Add Books only searches one catalog?

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Add Books only searches one catalog?

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Jan 2, 2009, 10:42am

We had a question about how the search feature on the Add Books page works. When searching there, it appears to only search If Amazon doesn't have it, you then have to manually switch between libraries to find the book you want. This is a huge pain and seems to defeat the purpose.

Please correct me if I'm mistaken. Or is there a "Search All" somewhere in the Add Books interface that we're not seeing?

Jan 2, 2009, 10:55am

You are not mistaken. Searching over multiple databases has been requested, but at present you can search only one at a time.

Jan 2, 2009, 1:51pm

Well, it only sorts one at a time, but it's a bit more flexible than you imply. If your first choice is the Library of Congress, it'll search there first -- it doesn't always have to try Amazon first.

Jan 2, 2009, 2:29pm

It searches just one. It would be a lot of fetching to search more—straining our resources but also potentially alienating the libraries who generously let us search their catalogs.

Jan 4, 2009, 3:23pm

I wrote a long reply filled with suggestions, but the more I mess with this and think about it, the less I'm able to figure out how to resolve his issue. I think my friend's problem was that he wasn't finding the specific version of the book he wanted, so he then looked in other libraries.

I guess if it were me, I would have just manually entered it... everything I came up with for roll-over searches, either going through every library or just through ones added to "Search where?" still didn't seem like it would address his issue.

But it does make me sad that he had problems and settled on Goodreads. I just wish there was a better way to provide search for users that wouldn't result in them having to manually go through and search one library at a time out of the hundreds you have available.

Not trying to attack or anything; I have much love for LibraryThing (was just writing a review of it in fact, which will be published on my site on February 2nd as part of a series reviewing different online library/cataloging sites), but I was a bit surprised when I looked into this myself and discovered that each library has to be selected manually (though it does appear that my friend misinformed me when he claimed that search terms have to be re-entered; it looks like LT retains that, thankfully).

Edited: Jan 4, 2009, 4:35pm

No, I understand. But it's a matter of percetion. Goodreads doesn't search many libraries—it searches a single one, Amazon. We also search that. It's the default search.

Amazon is a better place to search for paperback books than most libraries, but searching Amazon AND 690 libraries is not worse—it's better. Libraries contain hundreds of millions of books not on Amazon. But leveraging the system does require understanding that not every one of the 690 is going to be as good for the book you have in mind.

Jan 5, 2009, 12:49am

One technique is instead of trying libraries one by one on the Add Books page, look up the book in WorldCat (there's a link to it on the right side of each book's work page). WorldCat will tell you what libraries have the book so you can just use that library on the Add Books page.

Hm. Tim would it be at all possible for LT to query WorldCat itself when a book is added and use that to decide on the source to use?

Jan 5, 2009, 1:51am

No. OCLC won't allow it.

Jan 5, 2009, 11:33am


Jan 5, 2009, 1:25pm

If I can't find it in my normal set, I look it up in Worldcat and do a find-in-page for the listed sources.

Jan 5, 2009, 3:40pm

Mostly its a usability issue. If Amazon doesn't have what you're looking for, you get to play a guessing game with 690+ other sources.

I understand fully the resource and optimization issues involved in searching so many sources, but I don't know why you don't allow for searching on all libraries simultaneously by default. You could solve any potential alienation issues by providing an output for each addition showing which library it was pulled from. Yes, that's a LOT more load on LT's end, but drastically improves the search service offered.

Jan 5, 2009, 4:23pm

It's not an issue of load on LT side, but load on the library side. And I'd rather it be a bit tedious than the OPAC managers say no more searching.

Jan 5, 2009, 4:54pm

Well, it's also an issue of load on the LT side. We're talking about a 700 fold increase in bandwidth between us and the OPACs. That's not nothing when you consider the rate of book additions on LT. And yes, I'm pushing it to the absurd there, but even a conservative 10 fold increase would be enough to make many OPACs angry and be noticeable on our bandwidth.

Plus, you get into all sorts of issues dealing with sorting of the results, etc. The fifth result from one source might be much more relevant that the first result from the rest, but we can't know that. It all goes down hill fast, at least from a usability standpoint.

The alternative is to present the results as separate result lists but you're not really gaining much from a usability standpoint there.

Jan 5, 2009, 5:30pm

And when you throw increased load on both ends together... doooom.

Jan 5, 2009, 6:16pm

>11 rcburrell:

We are working on a solution that interposes a layer between LT and the sources, so we know where to look, basically. It's a major, major endeavor. Indeed, we're hiring someone just for it.

Jan 5, 2009, 6:40pm


Well, there's a fall-through paradigm; search source A first, and go to source B if and only if there are zero results. That would seem to deal with most use-cases where searching lots of sources would be useful, without most of the added problems in terms of bandwidth and sorting (though not in terms of your time to develop the feature).

(I'm imagining a scenario where users can prioritize a few sources, so that they could basically just do the same "search my favorite five sources" sequence that they do now automatically rather than manually.)

Jan 5, 2009, 6:46pm

That works in cases where there is zero result but that is pretty much limited to ISBN searches. You almost never end up with zero results from keyword searches.

Jan 5, 2009, 7:17pm

In that case, a Try Next Source button would be quite useful to save a few clicks at least.

Jan 5, 2009, 8:59pm

I wonder if it would be reasonable to allow searches, not across all databases, but across a limited number. I tend, for example, to look first at the Library of Congress, and then about a half-dozen other libraries. With most of my books, if they aren't in LOC, ILCSO, CLIO, or a couple of others, they aren't going to be in any German, Japanese, Italian or French library. If I have a book that I think will be in one of those, I'll look there first. If I have a book published in Italy, I'd like to look at the few Italian databases together first.

Frankly, I can't imagine wanting to do a search over even 10% of the available databases at one time.

Jan 5, 2009, 10:50pm

A top 5 would be lovely.

Jan 5, 2009, 10:54pm

>19 lilithcat:

Would this be for failed searches, in sequence or are you thinking it would do what's called a "federated" search—get send out requests simultaneously to X libraries, wait until the last one comes back (ie., the search is as slow as the slowest of all searches). Federated searching is a problematic thing for the speed reason, and because it's hard to relevancy rank when each system has already relevancy ranked based on criteria you can't see.

Jan 5, 2009, 11:13pm

I was thinking of a "federated" search. From what you say, that wouldn't work well, though. Ah, well, it was just a thought@

Jan 5, 2009, 11:16pm

See, you added a fancy buzzword to what I said above and now people agree with you. Who says buzzwords are all bad. :)

Jan 6, 2009, 11:06am

If a federated search is difficult then a serial search that stopped the first time it got results but could be continued with a single click would still be a big improvement.

Jan 6, 2009, 11:30am

What about some sort of intelligent suggestion of other libraries to search based on your keyword(s) and the past information from other users searching for the same thing? I know that adds a whole new feature to LT (and probably a difficult one to implement) but it would keep you from having to do random guessing in your searches and that supplementary data could be used for other purposes down the road. Just a thought.

Jan 6, 2009, 1:15pm

That would be a cool feature but it's certainly not an overnight one.

A serial searching method could be implemented but it wouldn't help in many circumstances because many times there ARE results returned, just not the one you are looking for. But for those cases where zero results return we could do serialized searches. We'd also have to implement custom sorting of the source list, but that's pretty minor in the big scheme of things.

Jan 6, 2009, 1:55pm

That's why I suggested a Continue button to continue the search at the next source if you don't find what you want in the current results.

Edited: Jan 6, 2009, 1:58pm

25> Yes, a major problem right now is that there are so many choices with so little information on how to choose among them (a victim of your own success). Perhaps you could let people tag the sources and others could search the tags for the sources that best fit their needs?

Jan 6, 2009, 2:34pm

26> Serial searching in the zero-result case would be fantastic, as long as you don't require that it try Amazon first.

Jan 6, 2009, 2:36pm

Yeah. If we do serial searching then we'll provide a way to order your source list and it will try things in that order.

Jan 6, 2009, 7:11pm

P.S. Ordering the source list would also be fantastic. :) Copy the copy from the buy/swap page?