Shelfari or Library Thing for Book Groups

Book lovers need to know about the social networking and wiki tools that are popping up around the Internet. Sites like Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com) and Shelfari (http://www.shelfari.com) offer a suite of tools that allow readers everywhere to document personal book lists, libraries, and reading experiences.

At their most basic, these sites allow readers to collect a virtual shelf (or list) for display online. Cover illustrations from several editions of most books are available. The books on these shelves or lists can be given any “tags” or identifiers that the reader wants, marked as favorites, rated on a five star scale, reviewed at length, or sorted. You can also identify friends and link to their shelves, join group discussions, ask those who have read a particular book if it should be tried, or take advantage of other features.

Of the two, Library Thing came first and currently seems more aggressive about adding new features. It does, however, have a small fee if you want to add more than 200 books (which is surprisingly easy to do!) Although both are great sites, I chose Shelfari because it is free and currently seems to load a little faster. The rest of this post refers to specifics from Shelfari. For a sample, check out my shelf at http://www.shelfari.com/nhollands/shelf.

Shelfari has many applications for book groups as well. For starters, some folks are isolated from others in various ways that makes an online choice like Shelfari the best option for joining a book group. Browse around the groups on Shelfari, (http://www.shelfari.com/explore/groups) particularly within the “Book Clubs by City” and “Reading Life” categories and you can find a group to fit almost any description (although many of these groups seem to have limited activity).

For most, online book groups don’t serve the variety of needs that a face-to-face group can satisfy.  Your face-to-face group should, however, consider building a shelf that can serve as an archive of the books you have discussed in the past. When new members join, or if your group reaches the longevity of some I attend, you’ll find it’s handy to have an easy, visual archive of the books you’ve selected in the past. Another shelf could collect books that you think the group should consider for future reading (and could be added to easily by members when the idea of trying the book occurred to them). The “widget” features on Shelfari allow you to import these shelves onto most other websites and blogs.

If members of the group join Shelfari as individuals, they can compare each other’s reading interests. Some groups operate on a tight time table, and online communication would be a great way to supplement those quick-moving monthly meetings. The communication tools would also allow a means of notifying members about new book choices and upcoming meetings (although you might want to consider a group page at http://groups.yahoo.com or http://www.meetup.com or a blog through WordPress, TypePad, or Blogger for these purposes, as they have more complete and secure tools for giving your group a free web presence.)

I’m sure there are other creative uses of Shelfari and Library Thing for book groups that I haven’t thought about yet. If you know of some, please comment. If these tools are new to you, sign up for a shelf and see what you can do!

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Shelfari or Library Thing for Book Groups"

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  1. kerryq@aol.com' KerryQ says:

    I’m looking for a better way to communicate with my book club. We usually communicate between meetings with a flurry of emails (voting on nominated books, rsvps, follow-ups, etc.). I’ve been thinking that it would streamline things to have an online space for these tasks. Also, I would like to be able to post our calendar, and a list of books we’ve read previously. My problem is finding the right venue. Google groups, facebook, a blog, etc?

    Thanks for any suggestions.

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