Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Salon: GoodReads and LibraryThing

I've been a Library Thing devotee for several years now. Recently, though, I decided to give GoodReads another chance. I'm not abandoning LibraryThing, but there are a few things I like better about GoodReads. (Note: Florinda has written about her love of LibraryThing at The 3R's Blog, and I won't be going into the level of detail she is. Similarly, Wallace has written about how to get the most out of GoodReads at Unputdownables. It's an excellent guide if you're unfamiliar with the site.) My focus today comes down to the simple question: what works best for me to organize my books and discover new books?

LibraryThing: How I love thee...
A co-worker and I were chatting about GoodReads a few months ago, and I mentioned I'm a LibraryThing user instead. Her response: of course you are, you're a librarian, but non-librarians prefer GoodReads. I'm willing to concede part of that point, but I think most of it comes down to what level of cataloging you care about for your books. Many dedicated readers will want the robustness of LibraryThing's cataloging efforts.

LibraryThing is a cataloger's dream. You have the option of using both controlled shelves (you can add and edit them, but all books must be on a shelf) and tagging. Different people use the two options in vastly different ways. I have prizes for most of the big prizes, and I love that books can be on multiple shelves (i.e. Read, Read in 2012, Pulitzer, and Favorites) plus have tags. I use tags to both describe the book and to indicate when I read it.

...but sometimes you let me down
LibraryThing is designed with a more classical approach in mind. Adding books works best if you have a physical book and an ISBN in front of you. I read mostly e-books and ARCs, so I am usually adding books manually, then manually changing the cover to be the correct image, which inevitably prompts the alert message "this will change your books ISBN." Obviously, in a real library, it is important to know which edition of a book you have. In my world, I care more about tracking my reading and reading goals. In many cases, I'm adding books I want to read, and I don't yet know if I'll be buying it for my Kindle or getting it from my library, and I don't really care.

Aside from that, there are two other minor gripes I have with LibraryThing: duplicates and the To Read shelf. I use the social functions of LibraryThing fairly regularly, and when people recommend books to me, I usually open another tab and add the book to my library manually. Often, I discover I already have the book in my library because LibraryThing alerts me I have a duplicate book. I can then delete it, find the original record and make another note about the new source recommending it. One reason I lose track of what's on my To Read shelf is that there aren't enough meaningful ways to sort it. I didn't realize how much I would love it, but GoodReads forced TBR ranking is incredibly helpful.

GoodReads: How I love thee...
The to be read shelf is one of my favorite features. New books are automatically added to the bottom of your queue. It's pretty easy to change the numbers, once I figured it out (it's incredibly non-intuitive to type the desired number in the box, then also click in the box and select 'move to position.') I wish it were as easy as Netflix and also enabled drag and drop. Still, it's nice.

One of the other great parts about GoodReads are its social functions. It's set up very much like Facebook with a newsfeed. I was able to import my Facebook friends list and Twitters following list, so I had a nice bank of bookish people built in to follow. As my friends post book status updates on books they finish, begin, add to their to read list, or update progress, there's a lovely column that indicates if the book is in my GoodReads account. If so, it tells me where. If not, it easily allows me to add it with a single click. (Yes, my to read list has grown astronomically because of it.) It's also easier to change the edition of the book in GoodReads. A simple mouse hover over the other editions lets you see the right one and click to change. I can also comment and ask questions about their books directly in the newsfeed.

One of the biggest perks to GoodReads I just discovered: an email alerting you to new releases by authors you've previously read. It's a fantastic perk. I stay up on new releases, but there are always a few that all through the cracks. Granted, given how my reading taste have changed over the years, I'm also subjected to new releases by authors I doubt I'll read again (ahem, James Patterson), but it's still a useful email customized to each user.

...but oh how I loathe you too
My biggest pet peeve with GoodReads, and one that single-handedly assures it will never be my only online book tracker, is the lack of half-stars. I have issues with their definitions of star ratings in general (1 star=didn't like it, 2 stars=it was okay, 3 stars=liked it, 4 stars=really liked it, 5 stars=it was amazing!) I suppose I think more in terms of letter grades and percentages. Giving three stars to a book you like seems silly: that's barely better than half. Giving two stars to a book that's okay makes even less sense: it's less than half. Regardless, I love half-stars, and I won't give them up.

Another thing that irks me about GoodReads: the shelves and lack of tagging. While you can have books on multiple shelves of your choosing, you must have it on one of the three core shelves: read, currently reading, or to read. On the surface, it seems sensible, but what about those books you've started but never finished? I don't really intend to read them in most cases, but I haven't actually read them either. I want to keep track of the books and authors I abandon, but there's not a seamless way I've discovered on GoodReads yet. GoodReads does let you add as many other shelves as you want, but they're more cumbersome than on LibraryThing.

And I also still have...
a books spreadsheet in Google docs. I use it to track my reading, as well as my reviews, and there are some elements of my reading, goal-setting and tracking not everyone needs access to. Plus, it lets me color code, and none of the online options do that! For now, I'm updating three places each time I start and finish a book. It seems extreme, but it also is working for me for now.

Now tell me: how do you keep track of what you read? What pros and cons of LibraryThing and GoodReads matter most to you? 



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34 comments:

  1. I also have accounts with both GR and LT, and like you, find that each has it pluses and minuses.

    LT is vastly superior to GR for cataloging. However, GR has much better book info (though it was even better before the recent database changes...grr) so I generally find all the info I need from GR and then do the cataloging on LT.

    GR is a much more sociable site than LT. I love the newsfeed and the ability to interact. Also, the formatting of the forums on GR makes much more sense to me, with the sub-folders and such. LT forums drive me batty with everything just in one big long list.

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    1. Her Royal Orangeness--I guess I haven't spent enough time looking at the cataloging detail in GoodReads. I have noticed it has more for pre-published books than LT often does.

      I feel the same way about LT forums--it's one reason I'm not more social there.

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  2. Love everything you said here! I love LT for cataloging, and for making crazy tags, but I prefer the social aspect of GR. It's very crashy, though, and I feel like the filtering of the front page is a bit broad and blunt -- but in terms of generating convo, growing my TBR, etc, I think it can't be beat.

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    1. I agree, Audra. Keeping my wishlist on GR seems to make the most sense for me right now, but once I've read the books, more data is in LT. It's working for now, and I love to see what you're up to in your reading!

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  3. Interesting post. I'm only on LT and have often dithered over whether to join GR as well. But realistically, I can't keep up with another site so I've never done so. Great analysis of the pros and cons!

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    1. Laura, I felt that way for a long time. Honestly, it took a weekend reading drought when I felt like doing something organization related on the computer. It was the perfect project for that, and now that I'm up and running, it's easy enough (for me) to keep up with.

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  4. I've been debating this week which of my accounts to begin over with. I've used both in the past but not for years and this has got me leaning to Good Reads. I love Library Thing but honestly, as OCD as I am about tagging I'm thinking that long term it's the social aspects I'm going to want more.

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    1. Alex, that's an important thing to consider. I find I'm using my spreadsheet more this year, all year, as I'm tracking more things only I care about. The social aspect of GR is great.

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  5. You've expressed my exact sentiments about the two sites. LT is great for books I have an actual physical relationship with (own or have read), but for books I want to read, it's not so useful. But the tagging is so much easier to use than GR shelves. So each has its purpose.

    As for your unfinished book quandary on GR, I created an abandoned shelf and set it to be an additional mutually exclusive shelf, like the three you mention that are already there. That has worked perfectly for me.

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    1. Teresa--I had no idea you could add more mutually exclusive shelves! Thanks so much for that tip. I'm off to do it now!

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  6. I have similar feelings about the two sites. Goodreads is a more helpful site since I just want to keep track of my reading goals. I love how social GR is. You can talk to other readers, join book clubs, and even participate in author interviews. I have to say that I'm glad you're on GR though you're adding tons to my tbr list! ;-)

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    1. Thanks, Vasilly! My own TBR has grown exponentially since joining GoodReads too.

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  7. I'm a GoodReads user simply because the interface works so much better for me. I'm a quick "hit and run" type user, so it works best for my needs.

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    1. That makes total sense, Andi. I love being able to keep track of your reading with GoodReads!

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  8. I've never visited LT. GR all the way. They're never going to switch to half-stars though. The forums on those are pretty passionate over both sides of the issue, and thus highly entertaining. I just put my half stars w/in my written review.

    I also love the stats feature - helps me compile my end-of-the-year reading posts by seeing the genres, amount of pages read etc.

    I've found tremendous groups and had enjoyable group discussions there - the most important aspect for me.

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    1. The Bumbles, thanks for commenting. Yes, I've read the forums on half-stars, and I think it's a mistake to not offer them, just as I think it's a mistake for Netflix.

      I haven't been on long enough to appreciate the end of year stats, but I'll look forward to those. I need to investigate groups more too. Thanks for your input!

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  9. Thanks for linking to my LibraryThing overview! Since I wrote it, I figured out how to use my GoodReads account--it's basically functioning as my review archive now, although I totally share your feelings about the lack of half-stars (and "lack" is really the word!). Since I'm using it for just one function, GR's cataloging limitations don't bug me as much, but LT still gives me more of what I want from an online book site.

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    1. Florinda, I keep learning things about GoodReads that me like it better. It's a better site than I thought, but I'm still a LibraryThing user for the most part:-)

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  10. I gave LT a brief try once but for some reason it never worked for me. I much prefer goodreads and use it extensively for cataloging my books. I have heard that LT has a superior cataloging system, and I should probably check that sometime. But mostly, I love how social goodreads is!

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    1. Aths, I'm in favor of sticking to whatever works best for you! I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying both sites now!

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  11. Wow, so it looks like we are pretty much identical when it comes to book tracking. :) I adore how in-depth I can get with cataloging books @ LT, but like GR for the TBR list and social stuff. I really like seeing what everyone is reading day to day. I also keep a separate spreadsheet for the same things you mentioned. 3 things is overkill I'm sure, but I haven't quite figured out how to do without one of them and don't really mind the updating.

    As for the star ratings, I completely agree. I don't want to have to add a note to a review that 3 stars is actually 3 1/2 stars...and 3 stars is very different than 3 1/2 stars.

    Great overview!

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    1. Melody, I'm really enjoying seeing what people are reading day to day too, especially as so many of us don't review immediately after we read (like me, far too often!)

      It seems like I'll be keeping my three ways too, although I have stopped updating my TBR spreadsheet. GR seems to be the best for TBR tracking.

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  12. I haven't been able to keep up with GoodReads for longer than a year. And I've tried twice. I always default back to the blog to keep track of what I've read.

    Of course, if I were able to keep up with GoodReads it might solve that whole problem of buying something I already own.

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    1. Jill, you must be better at writing reviews after you finish books than I am! I'm constantly referring to my list of finished books to decide which review to write next.

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  13. I absolutely love LT. I joined shortly after it started and there weren't too many options back then. Techincally I'm on GR, but I don't use it. I agree that the half stars is a big reason why, but the main one for me is the fact that I have more than 1,000 books catalogued on LT. I have them split into group (YA, childrens, plays, poetry, own, read, etc.) and also split into the year that I read them. I can't imagine doing all of that work again on another site.

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    1. Melissa, that's a big consideration. I don't have nearly the metadata in GR after I imported my books. I still use LT more to track my reading, but I do love the social aspects of GR and using it for my TBR.

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  14. I wanted to tell you you could make your own exclusive shelf, but while reading the comments, saw that someone has told you already.
    I use both GR and LT, but this has a more practical reason. Because I have a lot of Dutch books, and want to keep them seperate from my English ones, I use LT for the Dutch, and GR for the English. But actually I prefer GR, I think it easier to use and love the social part a lot.
    I also started to use spreadsheets, but am not sure in what way it will help keeping track of reads, books, TBR's, books I want to buy, etc. Do you have a system for this?

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    1. Thanks for the tip! I've learned quite a bit more about GoodReads as a result of this post.

      My spreadsheet was a mess for tracking my TBR. I do love it for keeping track of what I read. I list date finished, title, author, date reviewed, rating, and source. I have also found the color coding of spread sheets helpful for organizing my TBR and reading goals into different categories.

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  15. I've been using Goodreads since 2007. Here's I I solve some of those shelving problems: In the book shelf edit function you can set shelves to being "exclusive". So in the "top" part of the shelving in addition to setting books to either read, to read, or currently reading, you can add other exclusive shelves. I've added a "want to finish someday" shelf for partly read books and a "won't ever finish" shelf for things I've started and hated. Because I read a lot of books in series, I've added many other "exclusive" shelves to keep track of the unread books in series in order. That way when I'm in the library I know which item I need to read next. You can check out my shelves on Goodreads at Donna Ioppolo...be my friend!

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    1. Donna, you're a GoodReads expert! That's a nice tip on series in order too. I keep a running list in Evernote that also indicates if the library has it or if I already own it. Thanks for the tips!

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  16. I was wondering why I was getting so many hits on the GoodReads how-to, haha! Love it.

    I saw that someone told you about creating another exclusive shelf - did you figure out how to to that? I just learned this year (and have been using GR for a few), it made a LOT of difference (to me at least). I couldn't stand having books that I had already tried on my to-read list, and it felt false marking them as read.

    I guess I'll have to go peruse the forums, but I'm curious why so many people are against 1/2 stars? That seems a bit silly when they wouldn't have to use them.

    Might I say that I am SO glad you are using GR. I have added several books seeing that you either really liked them and/or added them as to-read. That's what I love about having people I "know" on there... I know if the rating is trustworthy (for me) since I can gauge better what I'll like off of certain people's tastes.

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    1. Yes, having a new exclusive shelf is wonderful! I've heard others complain about it, so I just assumed it was set in stone. Foolish me!

      Wallace, I agree. I've added several things to my TBR thought are on some scrap of paper somewhere, but having one single, sortable list for my TBR has been a huge help. And it is so much fun to see what my friends are reading on a daily basis!

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  17. I use GoodReads but that's because I was introduced to it first. By the time I'd heard of LibraryThing I had no interest in it because I had enough internet distractions already! I love seeing what my friends are reading, but it also drives me crazy that you can't do half-stars. I wish there was a shelf for unfinished books, too. Maybe if enough of us complain they'll add one!

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    1. Emily, I'm glad we're GoodReads friends now too! Also, as one of the above commenters pointed out, you can make a new exclusive shelf for unfinished books!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!