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.”

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