pages, is a handy (and free!) app for iPhone and Android phones that helps you find bookstores, libraries, and bookish events near wherever you are.

I know there are a few LT fans who read The 3 R’s – please share any of your own tips, suggestions, and favorite features in the comments! And if you have questions about LibraryThing that aren’t addressed here, please ask, and I’ll find out what I can!

Want to give LibraryThing a try? Have a lifetime membership on me – enter the giveaway! This giveaway is open worldwide (or to any country where you can access the site), and entries will be accepted for two weeks (closing Wednesday, June 29).


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