Goodreads Librarians Group discussion

Questions > Book Descriptions

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message 1: by Brenna (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:45AM) (new)

Brenna Flood (brennx0r) | 2 comments Hi there,

Where do you usually get your book description data from? Do you try to get it from one consistent source, or multiple 'trusted' sources? Just asking out of curiosity.

- Brenna

message 2: by Brenna (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:46AM) (new)

Brenna Flood (brennx0r) | 2 comments From a librarian perspective, is there a preference in displaying one summary over another? For example, a summary from the Publisher vs. material from other valid sources?

message 3: by mdt (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

mdt (mdt13) | 1 comments Are we allowed to use descriptions found on Google Books? I've found some good ones, but I'm not sure if there would be issues in using them on Goodreads. They tend to be pretty generic but I wonder if there would be copyright issues?

message 4: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new)

Rob McMonigal | 12 comments Well, think of it this way--would you want your information that you posted to your company's website lifted and given to another website?

I think that "no" is a safe bet. ;)


message 5: by Robbie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Robbie Bashore I did mine like a middle school book report. I read one from, say,, then re-worded it a bit to make it "original." Otherwise, it would feel a bit dishonest.

message 6: by Lisa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments Brenna and All,

When I manually add books, I leave the description field blank; I don't write a summary about the book. If there is an illustrator or translator, etc., I do put their names and what they did in the book description field. I figure if I/others write reviews, there's some information there. And if a Goodreads user is interested in that book, they can find information about it on other websites.

Edit: ;-)

In addition to translators, illustrators, etc., if the book is pre-ISBN, I will put in information such as Library of Congress catalog card number or other identifying information, but no plot summary of the book.

message 7: by Lisa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments I agree with Abigail. I would list the titles included/table of contents info, but not summaries of the plots.

message 8: by Otis, Chief Architect (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new)

Otis Chandler | 315 comments Mod
This previous thread may have some answers:

message 9: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments Thanks Otis. I should make my own list on my hard drive! :-)

message 10: by Woodson (new)

Woodson | 4 comments Though I have looked (diligently I believe) through the posts here and in the Librarian Manual, I have not found a description of what constitutes an appropriate “Book Description.” (This is aside from the question of “borrowing” text from existing sources.)

I would not expect to find a simple rule here, as there are likely a thousand variables that might influence what might be appropriate in a given case, but I hoped to find some general guidelines.

For instance: I have seen Book Descriptions of over 1000 words, Descriptions that include review material (“very slow going…” etc.), extended (hundreds of words) plot synopses, signed Descriptions, jacket blurbs (as opposed to flap excerpts), etc.

Is there some “best practice” advice for Book Descriptions?
Some hints?

I would assume the following are appropriate:

Genre location
Translator/Introduction by/Illustrated by/Edited by
Brief (?) synopsis
Awards/Critical reception
Place in author’s oeuvre
Relation to other books/other historical context
Short critic/expert quotation?

And I’m sure there are a hundred more possible inclusions, depending on the work…

Would it be simpler to describe “bad practice”?
Or maybe only “the kind of Book Description I personally don’t care for”? :)
(I will admit I have seen Book Descriptions here of books of which I am very fond, but that I would be loathe (well, almost loathe) to associate myself with…)

Any help for a prospective user?
Many thanks.

message 11: by Daniel (new)

Daniel (danielt) | 1 comments For the few books I've added, I've simply used the information from the book cover or flap for the description. It's typically relatively short, summarizes the book, and is not generally considered criticism. (It is, however, sometimes a bit too much on the promotional side.) And I'm pretty sure that information is covered by fair-use laws. As one person said on the other thread: "You're pretty safe to copy the jacket/flap copy and put it anywhere you like. It's usually generated in house by a few people who are trying to sell the book."

message 12: by Cherie (new)

Cherie (cheriepie) | 10 comments I too always use the text from the jacket cover. It's often listed at Amazon, but not necessarily always the first one listed in the Editorial Reviews section. To find it you sometimes need to click the All Editorial Reviews link in that section and look for the one labeled Product Description (or Book Description). It won't have a copyright tag at the end of it either. That usually comes right from the publisher.

If you can't find that particular blurb at Amazon, but you have the book in front of you, enter a phrase from the description on the back, perhaps a few unique words in quotes, into Google, and you should come up with a site where you can copy the entire description from without having to type it yourself. :)

message 13: by Nenangs (new)

Nenangs | 469 comments I usually just put what's written on the back covers or jacket covers or flaps, but excluding any critics, reviews, appraisals, etc., which I considered as "promotional words only".

If I'm quoting somebook's description from their publishers, I always include the URL information in the URL box for courtesy's sake.

message 14: by Woodson (new)

Woodson | 4 comments No advice on what is not appropriate?

Book Descriptions that are reviews ("a boring book..." etc.)?

Extended synopses of fiction works?

(See my earlier post for more questions.)


message 15: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45529 comments Mod
I think most would agree that reviews are inappropriate. Signatures I think would also be.

Length is more subjective.

message 16: by Woodson (new)

Woodson | 4 comments Another question (sorry):
What about replacing existing Book Descriptions?
Is that at the option/pleasure of any librarian?

I am not a librarian, and so (I believe) the only time this field is open to me is if I were to manually add a book, but still find it odd that such an important an aspect of the site is apparently so undefined.

But maybe that's a personality deficit on my part. :D

message 17: by rivka, Former Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45529 comments Mod
Personally, I leave existing descriptions alone for the most part. (Unless there are typos or the like.) Except when they are problematic (reviews, etc.), why would I remove a perfectly good description?

If a book lacks a description and I have one, I put it in.

If there are specific descriptions which concern you, you can request that a librarian fix them. Or you always have the option of using GR's "contact us" link, of course.

message 18: by Woodson (new)

Woodson | 4 comments Thanks, Rivka. Just trying to get the overview. I'll be quiet now until I come upon an actual knot...

Thanks everyone.

message 19: by Robert (new)

Robert Wright (rhwright) | 30 comments Noob librarian here, with a small dilemma. Is it better, for the sake of accurately depicting a particular edition, to use the jacket/back cover copy as the description? Even if it doesn't tell much about the book?

Or should I leave the generic default description that is actually, well, more descriptive? Or maybe come up with a version that both preserves the material on the book edition itself and adds in the descriptive elements of the default?

Case I'm concerned with:

Book in hand, already fixed/added page count and publication y/m. But the back cover copy is basically a blurb from another author about how awesome it is and statement that Tevis' classic book, basis of the cult classic movie, is available again blah blah blah. Nothing much to tease the actual story.

So what do you think?

❂ Murder by Death  (murderbydeath) I'd leave the generic description - we don't normally include blurbs from other authors, reviews, quotes, etc. in the book description field.

message 21: by Robert (new)

Robert Wright (rhwright) | 30 comments Thanks. That makes sense.

Just looking for a feeling of the balance we should be striking between cataloging/preserving the details of the book edition as object vs. the need to provide useful information for GR users.

In a slightly different vein, I've been in conversations with people complaining when a book's marketing copy actually gives away important spoilers about the book. What would we do in that case, if the jacket copy is otherwise solid? Delete the spoiler? Does the spoiler HTML tag work in a description?

message 22: by Vicky (new)

Vicky (librovert) | 2459 comments I would leave the blurb as is.

I think if a person is the kind of reader who doesn't read the backs of books for fear of spoilers, they shouldn't read the description here.

If there are spoilers and it's not an official blurb, I would find an official description to replace it.

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