I’m Sensing that You Need…. the Book Psychic
Posted by: Neil Hollands
I intended to write about something else today, but in browsing through the latest book news, I found myself so captivated by a new toy that I think I will highlight it instead.
Book Psychic is a service provided by the Portland Public Library in cooperation with LibraryThing. It provides automated book recommendations for readers based on their rating of other titles. The titles here are all drawn from the collection of Portland Public, and the emphasis seems to be strongly on fiction. My initial exploration seemed to hone in quickly on literary classics, book club titles, fantasy, science fiction, and young adult works, but perhaps that’s because those are some of my most frequently read genres.
I can’t rave about the titles suggested by Book Psychic, which tended to emphasize other works by authors whom I’d read frequently without much concern for quality. Since I liked Tolkien, I would like his more obscure works like Unfinished Tales, since I liked Harry Potter I should try The Tales of Beedle the Bard. This is the same kind of recommendation by popularity instead of quality that often results when machines try to make recommendations instead of human readers’ advisors.
So why was I so captivated? First, the idea that this kind of service would be developed outside of commercial interests is exciting to me. GoodReads provides a similar service, with more obscure results, but other online recommendation services, most famously at Amazon, seem more driven by the need to market the latest books than to provide truly objective recommendations. If LibraryThing and Portland Public can continue to tweak the logarithm, they’ll have a hit. I love seeing a library’s name attached to this kind of service, made available to the Internet at large.
Second, the interface at Book Psychic is just lovely, with big cover pictures. A click on the cover flips it to reveal the date of publication, a short description of the book, and opportunities to see other titles by the author or to view the book in PPL’s catalog. If the book is rated, it’s replaced by another title, which floats gracefully in without any lag time whatsoever (at least on the day I was visiting). After you’ve rated a few books, a “Just for You” button appears, which will take you to your recommendations, broken up into categories.
Those who have followed my writing here and in other venues know that I’ve been obsessed with how we make personalized recommendations since I began working in libraries. While in my opinion, Book Psychic still isn’t entirely ready to replace a human-driven recommendation service for the highest quality readers’ advisory, it’s an excellent step in the right direction, and for instantaneous ease of use, it gets an A+.