Monday, December 23, 2013

Post-Goodreads, Part II: LibraryThing

In Part I, I covered BookLikes. Now, I'll write about LibraryThing.

Again: I haven't deleted my Goodreads account or reviews, primarily because the transfer to BookLikes and LibraryThing didn't go perfectly – certain books were either not uploaded properly or not uploaded at all. So, my account still exists, I just don't update it.

To be honest, I've spent far more time playing around on BookLikes than LibraryThing - BookLikes has been much more social and fun for me, while LibraryThing is mostly just the place I go to cross-post a review or check the occasional bit of book-related information. LibraryThing has many features, and they're all scattered several clicks away throughout the site. What this means is, it's quite possible that I have some of the details about what can and can't be done on the site wrong. If that's the case, please say so in a comment.

The things I currently do on LibraryThing:
  • Cross-post my reviews – I copy and paste the HTML version of my review in BookLikes over to LibraryThing in order to save myself work. Then, only minimal cleanup of my review is required.
  • Learn about new things I'd like to read
  • Find books to add to the read-alikes lists at the ends of my reviews – LibraryThing recommendations, member recommendations, and LibraryThing's Tagmash are all great resources
  • Geek out over LibraryThing's various statistics and book catalog analysis tools
First, I should mention that BookLikes is completely free, whereas LibraryThing is only free if the number of books you're cataloging is under 200. I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a lifetime membership ($25) so that I could do a batch import of my entire Goodreads collection.

BookLikes has a bit of a learning curve, but it isn't a bad one. My biggest problem was figuring out how I was going to use it so that it didn't feel like a duplication of my Blogger blog. LibraryThing's learning curve, on the other hand, is steep and nasty. Importing my collection from Goodreads wasn't that hard (although, like I said, not everything imported correctly and some things refused to import at all), but figuring out how to add individual books was a bit harder.

In Goodreads, you search for a book and either add it to your shelves via the search results page or via the individual book's page. I found the page for an individual book in LibraryThing, clicked the “Add to your library” button...and was directed to a page that conducted another search for the book I had just found. The only thing close to a “one-click” way to add books to your LibraryThing collections is the “Add Books” page, where you can search book data from various sites in order to find what you'd like to add. I found the LibraryThing bookmarklet on the “Widgets and Extensions” page, but apparently it's broken, because not even that allows you to avoid using the “Add Books” page.

This was so incredibly clunky that I thought “there must be a better way.” I started a discussion topic about it, hoping I wasn't committing a newbie faux pas in the process, and learned that there really isn't a better way. In addition, several people told me that it was unlikely that the process for adding books would ever be improved. I was told that adding books was much easier with a barcode scanner. Good enough advice...unless you read e-books.

I'm still not happy with the way adding books to collections works, but I've become more used to it. I will say this: it has had a definite effect on how I use the site. Whereas on BookLikes I add the books I'm currently reading, the books I've read, the e-books I've downloaded, and the books I hope to one day read, on LibraryThing I only add the books I've read and the e-books I've downloaded. It's just too much of a pain to do more than that. I wouldn't even bother adding the e-books I downloaded but hadn't yet read if it weren't for LibraryThing offering the ability to browse covers in collections.

As far as book discussion goes, LibraryThing has been a failure for me. There are discussion groups, but I haven't felt like joining any. LibraryThing allows users to “like” reviews, but it's not possible to comment on them. If you want to talk to a particular user about something they reviewed, I think the only way to do that is to comment on their member profile page. That is what one user did with me. Unfortunately, in order to reply, you have to comment on their profile page, which leads to a scattered and clunky “conversation,” assuming both users find the effort of responding to be worth it.

LibraryThing has almost too much going on and tends to present it all in a not-very-user-friendly way. There are pages and pages of features, and reviews, and information, and tools... It's overwhelming to a new user, which is one of the reasons why I initially went with Goodreads rather than LibraryThing.

If you can get used to the user interface, LibraryThing excels as a book catalog. I've set up my collection list so that it includes all the fields I'm most likely to want to see or edit in the process of choosing a book to read and reviewing it: covers, tags, collections, ratings, the date I finished reading, reviews, and more. So far, the only thing I haven't been able to do to my collections is sort by the number of reviews on the LibraryThing site as a whole – I'm not even sure if this is possible, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is and I just haven't figured it out yet. It seems like it's possible to do almost anything else with your collection.

LibraryThing's book data is very nice. Not only can I figure out the order in which to read a series, I can see which books I've already read. Same with recommendation lists, lists of award winners, and more – checkmarks show me which books I've already added to my collections.

I've also started to use LibraryThing to help me come up with read-alikes lists for my blog posts. The recommendations lists can be helpful, although, as in Goodreads, they only work for books that lots of other people have already read. For other books, like many self-published ones, LibraryThing's tagmash tool is helpful. It allows you to search combinations of tags in order to see which books have had all or most of those tags assigned to them by other LibraryThing users.

For those who like statistics, as I do, LibraryThing also provides a mind-boggling amount of information about your collections. I mostly just like seeing what my average rating is, but there are many other useful and/or fun statistics available. Since it's possible to shelve books in more than one collection, I may set up some collections to take better advantage of some of their statistics. Also, I may see about getting a barcode scanner and scanning all my physical books into a single collection, just in case I ever want to move to a new apartment – LibraryThing's statistics page includes a “facts” section that tells you how many U-Haul book boxes you'd need in order to package up your whole collection. Pretty nifty.

As far as I know, there isn't currently a single site in existence that can serve as a replacement for both Goodreads' social and book data/cataloging aspects.* Although the clunky way books must be added annoys me, LibraryThing does work well enough for me as a replacement Goodreads book catalog and makes up for BookLikes' deficiencies in the area of book and series data. I only wish that more LibraryThing users reviewed books – it seems to have far fewer book reviews than Goodreads.

 * A new site called Leafmarks has recently captured the attention of a lot of BookLikes users. It's being viewed as a promising new replacement for Goodreads. However, it's very, very new and apparently has a lot of issues that need to be resolved. I haven't gotten an account and don't know that I ever will - three sites seems to be the limit on what I'm willing to keep up with.


  1. Very fair review of LibraryThing, in the opinion of this long-time avid user. Yes, adding books is clunky, but I think that is because you can choose the source of the data for the book that is being added. I always use LoC whenever possible, and I have a few other choice sources I check, including Overcat. Amazon is my last resort. I was not impressed with the data sources in GoodReads.

    I LOVE the fact that people cannot comment directly on reviews in LibraryThing! If I want to be chewed out for my opinions, I'll post reviews on Amazon. But I do agree that makes the site less social. As you know, that's not why I use it. :)

    The stats are pretty cool, aren't they? One that I'd like to have (and maybe it exists and I haven;t found it yet) is one that could total your page count for a particular tag or collection. I haven't read as many books in 2013 as in some previous years, and I think it's partly because I have read two 900+ page books this year (and am working on a third). I'd like to be able to compare my page count from year to year.

    I bought a CueCat scanner from LibraryThing to help my nephew with an Eagle Scout project, but as it turned out he didn't need it. You are welcome to try it out for free (and if you want to keep it, I'll sell it to you for the price LT charges).

    1. The lack of ability to comment directly on reviews does reduce the chance of a toxic atmosphere a lot. I was mostly disappointed because the discussion the one user started with me was pretty interesting. I would have liked to continue it, but quit after one reply because it felt so odd and broken up.

      The stats are amazing. Goodreads has stats, but they're nothing like what LibraryThing can produce. The usefulness of my stats is limited right now, because of how I have my collections set up, but there are definite possibilities. And thanks, I may take you up on the offer to borrow (and possibly buy) the CueCat scanner.