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There is Something About LibraryThing




“Book-wrapt” is a word coined by Reid Byers, who wrote the authoritative book on home libraries,“The Private Library: The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom,” published by Oak Knoll Press. Their website claims that “The Private Library has been listed on The Washington Post’s 2021 list of “50 notable works of nonfiction”. Julie Lasky, writing about Byers in the New York Times [1] says: “to be surrounded by books is to be held rapt in an enchanted circle and to experience the rapture of being transported to other worlds.”

Lasky asks: How many books does it take to feel book-wrapt? She quotes Byers citing that 1,000 is the minimum in any self-respecting home library. My own collection, started even decades ago, has grown to more than 1500. There’s science, science fiction, romantic fiction, detective novels, history and so on.

The first book in my collection was a prize I received from the school I attended as a child. Sadanam was the Gandhian equivalent of a primary school. The book I got was a collection of essays called “Sadachara Padhangal”, lessons in ethics, printed on cheap grey paper and bound with a khaki cover. The book was presented to me by none other than Sucheta Kripalani. The book became a prized possession, perhaps sowing the seeds for the future hunger for acquisition.

My desire to own books was spurred on by a fortuitous happening; when I passed out of secondary school with a first-class in 1954, I was awarded the Maharajah’s Scholarship, which brought a princely sum of 5 rupees every month (its value now would be about Rs 400). My father allowed me to spend it as I desired, and I promptly started buying books from the National Book Store near the Maidan. This was the bookshop promoted by the Writer’s Co-operative Society and had all the books by Modern Malayalam writers.

Thus began the tale of my acquisition of books of all kinds and characters. It’s an addiction. Every encounter with a book shop, in a strange town, in the airport or in the railway station added to my collection. A good part of my Dick Francis collection was acquired in London Book shops. While visiting the Max Planck Institute in Garching, near Munich, I found an English Book stall and the the Thurber carnival. In the narrow lanes of Aix en Provence, which I used to visit quite often in connection with India’s participation in the ITER project, my friend Abhijit Sen showed me a shop, Book-in-Bar selling English books and I became acquainted with Provencal life depicted by Peter Mayle. This little book shop, situated in a lane connecting Cours Mirabeau, offers a large choice of books in very friendly surroundings. The ambience is enhanced by the coffee shop. I later collected all of the books by Peter Mayle, including A Good Year, which was made into a movie starring Russell Crowe. The Crossword bookshop on the Gandhinagar Sarkhej highway and more often the second hand book sellers who used to display their ware near IIM in Ahmedabad have been steady sources.

When does a hoard of books become a collection, a library? I believe that happens when the collection gets catalogued. I started with a physical catalogue years ago and it became very messy. With no easy way of organising it or cross referencing it , it soon became an unruly crowd of titles. Then I came across a blog by Shekhar Bhatia, former editor of Hindustan Times in LiveMint, where he mentioned LibraryThing.com., a virtual library where one can list and organize books.

LibraryThing was launched on August 29, 2005 by Tim Spalding, a freelance Web designer connected with the publishing industry. It began as an online tool for cataloging personal libraries. It soon transformed itself into a social network connecting members for sharing books-related information like book reviews [2]. It creates a database that contains information of all your books. I got a $ 25-lifetime subscription in January 2010, which allows me to catalogue all the 1000 odd books I had in my collection.

The cataloging function is very simple to use. Go to “Add Books” and enter data like title, author, ISBN etc. Select a cataloging source (Amazon.com, Library of Congress for example). Clicking on a title in the list of search results will add the book to one’s collection with a photo of the book cover, pre-assigned categories, publisher, publication date, and many assorted goodies [3]. LibraryThing will indicate whether you have already entered the book in your collection. In the absence of a bar code scanner, a webcam can work. Or you can manually enter its title.

However, the greatest pleasure from this amazing website is this: I can sit at my mac and look up the virtual library, call up a book and read the plot and be reminded of the characters and even make the book nibble at my memory to recall where and when I had purchased it.

The search can be based on title, ISBN, author, and tag. For each book, there is a great deal of information: bibliography; alternate titles; number of editions; rating by readers; links to reviews; links book databases (Amazon, WorldCat, Google Books etc.); cover art for multiple editions; and tags that other readers have used to describe it [2]. LibraryThing provides several other means for getting book recommendations. There are hundreds of discussion groups on a plethora of subjects. The discussion groups are said to be active and lively. The hyperlinks enable switching between different pges of the site. As an online tool for book lovers, LibraryThing is the tops for its user-friendliness, versatility, and literary enthusiasm.

In addition to all this, the site can access library information from over 1000 libraries using a data sharing protocol with which users can access catalog data [5]. The function ensures user-privacy as no email is required to set up an account.

LibraryThing is an amazing web application; a book lover’s Facebook. It allows sharing of library information with others and find people of like interests. It is like looking into someone’s collection of books. It is also a book club where you can join groups with of similar interests [4].

The latest statistics are impressive. In 2022, it has over 3 million members, over 200 million cataloged books (of which 5.5 million are unique titles), and close to 5 million reviews. The most frequently reviewed book is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (3,378 reviews) followed by Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2,221 reviews). The top authors are J. K. Rowling (800,552), Stephen King (633,365), Terry Pratchett (476,773), C. S. Lewis (394,892), J. R. R. Tolkien (392,280).

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/24/realestate/why-do-people-keep-books.html [2] Johnson, Sarah L.. “Review of LibraryThing.” Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning 4 (2010): 220–221. [3] https://www.librarything.com/buzz.php [4] Shekhar Bhatia, https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/v6Q3DZv1YxPzBrc6t6GpsL/More-bytes-to-the-shelf-life.html [5] https://bobonbooks.com/2016/05/06/tim-spalding-founder-of-librarything/

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