Shelfari: The Digital Bookshelf

Shelfari is a website that can create a digital bookshelf. It has the usual book sharing features of sharing with friends, discussion boards, groups, and posting to social media sites.

I admit, there are numerous apps and websites that catalog and display books as well as share opinions.  So what makes Shelfari so special?  Shelfari’s claim to fame is its digital bookshelf.  You can customize the look of the bookshelf, sort the books by different criteria, and embed the bookshelf into your blog.

shelfariI’ve actually had a Shelfari bookshelf embedded into a page on Teaching & Technology since the blog began.  The link to the bookshelf is on the right, titled Bookshelf.  I have purposely kept the focus of the bookshelf to books I have read and reviewed on Teaching & Technology or books I have read that are quite popular in the secondary schools where I have been teaching.

Most often my book choices come from my own interests, poking around a bookstore, hearing about the newest popular fiction titles, or reading the book for a class.  I still have more than enough books on my “to read” shelves (yes, the plural is intentional) and frequently am busy so I am not heavily involved in book communities.  I have poked around the communities for Shelfari and GoodReads (a post for another day) to help me decide which book to read first.

I really like the fact that I can embed the Shelfari bookshelf on my blog.  It syncs automatically with my account, so when I add a book to my “read” shelf on, it will automatically appear on the bookshelf on my blog.  Of course, when I created the widget for my blog I chose these settings, to make it easier on myself.  However, when creating the widget, you can restrict it to a specific tag, thus the bookshelf on your blog will only add books with the tag “blog”.  This allows you to be able to add all books for different purposes, yet control where they appear.

To add a book to the bookshelf, first you need to search for it on Shelfari’s website.  If the cover does not match the one you have, there is a menu near the bottom of the entry that says “Show other editions”.  This allows you to choose the exact edition/cover you have.  This may be important if you want to display the exact edition of Macbeth that you read.  I have the Folger Library Editions displayed because those are the ones I read, rather than the Kindle versions or the Penguin Classics.  This is also a nice feature if you want to display an original cover when the newest edition has the movie characters on it.

Once you click “Add”, you will have a pop-up menu that walks you through any and all notations you might want to do with the book.  You can rate it, write a (public) review, choose if have read it or not, some unique details about your own edition, and tag it.

Unfortunately, there is no app related to Shelfari.  It’s not necessary though as there are plenty available already.

Access to Textbooks

The internet, digital media, and mobile devices has made access to knowledge far easier than it used to be.  I’m going to use 10-15 years ago as a rough estimate.  I was in middle and high school during those years.  While we had the internet, PowerPoint, and laptops…it wasn’t the same.  I still needed “at least one book source” for most major papers.  Even more of a problem…I had to lug those big giant textbooks home every day.

It boggled my teenage brain why I had to lug 20 pounds of printed material on my shoulders home to look at…maybe…20 pages?  There was usually a short story in my literature textbook, a chapter in my science book, a chapter in my history book, a page for 20 math problems, etc.  I usually forgot all of it by the time I got back to school the next day because I couldn’t write in the book (I still have trouble writing in books!  Workbooks, no problem, but textbooks?  Nope, instinct is still to get out notebook paper).

Why did I have to lug them home every night?  Because I couldn’t go out and buy my own.  Elements of Literature wasn’t not something shelved at the local Barnes and Noble.  So much has changed now.  Parents can buy their children home copies of textbooks on Amazon for pennies or a few dollars.  Eventually, all the books I’ll need I can carry around on my iPad!  Paper and glue not required.

Today, I was at my local library and on Fridays and Sundays there is a used bookstore in the basement of the library that is open.  The books come from donations or have been taken out of circulation by the library.  I was perusing it, looking for a good,used copy of The Crucible since buying it for my Kindle will cost $12 (I’ll be teaching it soon).  I found one for $0.50.  As I was slowly making my way towards the counter I saw two literature textbooks: Elements of Literature: Fifth Course (2000) and World Literature (1993).  Both were in excellent condition.  In fact, when I looked on the inside front cover, Elements only had one name written in it.  World Literature only had two!  Both originally were $50-$100 brand new when they were just published.  I got them for $1!  EACH!  $2 for two large English textbooks?  I’ll get that investment back in using just one story from either book in any of my classes.  I don’t know what resources I’ll have as teacher, but I just could not pass up $1 like-new condition of literature textbooks.

Perhaps its the teacher in me, or just a sign of the times…but I’m still taken aback by all-access pass students nowadays have to textbooks.  They aren’t these giant books that only schools can buy.  Everyone can buy any book.  So why go to school?  The teacher.  It’s the TEACHER that makes the difference and not the books, the technology, or the lack of either books or technology.  A great teacher can teach with whatever resources he or she has.  Resources are needed because more students learn with a deeper understanding when they are given as many resources as possible.