Hello, book lover! If you own a lot of books, or refer to your books as a “collection,” there’s a good chance you’ve thought about organising them more comprehensively than by arranging them on shelves according to genre, subject or author. You may even have a list of titles in a file somewhere.
But what if you could create an electronic catalogue of your books just as a public library does?
Well, now you can. There are numerous online apps to help organise and review your collection and record detailed bibliographic data. Some of these apps are free, while others come with a one-time price or annual subscription. Some are designed for either iOS or Android users, or both; others are web-based. There’s an app and a price to suit all tastes. A few of the apps also allow you to catalogue music, movies, video games and more.
Why do it?
Here are eight reasons why you should consider using a book cataloguing app:
- Never again forget what you own – wherever you are. More than once, I’ve walked over to a shelf at home to place a book with others in its subject area, only to discover that I already own it. If you have your collection data accessible on your phone, you can quickly check whether you have a title before making that unnecessary in-store or online purchase.
- If you experience a disaster such as a flood or housefire, or an asteroid strike occurs and you aren’t vaporised by the impact, you can use your recorded data to start to rebuild your collection. In some cases, the data may be used to support an insurance claim.
- Depending on the app, there’s a lot you can do with the data, such as keep an accurate tally of the number of books you own, or identify the most popular publishers, the proportion of books written by men/women, how many hardcover versus paperback titles you own, even the estimated current resale value of your collection.
- Record when and where you purchased each book, note the date you started and completed reading a book, and write notes and reviews on your books. You can also link to online reviews of your books with just a click or two.
- Share lists of your books with family and friends so that they never make the mistake of buying you a book you already own.
- Record who has borrowed your books, so you know who to ask when you need it returned. Some apps even issue polite recall notices.
- Reorganise your collection in the app, such as by genre, and then do the same with your actual books.
- Remind yourself of all the unread books you own, so that when you are browsing online or physical bookstores there’s a chance you will be persuaded to move on and save some money. You can also browse the app to decide which book to read next, rather than feeling overwhelmed and undecided as you look at the actual shelves.
How to do it
It’s easy! Just follow these three steps:
- Select and download the app that best suits your needs.
- If the app allows it, scan the barcode on the back cover of each book using your smartphone camera. Alternatively, you can manually enter the ISBN which should be listed on the publication page inside the book. For books published before 1966, you will need to manually enter all the data.
- Start organising!
The hardest part of organising your home library is finding the time and patience to enter the data for books you already own. I recommend scanning books a shelf at a time, leaving post-it notes on shelves to indicate progress. For large collections this will take many hours. If there’s no barcode, or it is obscured by a sticker or cover, flip the book on its side and come back to it later. You can usually find the ISBN by typing the title into the search box of a library catalogue or an online book website.
For many years I have used a Microsoft Word document to record all my book purchases in a table, including publication details, genre, purchase price, and format. When I sell or give away books, I amend the list. I use the “sort” function to arrange the list by genre, or by author surname, and I use the search box function to locate information. Once a year I print and file the document; I back up the file much more frequently. I also keep a separate list of all the books I purchase each calendar year.
A few of my friends do something similar, perhaps using MS Excel, Google Sheets, or reference management software such as Endnote or Zotero. Several friends don’t have an electronic list but affix a Dewey decimal number (librarians call this the “call number”) to the book spine, and arrange their books as in a public library.
My advice is to do whatever works best for you, given the time you have available to create and maintain a catalogue and the things you would like to do with the data.
To explore the world of online book cataloguing apps, here is an alphabetical list of the main contenders, current as at October 2021.
This article was written by Rod Benson on 15 October 2021.
Image source: LibrarySource