Checking out Bookish at the New York Public Library

Just a couple of months after buying Bookish from a consortium of leading publishers, Zola Books has struck a prestigious deal with the New York Public Library to use the book recommendation tool (that’s Bookish) in its BiblioCommons online catalog.

The deal will see library users offered relevant book suggestions when they are searching. They can find recommended books by clicking on a title to see a set of related titles.

NYPL Chief Library Officer Mary Lee Kennedy says: “Discovering a new book is essential to further a love of reading. Working with Bookish, the library is able to offer our users a unique resource that supports their interests and fosters the joy of discovery.”

Bookish Recommends uses an algorithm that identifies recommended books based on similar characteristics. Some recommendation tools use criteria based on what other readers are looking for but the Bookish engine claims to match users to books based on a range of attributes and to filter out irrelevant titles.

Zola Books CEO Joe Regal says: “Discovering great books on library shelves when I was a kid made me the huge reader I am today.

“To be able to partner with one of the best libraries in the world to offer the serendipity of book discovery online through Bookish Recommends is a tremendous thrill. We are hoping that readers enjoy those unexpected connections that make recommendations so important.”

The library opted for Bookish after looking at options to build and license technology for book recommendations, with Bookish winning for its robust and growing breadth of titles.

I’m a sucker for libraries and book recommendations, so I thought I’d check out the service at

More Elmore

I started out with an easy one, Raylan by Elmore Leonard, and Bookish recommended some fairly obvious choices, including two more Leonard novels, Swag and Freaky Deaky; a George Pelecanos book, What It Was; Hit Me by Lawrence Block and Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan.

I’ve already read four of those books but I’d never heard of Harry Dolan, so I’ll probably give that book a go some time soon.

Byrne notice

I’ve recently been reading How Music Works by David Byrne (which I highly recommend), so I had a look to find out what Bookish at the NYPL would recommend from there.

This was an interesting selection, offering Tenth of December by George Saunders; the Tragedy of Mister Morn by Nabokov; Internal Time by Till Roenneberg; The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt; and the Best Music Writing 2011 compilation.

I’ve only read the Saunders’ book out of those five. The Nabokov book is a left-field choice as it’s a play looking at “the eternal battle between truth and fantasy.”

The Roenneberg book is about biological clocks and I wonder whether Bookish has got slightly mixed up with a connection to musical time, although Internal Time does look to be a fascinating book.

The Swerve sounds like a great book, being an account of the dawn of the Renaissance, and Best Music Writing 2011 comprises a fantastic range of essays which I would download immediately if only it were available as an ebook.

All in all, not a bad outcome. I’m not a big fan of some recommendation services as they often seem too obvious and geared mainly to selling rather than curating but Bookish definitely has an interesting edge to it.

The New York Public Library has 92 branches throughout the city’s boroughs and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. It serves more than 18 million patrons annually and millions more around the globe who use the resources at The library relies on public and private funding and you can read more about how to support the library at

Zola Books bought Bookish from Hachette, Penguin and Simon & Schuster in January this year. The publishers had set up Bookish in February 2013 and were reckoned to have invested up to $20 million in setting up the site but claimed they had never seen it as “an ongoing service”.

Zola buys Bookish