Friday, January 11, 2008

Library/Networking Sites Comparison

In search of the ideal cataloguing website for my personal library, I have been using, for the past several weeks, three different services: Goodreads, Shelfari and most recently, LibraryThing. I offer a brief analysis and the pros and cons (according to my opinion) of each service. Feel free to chime in about the service(s) you like and why!


*My list of features for each service is in no way exhaustive. I simply point out a few really good or bad features. And because a feature is listed under one service does not make it exclusive to that service unless stated.


  • Multiple options for viewing
  • use of simple icons in list view to access information
  • generally good layout/layout options
PRICE: 4/5
  • You can upload 200 books for free, but then can buy a yearly subscription at $10 or a "lifetime" which is really more of a suggested donation, $25 is typical. Given the lack of ads and useability, I can't really complain.
  • Uploaded list easily (took awhile, but that was ok--especially since they give you an approximate timeframe...and they use a queue, so you can go do other stuff while you wait)
  • Ability to do "half" stars
  • Can report your handle/username for other networks/resources such as BookCrossing, LiveJournal, Blogger, etc. Other library sites (like GoodReads and Shelfari) are noticeably absent, however.
  • Will work with a barcode reader (available for purchase)
  • options for including date purchased, started, and completed
  • option to include BCID #
  • Indicates how many users/reviews for each book
  • "tagging" operation not ideal as pre-existing tags not listed, nor are your own tags readily accessible
  • tag clouds available for viewing, however and author clouds!!
  • blog, social networking widgets available

  • While they have made some improvements, the server is often slow or non-functioning.
  • The new "shelf" layout is cute and pretty user-friendly. The overlaid menus are ok, but don't always work that well (I'm using Mac/Firefox). There need to be more options immediately available when you put your cursor over a given book.
  • Other problem...a lot of less popular titles don't show up on Shelfari...even when using ISBNs (whereas they show up at GoodReads or LibraryThing). I'm assuming this means Shelfari doesn't have access to as many databases.
  • Tried to import a list of books. Said the import was successful and was "processing." Maybe I didn't wait long enough (an hour??!), but there should be some indication of how long processing will take.
PRICE: 5/5
  • Free, can't beat that.

  • Cute "shelf" design
  • Shelves for Reading, To Read, Own, Favorites, Wish List
  • Tells you other users who have the book
  • Indicates groups who have the book
  • Will let you customize your copy of the book, including spaces to say if it is signed, loaned out, etc
  • while tagging involves a separate operation, they do provide a list of the tags you've used from which you can select


  • Attractive and minimalist
  • Self-explanatory, and easy editing features
  • good server speed
PRICE: 5/5
  • Free
  • tags, but calls them "shelves" which then become part of a drop-down menu for easy cataloging
  • recommendation feature
  • easy export (haven't tested import, but I used my GoodReads created file to import into LibraryThing
  • good customized widgets
  • book data almost as good as LibraryThing


If I had to pick "the best," I'd probably go with LibraryThing. GoodReads comes in at a close second, but Shelfari trails behind. I know Shelfari is looking to make constant improvements, so I will stick around and I applaud their efforts (they are a smaller operation, unlike LT, which has shares owned by companies such as AbeBooks, etc).

4/13/08 UPDATE:
For further reading check out Ray Sims' comparison of Shelfari and LibraryThing here.

EDITED 1/15 to strikethrough inaccurate statement (see comments).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

In the Blogosphere: À mon chevet

Charles Downey, over at Ionarts, has begun a series of blog posts entitled "À mon chevet" wherein he provides a quote from a book sitting on his nightstand and some commentary. In this most recent post, he offers a selection from John Dos Passos' 1919, the second volume of the USA Trilogy.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

In Progress: Omnivore's Dilemma

I'm halfway through The Omnivore's Dilemma and am so impressed by the sheer scope of the work. In fact, one reason it is taking me so long to finish, is that I find myself needing to take a break so I can fully "digest" each chapter (pun intended).

What I appreciate the most, however, is the experiential data and the lack of sanctimony. When it comes to what we eat, there are few unadulterated heroes. Pollan leaves few stones unturned and is equitable when examining industrial agriculture, the "organic" movement, and even the idyllic farming pastoral embodied by the small family farm.

Finally, Pollan's writing is an absolute joy to read, peppered with humor and enthusiasm for his subject. I'll include a few excerpts here that I found most thoughtful and engaging.

Yet the organic label itself--like every other such label in the supermarket--is really just an imperfect substitute for direct observation of how a food is produced, a concession to the reality that most people in an industrial society haven't the time or the inclination to follow their food back to the farm, a farm which today is apt to be, on average, fifteen hundred miles away. (137)

Ain't that the truth? And really, that's the point of the book, as far as I can tell thus far. If we invested more emotional and mental energy into what we eat (including pondering where the food comes from), we could really impact the entire chain--from farm to table.

Pollan begins his journey with an examination of corn, which is the closest thing to a clear-cut villain in his story:

Corn has done more than any other species to help the food industry realize the dream of freeing food from nature's limitations and seducing the omnivore into eating more of a single plant than anyone would ever have thought possible. (91)

Seduction is a good word for it. Advertising and economics have seduced us into what we now have as the "typical" American diet. Corn, Pollan offers, may be one of the lousiest bedfellows around for numerous reasons.

And finally, while shopping at Whole Foods today, Pollan's words lodged in the back of my mind:

I enjoy shopping at Whole Foods nearly as much as I enjoy browsing a good bookstore, which, come to think of it, is probably no accident: Shopping at Whole Foods is a literary experience, too. That's not to take anything away from the food, which is generally of high quality, much of it "certified organic" or "humanely raised" or "free range." But right there, that's the point: It's the evocative prose as much as anything else that makes this food really special, elevating an egg or chicken breast or bag of arugula from the realm of ordinary protein and carbohydrates into a much headier experience, one with complex aesthetic, emotional, and even political dimensions. (135)

I can't wait to read more.