CoverGuess from LibraryThing

CoverImage on LibraryThing

Earlier this month, Tim Spalding introduced a new group-tagging game called CoverGuess on LibraryThing. I would have blogged about it earlier, but I have been too busy spending all my spare time playing.

It’s pretty simple: “CoverGuess is a sort of game. We give you covers, and you describe them in words. If you guess the same things as other players, you get points.”

You see a cover image and enter a bunch of tags — it’s hard to explain why that’s fun. Maybe it’s the immediate feedback. For the cover of the book above, I entered: church, doors, wreath, snow. I got points for those, but when I saw what other people entered, I realized that I missed a lot. I didn’t notice those stained glass windows, and didn’t think to add the obvious Christmas. The more you play, the more details you notice, and the more points you get.

And although the points don’t actually mean anything, it’s fun to watch your name climb up the scoreboard. Not that I am the sort of person who cares about that sort of thing. But just for the record, right this minute I am number one for the hour, but not even in the top 200 for the day, and I rank number 1018 overall. This should give you some idea of how many people are actually playing around with this!

But it’s not just a game — it’s a fun way of using crowdsourcing to build a database of tagged cover images. Imagine how helpful this will be when someone can’t remember a title but knows there was a picture of a little girl or a Dalmatian wearing a top hat on the cover! LibraryThing is releasing the data under a Creative-Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License, and any non-profit entity, like a library, can use it without charge. We’re starting work on our new library catalog, and now I am really hopeful we’ll be able to add cover image searching!


Word Statistics Links

For my What’s New with What’s New presentation for the Boston Regional Library System:

Book Information

  • Amazon: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down — The Amazon page for this book is an example of some of the ways that Amazon is playing around with text analysis
  • LibraryThing — This social cataloging site is doing some very interesting work analyzing and comparing its members’ collection data, and collecting and organizing data through their Common Knowledge fielded wiki [Example: John Steinbeck]


Tagging is the primary method of organization for many social media sites, including Flickr, LibraryThing, Delicious, and many others. Tags are keywords users assign to their own items, which can also be used to search across the whole system. Because of the lack of a controlled vocabulary or standard cataloging rules, tagging is an imperfect system by design, but the use of natural vocabulary is quick, flexible and powerful.

Collections of tags can be presented in any format, but are often presented as tag clouds. Here are a couple of typical examples:
Flickr | LibraryThing | Delicious

Similar clouds can be made by analyzing the frequency of words used in any piece of text, like the example below.

This is a tag cloud made by uploading the text of the Declaration of Independence to the TagCrowd website

created at

Twittering Books to LibraryThing

LibraryThing has added a handy new feature, the ability to add books to your account using Twitter. You just add your Twitter ID to your profile and then add titles by send tweets in the specified format directly to LibraryThing’s LThing account.

Here’s an example:
D LThing 0803243189 #wishlist #memoir

Screenshot of Adding Books to LibraryThing via TwitterThis message tells LibraryThing to add the book with this ISBN to my library and to add the tags wishlist and memoir. LibraryThing’s system checks for new messages every two minutes, so books are added almost instantaneously. You can also send a title rather than an ISBN. LibraryThing checks Amazon and will use the first matching record if there are multiple editions. (Of course you can always check the records and edit them later.)

This is just another easy way for people to interact with LibraryThing. It makes it easy, for example, for people browsing in bookstores, libraries or elsewhere to add interesting books to their LibraryThing wishlists to follow up on later. I’d like to see in our library system so that people could easily place titles on reserve, or at least add them to a list on the system where they could manage them later. Of course, some of our users may maintain wishlists on LibraryThing of books they plan to request from the library.

Twitter Your Books to LibraryThing — Here are the details on the LibraryThing blog

LibraryThing’s Legacy Libraries

One of the most interesting aspects of Web 2.0 sites is the way members tend to use them for things beyond what the founders originally intended, and that’s certainly the case with LibraryThing.

One fascinating development from members of the LibraryThing community is the Legacy Libraries, a volunteer effort to set enter the book collections of famous readers as diverse as Franz Kafka, Mary, Queen of Scots and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The LibraryThing group I See Dead People’s Books provides a forum for discussion and collaboration on the Legacy Libraries, and resources like a very useful Cataloging Guide by Jeremy Dibble (jbd1) LibraryThing’s Bibliothecarius Mortui, Librarian of the Dead.

Why would anyone bother entering these libraries on LibraryThing? Most of these libraries are based on published lists which are reasonably available to anyone who really cares. But putting these collections on LibraryThing provides some new ways of looking at this information. For example, LibraryThing’s social features make it easy to see the overlap between member’s libraries, which can be interesting. (Not surprisingly, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams share a lot more of titles with each other than either of them share with me, but I share a lot more books with Theodore Dreiser than I do with Hemingway or Fitzgerald.)

Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy Library was the first of the Legacy Libraries, and it’s an especially interesting one. Titles were tagged using Jefferson’s own system:

Thomas Jefferson’s Library also includes nearly two hundred “book reviews” — comments on books taken from his letters and other writings. One of my favorites is on A treatise on practical farming; embracing particularly the following subjects, viz. the use of plaister of Paris… by John Alexander Binns. Jefferson writes: “Mr Binns, a plain farmer… understands handling his plough better than his pen. He is certainly somewhat of an enthusiast in the use of this manure.”


LibraryThing’s Flash Mob Cataloging Party

Flash-Mob Cataloging Party — A few weeks ago, this announcement on the LibraryThing blog caught my attention. Many church and other small organizations use LibraryThing to catalog their libraries, but it can be difficult for a single volunteer to get the collection entered. So, according to the blog, “…we thought we’d try a ‘flash-mob’ cataloging party and see how fast we can enter an entire library into LibraryThing.” Lucky for me, this event was happening nearby, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms. They put out the call for volunteers, and today about twenty of us gathered at the church and entered over 1,300 books into LibraryThing.
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