LibraryThing for Educators

Last year I signed up for LibraryThing — a social networking site where book lovers share their personal libraries online. They call it the “largest bookclub in the world.” It’s actually an intriguing bibliography system, tapping into libraries and bookstores around the globe to pull in information about any given book title that you can claim you own on your own virtual shelves. I know librarians and booksellers who love it, but anyone who loves to collect or hoard books should find it a great place to get lost in. If in everyday life you like browsing your friends’ bookshelves when you visit them, or if you compulsively scan displayed titles at a bookstore (or, like me, even when you’re at a supermarket or convenience store), if you like to know what others are reading so you can know what you should be reading too, or even if you judge people by the literary company they keep (shame on you) then this is the site for you!

[You might want to read “A Cozy Book Club in a Virtual Reading Room” from last year’s New York Times, if you haven’t heard of LibraryThing before.]

As a fiction writer, I find LT a useful way to stay in touch with some of my readers and I enjoy seeing what books my friends are reading. I am listed as an official “LibraryThing Author.” I also actually get some practical use out of keeping a record of my book collection online (albeit a loose one — I own WAAAAY more books than I’ve listed in my online catalog, and I still plan to use the barcode scanning luxury of Readerware to compile a database of them all someday, too). There are times when I am in my campus office, and I want to know if I have a particular book at home, or if I’ll need to make a trip to the campus library — so I can easily load up librarything.com on my computer and check. It’s practical.

Joining LibraryThing is as easy as logging in once with a username…and it’s also free. Enter 200 books into their database at no cost. Once you hit that threshold, if you want to keep entering titles, you’ll need to kick in $10 per year — or do as I did, feeling the cause was worthy paying a paltry $25 for a lifetime membership. That’s pretty cheap, in the grand scheme of librarythings. The social networking with other bookhounds is a natural benefit and a no-brainer (you’ll quickly get “friends” who share similar interests — from librarians, to teachers, to students; you can enter conversations about books and genres and more; you can even swap books with people you trust (though I deplore this act because writers don’t get their royalties); and so on). You can tag books, to categorize things and find them in clusters later on, or to find other books related to them that you don’t own yet. You can incorporate gizmos onto your blog that tell others what you’re reading. You can use the site to connect with authors or bookstores. You can get book suggestions (or, cleverly, unsuggestions!). You can enter contests. And as their blog (and their deeper and geekier thingology web) makes clear, they’re super-intelligent, constantly growing, and really evolving in relation to how their members utilize the site. It’s a pretty cool place for the bookworm to burrow around.

I haven’t been considering the pedagogical uses of the site — or even how I might best utilize it as a teacher — until recently. Today I dug around in LibraryThing’s “suggester” pages and found a way to search for books that use the same tags as I do. Thus, a search for other member’s books tagged “pedagogy” turned up a host of titles I hadn’t heard of before (96 of them, in fact)…and I learned of other classics I own that have come out in new editions. Just going through this process gave me an incentive to pick up my pedagogical research again — to seek out unique titles like Donna Duffy’s Teaching Within the Rhythms of the Semester or Stephen Brookfield’s Discussion as a Way of Teaching.

But the fun didn’t stop there. By clicking on the names of members of LibraryThing who already own these books, I discovered the librarything profiles of other educators and even teacher’s reading groups and — coolest of all — the libraries for college centers for teaching and learning, like Stone Hill College’s CTL — just by surfing the site. I did searches for “teach” in the member list and found more titles than I could ever possibly read, but lots of inspiration. I was pleased to also stumble on the Women’s Studies library at University of Oregon, my alma mater…which proves that LibraryThing serves various disciplines and fields, as well. I know that my own campus librarians are aware of it, and that many others are experimenting.

All of this makes for an intriguing form of personal research — LT is a place I’m turning to more and more when I want to seek out a new book to read. I’m wondering now how it might also be useful for working with students. For example, I found a graduate student who specializes in “Chick Lit” on the site recently; clicking through her own personal library, I learned about new research titles in the field which I promptly ordered for our campus library. It made me wonder if I could use the site as a sort of “graduate research” laboratory. Perhaps I could even ask students to sign up for free accounts, and develop annotated bibliographies on the site.

I’ve spotted “classroom libraries” on the site (like this one from a Children’s lit teacher who wants to build an in-class library better than what her school has). Others, like BlogDay, are mulling over the ways that the info sharing can be used for students online. I’ll have to keep thinking of creative uses for this with English majors in collegiate environment. The best tips and advice I’ve found so far are mentioned on Classroom Learning 2.0, which seems like a great place to start.

I’ve decided, though, that I will continue to update my profile on LibraryThing with education-related texts as I acquire or rediscover them. I have also recently joined a very similar, yet decidedly more chatty and interactively social site — goodreads.com — where I will try to post entries not based on my home library, per se, but on the books I am currently teaching (tagged “currently-teaching”!) each term, with micro-reviews. I’ve already begun; drop by, sign up, and waive hello! And if you have ideas for integraing LT or GoodReads into the classroom, let me know by leaving a comment!

Published by

Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.