New York Public Library partners with Zola to offer algorithmic book recommendations

Visitors to the New York Public Library’s website will have a new way to decide what to read next: The library is partnering with New York-based startup Zola Books to offer algorithm-based recommendations to readers. The technology comes from Bookish, the book discovery site that Zola acquired earlier this year.

Until now, the NYPL website had offered book recommendations based on titles other readers were checking out, reviewing or rating, rather than gearing recommendations toward a patron’s own searches or interests. With the Bookish partnership, the recommendations will be based on the content of a book itself. Here’s how I described Bookish’s recommendation technology last year:

“[W]hile Amazon and Goodreads primarily deliver book recommendations based on ‘collaborative filtering‘ — namely, a user’s purchasing or rating and reviewing history as well as those of other users — Bookish doesn’t have that user or purchase data yet. Instead, it relies on ‘deep, introspective’ data: ‘Recommendations are based on the books and understanding of the books.’ The recommendation looks at features like the authors, editors and illustrators who contributed to a book, the awards a book has won, and genre and publication date, then layers on a machine-learning component that parses user and professional reviews to try to distill themes, concepts and sentiments.”

And here’s an example of how it will look:


Bookish was originally a joint venture from three big-five publishers — Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin — and aimed to promote book discovery and help publishers directly engage with readers. Announced in 2011, it didn’t launch until 2013 and went through three CEOs on the way. Once it was up and running, Bookish failed to gain traction (maybe because discoverability is more of a problem for publishers than for readers) and Zola, which aims to be a social digital bookstore, acquired it for an undisclosed sum in January.

There are long wait times for many new books at the New York Public Library, so a recommendation service like this could be useful to patrons who aren’t able to get the exact book they want right away.