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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

LibraryThing for Managing Small Libraries

[]A residential college without a library is hardly a college at all. But given the small scale of a residential college library, how can one effectively manage the collection? If the college’s members don’t know what’s there, the collection—whether small or large—is of limited value.

A magnificent tool has just become available for those who wish to manage small libraries with a measure of professionalism. It’s called, and it is being developed by programmer and bibliophile Tim Spalding. LibraryThing allows you to quickly catalog a book collection of any size, and to do so professionally by pulling in existing catalog records for your books from national and university libraries. Although you can make up your own subject headings or call numbers for your books and enter them if you wish, LibraryThing can do that work automatically and can create a catalog that approximates professional standards. (If you have any future systems librarians in your college, they can use LibraryThing to learn quite a bit about MARC formats, data transfer via the Z39.50 protocol, and much more.)

One of the virtues of LibraryThing is that it isn’t just a personal cataloging application: it’s an interactive social space made up of many small collections all brought together. You can find out about other LibraryThing collections that are similar to yours, and get recommendations for new books to read based on what book owners like you have bought. (Take a look at my collection of residential college histories, for a small example.) And while the opportunity exists within the system to buy books via and other online retailers, is emphatically a non-commercial operation, designed first and foremost for collectors and small libraries.

LibraryThing has wonderful potential to serve as a Global Union Catalog for small libraries. If your residential college collection needs some order, this could be just the tool you’ve been looking for.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021