I have a confession. I buy books and never read them. I just can’t resist a second-hand bargain of some obscure history title that I may never see again or a new genealogy reference book that promises to help me break through that impenetrable brickwall.
I have the best of intentions, but too often I just read the introduction, flick through a couple of chapters, then stick the book on my groaning bookshelves for "when I have more time". I’ve now reached the point where not only do I need a new bookcase, but I’ve also several times found myself in a bookshop looking at some inviting title and wondering if I already have it.
Currently awaiting shelving.
I’ve recently seen a few of my Facebook friends discussing using LibraryThing as a way of cataloguing and sorting their book collection and decided to give it a try. I spent a few happy hours earlier this week going through my bookshelves and putting the majority of my history and genealogy titles online.
According to Wikipedia, LibraryThing is a social cataloguing web application for storing and sharing book catalogues and various types of book metadata. For me, it’s a way of figuring out what books I actually have and, hopefully, the first step in becoming more organised and doing a bit more reading.
LibraryThing is free to join, although if you want to enter more than 200 books you will need to upgrade your membership. A lifetime membership starts at as little as $19.00, depending upon your generosity. So far I’m at 193 books so may well be upgrading soon.
You can choose to make your account completely private and only need to enter personal details if you wish. There’s a short introductory guide on the website but I pretty much just leapt straight in and got started entering books and found it very intuitive.
I entered most of my books by ISBN number and then selected the matching edition from Amazon or one of the many available library catalogues, which include the National Library of Scotland.
It turns out I have more books than I realised, including a few I don’t remember buying (‘The Scottish hosiery and knitwear industry, 1680-1980’???). Despite it being rather an unexplored interest of mine, I apparently have 23 books on the history of the family (as opposed to family history), including four with sex in the title - well what Scottish genealogist could resist a book called ‘Scottish church attitudes to sex, marriage and the family, 1850-1914’!
For me, the most useful feature is ‘collections’ which allows you to put each book you enter into one of the predefined categories or any other you choose to make up (I’ve yet to discover if there is a limit to the number of collections you can create or the number of collection you can place a particular book into). This means you can arrange your titles in a way that’s meaningful to you.
For example, I’ve created an ‘Old Documents’ collection which includes my books on old handwriting, Latin and Scots dictionaries, glossaries of words useful for family and local historians, reference books such as ‘Dates and calendars for the genealogist’ and more general guides to particular records such as ‘Wills and Probate Records’. This means that when reading or transcribing an old document I now have a quick way of checking what books I have that may be of use. You could perhaps create a collection of books dealing with a particular country or region, or an area of research in which you specialise.
I’m not sure how involved I’ll get with the social aspects of LibraryThing, but for now have made my account public and joined the Genealogy@LT group (yes, of course there’s a genealogy group!). I also signed in with my Twitter account which meant I could immediately see some familiar faces who were already using LibraryThing, although I’m not sure how to find that information again. I have come across some people whose names I recognise from other social media sites through having books in common.
As all the books I’ve entered are genealogy or history related, the recommendations LibraryThing makes are fairly useful, although all the ones I’ve added to my ‘wishlist’ are books I’ve previously heard of but not got around to buying yet.
If you are interested, you can find my book list at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/KirstyF.Wilkinson
I’m currently looking at developing an educational plan (a ProGen assignment). It turns out that to improve my genealogical knowledge and skills I probably need look no further than my own bookshelf!
© All images and text copyright Kirsty F. Wilkinson