Typically Obscure

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Typically Obscure

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Jun 21, 2017, 10:01pm

You know from my posts last year that I'm fond of playing around with LibraryThing stats. I thought I'd explore two minor epiphanies that can be fun to investigate.

My obscurity numbers are now 40/902 -- and it occurred to me that a quick way to check what that means is to look at the kinds of books in my collection that fit those numbers. What is a "typical" median book for me?

I have 36 books at the median number 40. Examples are Lyndal Roper, The Holy Household Pieter Geyl, The Revolt of the Netherlands Gilbert Parker, The Seats of the Mighty Tim McCarver, Oh Baby I Love It and Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell. Some of those "seem" more obscure to me than others, but they make sense to me as median books from our collection.

I don't have a book precisely at the mean number 902. It's between Marat/Sade at 903 and The Vicar of Nibbleswicke at 900.

You don't have to limit your researches of this to your own collections. If someone else has a super-low obscurity score, you can compare what books in your collection would fit those numbers or vice versa.

LibraryThing maybe intuited that it might be interesting to see what kinds of books are typical of group members, because they have now made it possible to click on "group zeitgeist" to learn just that. Group Zeitgeist gives two lists: the 100 books that are most-held by group members and ca. 100 "characteristic works" which are, presumably, the books that appear most frequently in the group relative to how frequently they turn up in LibraryThing as a whole (I assume the algorithm is a bit like the one that gives you the weighted list of libraries with your books).

The "most-held" books by Too Obscure members are no surprise. The top five are The Hobbit, The Odyssey, and 3 Harry Potter books. (There are 23 copies of The Hobbit among 47 group members. You'd think those of us striving for low obscurity numbers would avoid The Hobbit and Harry Potter, but apparently not!) I did a quick scan of the list and found that we have 70 of the 100 most-held books in the group.

The "characteristic works" are more striking. The top five are On Earth as it is in Heaven. The Lord's Prayer in 40 Languages, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, The Hittites, X-treme Latin, and The Age of the Pussyfoot. We have one of those five (the Hittites) and 20 of the 98 on the full list. The Hittites has 466 copies in LibraryThing and is in the 80th percentile of our books.

I did a very quick comparison of the group zeitgeist of all five groups I belong to: Too Obscure, Rare Old and Offbeat, Unique Library Thing Books, Art History, and Baseball (so, three having to do with unusual books and two focused on topics). All three "unusual book" groups have The Hobbit and The Odyssey as the top two most-held works. The top two for Art History are The Odyssey and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The top two for Baseball are Moneyball and The Great Gatsby.

As I noted above, for Too Obscure, I had 70/100 "most-held" works and 20/98 "characteristic works." That represents the both the high point and low point of overlap between our collection and the lists.

The numbers for Rare Old and Offbeat were 64/100 and 48/105
For Unique Library Thing Book were 65/100 and 27/95
For Art History were 65/100 and 21/89
For Baseball were 59/100 and 25/112

In general, then, our collection overlapped in the 60% range for most-held works and the 20% range for "characteristic works."

Literally all of the "characteristic works" for the Baseball group were about baseball.
The overwhelming majority of "characteristic works" for the Art History group were about art history directly. The highest ranked work not explicitly art history related was Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier at 58.
The top few "characteristic works" for the Rare Old and Offbeat group were about book collecting, but the list quickly became more diverse in both fiction and non-fiction.
There was no obvious pattern to the "characteristic works" of either Too Obscure or Unique Library Thing Book group.

Make of the above what you will.