Small libraries can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars a year on an ILS. The libib cataloging service, originally created to organize personal libraries, is making sure organizations such as religious institutions, corporate libraries, and departments in universities have an affordable, easy-to-use cataloging and circulation system for their books. In November 2015, libib released a set of updates designed to improve searching and other aspects of the service.
What libib Does
libib can keep track of books, movies, music, and video games in up to 100 separate library lists. It’s available for personal or small organizational libraries as a website or app (for iOS and Android devices). Library lists can be private or shared. To add an item to a list, users scan its bar code (using the mobile app or with the recommended handheld laser bar code scanner, purchased separately) and search the libib database for it or enter its ISBN or UPC code manually. libib retrieves the item’s cover art and metadata, which is then stored in the user’s library.
For each item, users can create tags, groups, and notes. They can also export their lists for offline access as a CSV (comma-separated values) file. If they want to write a review of an item, they can post it in the libib social space and follow other users to see their opinions.
Keeping track of a personal library of up to 100,000 items is free. Organizations can pay $5 per month for a Pro account, which has advanced cataloging features such as a lending and circulation system, multi-user management for lists (at $1 per additional user per month), custom branding, and patron holds and email reminders for due dates.
Javod Khalaj, libib’s founder, says he started the service for his own cataloging use. “I’m an obsessive-compulsive with my books,” he says. “I’m a programmer by trade, so I looked at Goodreads and I looked at LibraryThing, and some of the other options that were out there, and … there’s nothing simplistic and pretty.” He says those alternatives met some of his criteria, but not all (especially the ability to quickly view a list of titles he owns)—“so I just built something for myself.”
When he was finished, he shared his project with a few friends, who convinced him to put it up online for others to use. “We started doing that, and the same friends started helping me work on it, and it grew organically,” says Khalaj. “I put it out there, and we all thought there’d be a handful of people who really want to use this. By word of mouth more than anything else, it’s continued to grow and grow.” The name libib came from a combination of “library” and “biblio” (It’s pronounced “luh-bib.”).
Now, he and three friends, who are spread across the U.S., manage the service together. “When people submit contact forms, we evenly distribute it between all of us,” he says.
Fulfilling a Need
Khalaj had originally funded libib himself, but quickly realized he would need to monetize it. “It was always my intention just to leave it free, but then it got to a point that the costs were getting so high,” he says. Some existing users had requested a circulation system, so he decided to add the Pro version. “It’s just this little niche market that no one’s really paid much attention to, and now we’re here, and people seem to enjoy that,” he says.
libib is not designed to replace a typical ILS system used by a large library, Khalaj notes. “We’re really not trying to get into that because those systems get really complex really fast. And for good reason. Who we were trying to target were elementary school libraries, or university departments. The Peace Corps uses us for all their little branches out in the world. … They oversee each one of their little libraries, and that’s more who we’re targeting, people who don’t need those really in-depth MARC records.”
The Database of Titles
To ensure that scanning an item’s bar code will result in libib returning the correct title, Khalaj says the service uses multiple open data sources, including Google Books and Open Library. It also draws on catalogs of university libraries that have given libib permission to access their databases. As users scan new titles into the service, the information is retrieved from these open sources and stored locally to use again. If users enter identical information about a particular title, the service starts to recognize that it’s the same item and a new record is created. However, “if it was just you putting in one book, we don’t have any other records of that, we leave it alone,” says Khalaj. “We don’t allow other people to access it, partially because of privacy reasons. Because it’s automated, we don’t really know what you’re entering; we don’t want it to be your family record or something like that that we suddenly allow other people to access. It’s a public collaboration thing, that if there are so many records that match, then we’re going to assume that it’s a public record.”
The social aspect wasn’t part of the original plan, says Khalaj. It was only after getting user feedback that he and his team considered it. Although it is not yet fully integrated into the service, users are able follow others and post reviews of items. “Right now, it feels almost like a separate product from the cataloging, and we’d like it to feel like it’s the same thing,” he says. His goal is to merge the social aspect with book discovery. For example, “if you’re following five people, the things that we’ll end up recommending to you will be also based not only on your reads but the people that you follow, what they’re reading as well. And I think that’s going to be where we’re headed with that.”
“We’ve completely retooled the way search works, taking into consideration misspellings, word orders, rankings and relevancy,” the service announced via email. Searches now retrieve results from items’ titles, creators, descriptions, notes, tags, and groups, giving users the most relevant results, says Khalaj.
Often requested was the ability to edit items directly after adding them to a list. Now users can make edits immediately without having to add an item, search for it, and then make edits. A new editable category available is the ability to denote the condition of each copy of an item. Pro users can create custom bar codes that can then be used to lend out individual copies of a specific item.
For the future, “one of the big things that we’re working on is deeper integration with their patrons. So their patrons can log on and see a history of everything that they’ve read, a history of items that they’ve placed on hold. That’s our next step with that section of it, is giving patrons more access to their information on their site,” says Khalaj.
Additionally, libib announced that its pricing structure for Pro users will soon be changing. Also coming soon are the ability for Pro users to lend items using the mobile app as well as WordPress and Drupal plug-ins for Pro accounts. Using a REST API, Pro users will be able to integrate their libib library lists directly into their own WordPress or Drupal sites.
View the images in the upper-right corner of this article for a closer look at libib.