Its no news that Goodreads has become, for many collection development and readers’ advisory librarians, an important tool in finding and evaluating new books. What it will become in the wake of Amazon’s purchase of the site last Friday is still unclear.
Founded in 2006, Goodreads boosts over 202 million active users and provides one of the few reliable sources of free reviews (especially for those books that weren’t covered by more traditional review outlets) on the Internet. “I’ve relied on Goodreads more and more,” Anna Mickelsen of Springfield P.L. in Massachusetts said, as ”the site I use to organize the books I’ve read and want to read.” Darien Library’s Head of Adult Programming Erin Shea relies on Goodreads as “a neutral haven.”
Neither of them is very confident, however, about the site’s future. “I’m a very faithful user!” Mickelsen explained, but “I don’t trust Amazon’s business practices.” Shea worries that it will be “difficult to discern what recommendations come from [Goodreads'] algorithm and what have been paid for.” Leah White, reader services librarian from Northbrook P.L. in Illinois said, “I worry about the consolidation of reading resources on the internet—Amazon now owns Shelfari, Audible, and Goodreads” as well being the biggest retailer of books on the internet. “This lack of diversity scares me.”
Both White and Mickelsen said they planned to move to LibraryThing, the social cataloging website. Amazon acquired a minority stake in LibraryThing when it bought AbeBooks, which originally invested in the social network, in 2008. “While they may not be as visually pleasing,” White said, referring to LibraryThing, “I feel confident in their business practices and ethics.”
On the other hand, Robin Bradford, a collection development librarian from Indianapolis P.L., is unruffled by the announcement. “Amazon is big (and getting bigger) so it is easy to take shots at them,” she said. If the acquisition prompts people to “look more closely at all arrangements, who owns what companies and what their privacy practices are, that’s great.” A knee jerk reaction, she noted, “isn’t particularly helpful.” Ultimately, Bradford imagines that her (and her patrons’) use of Goodreads will only increase.
Meanwhile Shea tried to look on the bright side, hoping that in the wake of this purchase, “librarians and independent bookstores will only become more valuable for readers’ advisory.” “Unlike Amazon,” she says, “we are…in the business of connecting books with readers and…we are good at it.”