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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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All About Reading: Web Sites for Book Lovers

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

My friend Karen Richardson and I want to share two fun Web 2.0 sites: LibraryThing and Goodreads. Both are fantastic book-oriented and library-oriented social-networking pages focused on something simple -- the books you love to read.

I recently discovered Goodreads, a social site where users can keep track of their books, write reviews, connect with friends, and see what those friends are reading. It's a place for people to spread the love of books, plain and simple.

Why would you want to catalog your library online? For the same reason you have friends who are into books: You can discuss literature, get recommendations, and share your interests. It's a really efficient and fun way to further your passion for reading.

After you've signed up for your free account, the first step is to begin cataloging what you've read. Log in and start searching for your favorite books. The library database is already huge, so I feel confident you'll find most books are already on the site. This means that you don't have to type in all the information for each book. Previous users have already done that, or the site has pulled the information from internal databases. Then you add the books you like to your library shelf, your online book collection.

You can add books you've already pored over to your "already read" library, and you can give them a rating and a review for others to see. Or, you can add books to your "to read" list. Each time you add books to your shelves, you see other users who have read the same books, and you can begin to network with them online to have discussions, share book reviews, and make or receive recommendations. There is even a book-swap feature! Goodreads is very much about the social aspect of sharing good books. The site can notify you when your friends have added new book reviews or when a friend has read one of your favorite books.

According to Goodreads, "People are working too hard and not making time to read. People are watching TV because they can veg out and turn their brains off -- hey, we feel it, too! But every once in a while, you run into a friend who tells you about this 'great new book I'm reading.' And suddenly, you're excited to read it. It's that kind of excitement that Goodreads is all about."

Karen is a fan of LibraryThing. Here's what she had to say about that site:

"I am a bibliophile. My walls at home are lined with bookshelves stuffed two rows deep with books. I have often thought about cataloging my collection, but the idea of typing all the information into a database just seems too time consuming. Then, I discovered LibraryThing. It's perfect for a geek like me who loves books.

"First, the only thing you have to do on the site is type in the title of a book. LibraryThing then searches online databases and provides a list of books that match your query. Click on the correct book and the information, including a picture of the book cover, is moved into your catalog. You can check out my catalog. I haven't started entering the titles on my bookshelves yet; for now, I'm just adding books as I read them.

"Because it's a Web 2.0 application, it's much more than just an electronic card catalog: Users' libraries are connected through tags. In addition, visitors can subscribe to a library's RSS feed and get notifications when users update their libraries or add a review. You can join groups, and a new feature called LibraryThing Local helps you make connections to your community's book-related events. It's like being part of a huge book club. If I were still teaching in a middle school language arts classroom, I would definitely have a LibraryThing account for my class as a place for students to discuss the books they're reading.

"LibraryThing users are also involved in cataloging the libraries of famous people. A group called I See Dead People's Books is posting these 'legacy libraries.' The first was that of Thomas Jefferson, which included 4,889 books. You can view his catalog, and, if you have a LibraryThing account, you can compare your library with Jefferson's to see what volumes you share."

As you can tell from Karen's review, the sites are similar; I'd say the biggest difference is that LibraryThing is a little more technical and detail oriented. Goodreads is perhaps a little more focused on the social aspect of books and reading. In either case, they are fantastic finds for all of us book lovers. Let us know what you think about these sites and about how you might get your students involved with these online tools!

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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