As I have mentioned, I’ve been using LibraryThing for a while and it is certainly my favourite, but today I’ll try to take a more objective look at the service by applying the same rubrick I’ve used in the previous two reviews.
LibraryThing is the only one of the three where I have added an extensive list of books by searching for them one by one. I did a few test books on Shelfari and Goodreads to get a feel for how they would work and they all felt fairly similar. The difference is that LibraryThing, unlike the other two, actually pulls from something other than Amazon.com.
In addition to searching Amazon.com, LibraryThing can also query the Library of Congress and its extensive collection. Furthermore, LibraryThing has been adopted by a number of libraries (the full list is well over 600 library catalogs entered, just not every library is using LibraryThing as their main system), and the more books added to LibraryThing, the greater the potential that your book will have already been put into the system. This means that adding books is faster because there is less manual entry.
Goodreads and Shelfari also query books entered by users, but their user base (and subsequent catalogs) are much smaller. On the downside, Ryan tells me that if your book isn’t found when using LibraryThing, you have to manually select libraries to search from, and that can be a huge pain. I’ve been talking with some people in the LibraryThing community about this, but haven’t come to any good conclusions on how to resolve the issue yet.
The site speed has improved recently with some database server and memory server additions, and I’ve been greatly impressed. Previously, I would have ranked it lower on speed, but the new servers have made a noticeable difference. Adding books now is much faster than before, and the site is very responsive.
In regards to editing books, LibraryThing beats the other two hands down, but I’ll talk more about that in regards to Organization. Editing books is an order of magnitude better and faster with LibraryThing.
LibraryThing is the only online management system of the three that has an actual mobile version of their service. To be honest, I hadn’t used it in a while on account of not buying many books recently, but it’s just as fast as before.
While mobile stylesheets tend to be very barebones and unattractive, they do make things significantly faster on smartphones and the like, so accessing my library and performing searches was significantly faster than Goodreads. Of course, none of this was even possible on Shelfari.
I was able to get in and search for a book in my library in mere seconds. I could even get to my listing of the book and see what tags I had assigned it, its ISBN, publication date, and Dewey Decimal Number (very handy if you’re trying to find a book in an older brick-and-mortar library).
LibraryThing shines when it comes to organization because it is simply so much more powerful than the other two services. The aspect I’ll mention here, to which I alluded earlier, is in editing books.
Though you can’t see my mouse cursor in the above screenshot, I was hovered over the tags panel in a table displaying my books. Double click on any of the fields to make them editable, then change whatever you like and hit a save button. You’re done; all fields displayed are editable, it’s fast, and it’s intuitive. It’s simply the easiest way to quickly modify basic information about a book.
For extensive or more advanced information, you can still click on a book and edit just about all of the information about it, which I prefer. Shelfari only lets you put in a few notes, and Goodreads requires that you be approved as a librarian before editing data. This is likely because all of their books are stored in a single place centrally, while LibraryThing has a powerful system that can handle combinations.
One of my criticisms with Shelfari and Goodreads was the inability to modify multiple books at once. If your library is more than a dozen or so books, I feel like this feature is absolutely crucial, and its oversight in Shelfari and Goodreads somewhat surprised me.
Power Editing in LibraryThing allows you to apply changes to multiple books at once, and while not every field can be modified this way, the most important ones can. If you’ve got a large library to organize, I can’t imagine the frustration and tediousness you would experience without having a feature like this.
You can set five styles in which to view your books, though I usually just set one and don’t change it. More important to me is the ability to organize my books how I like and how I have them on my bookshelves.
The process goes like this:
- Search my tags for fantasy -young, which returns results for all books tagged fantasy (fiction) but that are not tagged young (adult).
- Click on the date column so the oldest books are displayed first. This column represents publication date, not the date the book was added to the library.
- Click on the author column to organize them by last name.
I am now presented with all of my fantasy fiction novels, excluding those that are in our young adult section, organized by author (alphabetically by last name) and secondarily by publication date. This is how we have them on our shelves, which makes it easier for me to find a book.
You simply don’t have the same level of tagging, customization, or ability to view your books in the other systems. In LibraryThing, I tell it how I want to see my library. Shelfari and Goodreads try to dictate to me how it should look.
So many reasons to love, but not for everyone
There are a lot of other features in LibraryThing that I couldn’t imagine doing without now. A librarian friend of mine observed that its API is open and very good, which allows people to do a lot with the site including using it in actual libraries. The community around the site is strong and extensive, and I’m a member of the Early Reviewers group, which allows me to enter into a lottery every month to receive a free book either before its publication or soon after (for which I would write a review).
I’ll admit that LibraryThing is written by certain people and for certain people. I can’t put a label on those groups though, as they’re fairly ambiguous. A diverse group of people use the service, so it’s not just written to coders or librarians (or some mix of the two), but it feels a lot like other developer-centric software I’ve used where it was written with the coders rather than the users in mind.
However, I don’t find it difficult, and neither does my wife. And I know a lot of people who use it with abounding joy. It’s simply the best tool for the job.
Get What You Pay For
LibraryThing is not exactly free, unlike Shelfari and Goodreads. You can add up to 200 books for free, so if your library is small, there’s no reason not to use LibraryThing. For more than 200 books, there is a $10 a year or $25 lifetime fee. I gladly put $25 down after adding our first hundred books because LibraryThing is just that great.
It’s the cost of taking a date to a movie to use a great library for life (at least the life of the site, which looks to be very stable and healthy). And I also believe in investing in good services, so I had no qualms paying for LibraryThing.
Final Grade: A
- Needs to be relatively fast. | B
- Speed/ease of adding books. | B
- General site speed. | B
- Speed/ease of editing books. | A
- Must be online, but furthermore must be mobile accessible so I can access my library from the bookstore to see if I already own something. | A
- Should be displayable by how I organize my books on the shelf (Genre -> Author alphabetically by last name -> Publication date) so that I can better find things in my physical library. | A
I was little torn over what grade to give LibraryThing. I’m hesitant to give it an A because it simply isn’t perfect, but then again, nothing ever will be. But it’s also head and shoulders above anything else, particularly in regards to tagging, quickly editing, and organizing your books.
As I began writing my justification for an A-/B+ grade, I realized how true I felt the previous sentence to be. If Goodreads is a B, then LibraryThing is clearly an A in my book. The fact that it costs money might disqualify LibraryThing from your own list of software to consider, in which case I definitely recommend Goodreads. But if organizing, expanding, and maintaining your library is your top concern, money not being as much of an issue, I would most certainly recommend LibraryThing.