Can Local Books iPhone app be a literary UrbanSpoon?
LibraryThing, a major social-networking-through-books site, launched its first iPhone app yesterday. Local Books is free and lists bookstores, libraries and book-related events near you.
It's got an easy, intuitive interface and loads venues quickly, once you tell it your location. But -- how does it play in L.A.?
On the upside, the venue listings are extensive. There are public and academic libraries, chain bookstores and independent bookstores, and many include photos. I'd forgotten about the radical bookstore Libros Revolución, but there it was in the downtown listings, between a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and Ivanhoe Books, a Silver Lake art book seller. It seems every branch of the L.A. Public Library makes the list, and it's easy to select one or two as favorites and quickly return to them.
As good as the venue listings are, the search function seems, in this iteration, a little creaky. Searching for "skylight" and "skylight books" turned up venues more than 999 miles away, but never delivered the Skylight Books in nearby Los Feliz. To find it, I scrolled down in the listings near me, and there it was. Into the favorites it went.
The database powering the listings is the user-generated LibraryThing Local, which has a few glitches. Because Book Expo America, the publishing conference, was at the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2008, it makes the events list -- but it won't be happening here anytime in the near future. Some locations appear twice -- Stories in Echo Park is also listed as Stories Books & Cafe -- but that's because users entered the names or addresses with slight variations, not the fault of the application.
Founder Tim Spalding is aware of another area for improvement in the app, and he appeals to LibraryThing's users to help: events listings. "Events, especially indie bookstores and libraries, are a particular need," he writes. "If you represent the bookstore or library in question, you can 'claim' your venue page, and start using LibraryThing to connect to your customers or patrons."
What's really successful about the app is that it is built for people who love books, regardless of the small divisions of the book world. It will list a big bookstore like Barnes & Noble alongside the Pasadena Public Library and independent bookseller Vroman's -- whereas the IndieBound app only lists independent bookstores. While those who work for libraries or independent booksellers may be understandably parochial, a reader who wants to know where T. Jefferson Parker is reading this week really could use an overview.
Can Local Books be Urban Spoon? If its users start feeding the database with more delicious info, it's got a good shot.
-- Carolyn Kellogg