Today is the Ides of March, the day of Julius Caesar's untimely demise in 44 B.C. What's does this have to do with the Mac?
Well, I first thought of Caesar. Then I thought of Colleen McCullough's excellent Masters of Rome historical fiction series, which I recently finished reading. That got me thinking about books in general. Then I thought about Delicious Library and LibraryThing, two excellent bookish tools you can use on your Mac. Hence, this post.
Delicious Library, from Delicious Monster, is a cataloguing tool that is perhaps the most ingenious use of the Mac's built-in iSight I've seen. Scan the barcodes of your books with your iSight (or any webcam or connected FireWire digital video camera) to create a digital catalog. Then browse through your new digital collection. You can synch up your catalog with your iPod, print out your catalog, and get personalized recommendations based on your collection. If you regularly lend out your books to friends, you can use the tool's loan management system to keep track of who has what. I can't put my finger on it, but I find it oddly enjoyable to scan barcodes on my Mac. Beyond being fun to use, it's a great inventory tool.
LibraryThing is a web-based social 'book club' with a user-based catalogue of 24,000,000 books and growing. Wow. Create a free account to get started, enter some books from your library, write a book review, join a discussion group, get some recommendations based on your catalog. You can choose to add just a few books that you most recently read, or enter your entire library (if you enter more than 200 books, you will need to pay a modest fee). Or just surf around to see what others are reading. I could spend days on this page alone. The strength of this tool is its depth of information: pick a title and check out the book info and social info pages to see what I mean. I don't think you'll find better, non-commercial info about a book anywhere on the web. If you really like books, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It's a great discovery tool.
By the way, the series of connections that led to this post led me to think of James Burke. I used to love reading his Connections column in Scientific American (he is probably most well-known for his excellent BBC television series). Burke specializes in tracing the interconnectivity of things: how events and inventions in the distant past lead up to the modern day. The connections he makes can be surprising (an example from the TV series: Burke shows how a test of gold’s purity 2500 years ago leads to the atomic bomb).
Check out the James Burke Institute Knowledge Web project — I've had this site bookmarked for years awaiting it's launch. From the Knowledge Web site: "it will soon be an interactive space on the web where students, teachers, and other knowledge seekers can explore information in a highly interconnected, holistic way that allows for an almost infinite number of paths of exploration among people, places, things, and events."