Friday, July 29, 2011

Library Bytes: LibraryThing

I haven't written anything library-oriented in quite a while, so I thought a post on LibraryThing would be fun, especially since I finished cataloging today my entire book collection. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I have 1100 books in my apartment. I have no idea how they're all fitting in here, but somehow there's still plenty of room to walk around. If you read bklynbiblio on the actual site itself rather than through an RSS feeder, you may have noticed I have a widget that shows a rotating group of random book covers from my collection. It's sometimes fun to see what will show up.

LibraryThing (LT) is actually an amazing website. Here is my profile. You catalog your book collection, searching by title, author, ISBN, whatever. But rather than just a static database of your holdings, it connects your library with everyone else's library in there to become a social networking site where you can see how many other people own the same book as you, and what people have the similar libraries to you. Not surprisingly, my friends SC and PR both turn out to have a number of similar books as me. That said, if you think my 1100 is big, you should see theirs: PR has 3433 books and SC has 4872 books! I joined LT 2 years ago after hearing about it from one of them. SC blogs about it frequently on Shermania, but since he's an expert cataloger in the library profession, it's not surprising that he would be so into it. The social networking component goes even further though, incorporating chat rooms, book store events, and so on. I don't actually utilize all those features in it, but I do like what it comes up with at times.

Once you catalog your books, you also assign multiple subject headings or tags. Using these recurring tags, you can then determine how many books you have in that particular subject. Are you surprised to discover that my top 3 tags are "British" (454 books), "art" (431), and "19th-century" (313)? "Fiction" (306) and "Victorian" (211) come next. Cataloging your collection also allows you to discover the authors whose books you own the most. Some of this doesn't really surprise me. Agatha Christie comes in high for me at 80 books (almost all paperbacks). I put the book cover image of What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! above as part of this post because I still think this was probably one of her most clever plots. (A woman on a train watches another train pass on a parallel track, and she suddenly witnesses a murder in the window of one of the cars. When she reports it afterwards, there's no trace of a murder ever taking place.) After Christie, my top fiction authors are Anne Rice (28), Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine (27), and A.S. Byatt (16). Among my art history books, Elizabeth Prettejohn came in with 6 titles, Beauty and Art: 1750-2000 being but one of her works. I was surprised who came next: Renaissance scholar Keith Christiansen and photography historian Larry Schaaf, tied with 5 books each, followed by the work of 19th-century art historian Robert Rosenblum. If you have a book collection and you've been wanting to get it organized, give LT a try. And if you do, "friend" my library!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Why-Pad

Was it only 18 months ago that I blogged about my new Dell Inspiron laptop? Was it only April 2010 that Apple introduced the 1st iPad, and we're already on the 2nd version of it? Technology moves way too fast for me sometimes. And, yes, if you're wondering why I'm going on about this, it is because during all the weeks I was sick (note: I still cannot shake the coughing & congestion 6.5 weeks later), I ended the internal "should I?/shouldn't I?" battle in my head, succumbed to peer pressure, and I bought an iPad 2. Or, as I'm now fondly calling it, my Why-Pad. "Why?" you may ask? I'll tell you why. It's because I'm still trying to figure out why the heck I actually bought the darn thing!

Don't get me wrong. It's actually quite sleek and fun. The picture above more-or-less shows you what I now own. It's white with the blue foldable cover. Mind you, I still haven't figured out how to fold the cover like you see in the picture--everytime I do it, the thing collapses on itself. And while I'm at it, why doesn't Apple sell handi-wipes to clean the screen? They sell every other imaginable attachment gizmo for it, but they provide no easy cleaning mechanism. Within the first couple of hours of playing with it, I had so many streaks and smudges on the screen, a forensic scientist could have taken fingerprints without needing that black powder. But I'm digressing, because I did say it was sleek and fun, and it really is. The technology of using your fingertips to tap and move things is ingenious (why didn't Douglas Engelbart invent this instead of the mouse, which has now given us all carpal tunnel syndrome?). OK, so if you're wondering why with this touch-screen action I'm acting like I've never heard of the iPhone before, it's simply because I don't own an iPhone and iDon'tWantOne. The screen on those things is just too small for me to appreciate what you're trying to look at, and first and foremost I just want my cell phone to make phone calls, not turn into a vocal GPS so Majel Barrett can tell me how to get to Starbucks (come you really want people to know you're lost while walking?).

The iPad syncs with iTunes on my laptop (I have an iPod Shuffle), and I've now got a wide selection of digital photos on the iPad too (the slide show options make for some enjoyable viewing). My favorite app so far is Google Earth, although it freaked me out how it was able to find me in my apartment via satellite. And then of course there's iBooks. Now, I've been resisting the e-book revolution for a while, but I figured I might as well give it a shot with this thing, so I am reading my first e-book now. It's some pretty heavy-duty stuff: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911). I know that seems hokey, but there is a reason for this. Ages ago when I worked at FAU, we all got Jornadas (pseudo-Palm Pilots), and one of the free e-books that came with it was The Secret Garden, but I only read half of it, so I felt it was important to reconnect to that past experience for my first iPad e-book. So far reading it has been an interesting experience, but since I'm also reading Agatha Christie's Passenger to Frankfurt (1970) in paperback, I have to confess that even though the e-book has some cool features like zooming, an instant dictionary, and font customization, I still find myself drawn to the analog book.

So all in all, what do I think of my Why-Pad? I think it's a cool gadget, and I'm slowly getting into it. It'll be handy when traveling, and I'm sure over time I'll make more use of it. I don't have wireless Internet at home yet, so admittedly that is limiting my explorations. And every time I've tried to bring it to one of the 5 Starbucks within a 15-minute walk to my apartment to use their free Wi-Fi, there's never a seat available...because everyone else in there is playing with their Why-Pads and laptops! I guess I just may have to go to a Library to use it properly...where, curiously, I will be surrounded by paper books...

Monday, July 11, 2011

The M.Phil. Degree

Which one of these things doesn't match the other? If you guessed the square on the lower left, you would be quite right. I went to school today to pick up my diploma for my M.Phil. degree (Art History), which is the newbie joining my B.A. (English) on the stand and 2 M.A. degrees (Humanities and Library & Information Science) on the wall. Too bad it's kind of plain looking compared to my other degrees with their fancy Gothic calligraphy. I actually received my M.Phil. on September 30, but it took them so long to prepare the actual diploma, I had forgotten all about it. In case you don't understand how all this works, in American universities the M.Phil. stands for Master of Philosophy and is the degree you earn when you've finished all Ph.D.-level coursework and exams. It means you're A.B.D. (colloquially, "all but dissertation"). Once I complete my dissertation and defend it, then I will earn the Ph.D. and you'll be able to call me dr. bklynbiblio. But I still have more to do to get there, and Lord knows I'm working hard at it. The dissertation is moving along slowly but surely. I have a tendency to obsess over what I need to do next in my life, to the total detriment of acknowledging what I've done so far. It was a pleasure then to set the diploma on my bookcase today, and to take a few moments to pat myself on the back and think about all that I have accomplished. It felt rewarding, and I even smiled. We all need to do that a little more often.