Photo credit: National Széchényi Library via Flickr
I recently wrote a post about how I sorted through, cataloged, and reorganized all of my books (see here: link). (Well, most of my books, at least.) I had such fun with the cataloging part that I wanted to write an entire post about it. I looked online about how other readers catalog their books, and a lot of them are still doing it by hand, in Word or Excel documents. I’m here to proselytize about the wonders of
Backstory: many years ago, I heard about handheld devices that could read the ISBN bar codes from the backs of books and enter them into a computer database. It was a great idea, but so expensive! Recently it occurred to me that I bet there’s a mobile app that does that now and yep, there is! A lot of them! I did a little research online about which program to use, and ended up choosing Libib. I have the free version, but it’s nice to know that if I want more bells and whistles, I can always upgrade. I can’t speak to how Libib compares to other programs, but I can describe the pros and cons that I’ve noticed, and you can decide for yourself.
The basic idea behind all of these library database programs is that you have a mobile app that can scan the bar code of a book, recognizes what book it is from their extensive list, and add that book to your personal library database. Libib has a web app and mobile app that automatically sync to each other, which is convenient because it’s easier to take the mobile phone to the bookcase, but you get a much better and bigger user interface at your computer.
Setting up an account and getting started on the web and mobile apps was smooth and easy and fast. It was fun to be able to get started right away.
Libib lets you create multiple libraries of multiple types (books, movies, video games, or music). I don’t know if there’s a limit on how many libraries you can have. I have two so far: one for books (unspecified) and one for cookbooks.
One of Libib’s “features” is the ability to share your library, along with all of your reviews, etc., with other Libib members. In fact, it’s the default option. This has zero appeal to me, so I’m glad that you can opt out by not “publishing” your library.
The theory is that you scan in all your books.. If you have a book that doesn’t scan, you can always enter it in by hand. The scanning process is pretty simple, once I realized it worked better if my phone wasn’t casting a shadow over the barcode and I stopped trying to move the phone closer to focus instead of just letting it focus by itself. I like the message you get that shows that the book was successfully scanned, and shows the cover of the book — great confirmation that it worked. It also tells you if you already have that book in your library (oops!). Or, you get a message that it won’t scan…
Here’s the big con: a lot of books don’t scan. I kept track, and only 58% of my books scanned properly. Your results may vary, depending on the type of books you have. Here are the reasons books wouldn’t scan for me:
- There’s a sticker over the ISBN bar code
- It’s an older book that has an ISBN number but no bar code
- The book is a reprint and that version of the book isn’t in the Libib database
- Server error message (if I tried again a minute later, it usually worked)
- Random inexplicable weirdness — one or two books from a matching series would scan and the others wouldn’t
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to search on the web app and if necessary, to add a new entry. In situations #1 and #5, that version of the book is almost certainly in the database. You can search by title and find it, easy-peasy. In situations #2 and #3, some version of that book might be in the database, although it might have a different publisher or year, so you may want to choose one that’s close enough or you may want to create a new entry to exactly match the book you have. In particular, the Libib library often has weird Createspace versions of older books, rather than the original printings, because those are the ones it pulled from Amazon. This is especially annoying because you can’t edit the date, so it looks like that book written in 1898 or 1920 was from 2015. I ran across several cases in situation #2 where Libib had nothing. Entering in new books isn’t difficult, but it does take more time than a two-second scan, especially if you search online for a description of the book to add into that field.
The entries Libib provides come with the title, author name(s), year published, publisher (sometimes), ISBN number, and usually a cover image and a description of the book. You can edit the title, author name(s), and book description, but not the others. The ability to edit is very useful. For instance, I noticed that the titles of books in a series are often inconsistent, with only some of them listing the series in parentheses or noting what number the book is in the series, so I got to be super-organized and make them all match-y, as is my wont. Also, sometimes the author names are missing or messed up, especially for edited books.
Another point is that the search in Libib is wonky. If you’re looking for a book you’re sure must be there but the title isn’t returning anything, try the author, or just a few words of the title.
The scanning and data entry step is, not surprisingly, the most time consuming part. I went shelf by shelf, setting aside the books that didn’t scan and then taking a break from scanning to enter them in at the computer. I didn’t keep track of how long it took, but it was basically a whole day to process about 600 books, combined with getting rid of a couple hundred cleaning shelves and sorting.
Here’s what an entered book looks like on the web app version, to show you some of the things you can do.
Review: You can review the book with a 1-5 star rating, and click on the “review” button to enter your review.
Status: You can mark the status of the book as not begun, abandoned, in progress, or completed, with beginning and end dates.
Edit: You can edit the title, author, and description. I believe I entered in the bit in parentheses, here.
Tag: You can create multiple tags for books and search by those tags later. Once you create a tag, it will prompt you to use the same one again, which is conveninet. I am still building up my tags, but currently have: unfinished series, research, short stories, poetry, gave away, and writing craft. The free version doesn’t let you tag mulitple books at once, so that can be a little time-consuming.
Notes: Just like it sounds. In the example below, see how the tag and the note appear.
Group: I haven’t used this yet, but it claims you can group books of a type (e.g., a series) together.
The other icons on the right side are for entering a price, moving the item to another library, puchasing the item (it opens up Amazon for you), and trashing the item. In the bottom right, those icons are for reading others’ reviews and reporting an error.
Searching for books
The main point of having the library is to be able to find which books you have. What I love most about this is never having to worry about browsing books at a store or conference and wondering whether I already own that book or not. Or for that matter, while I’m at home! This is why I created the “unfinished series” tag, so that I can quickly see which books I want/need to finish a series I’ve already started. I can also see this being super useful for entering in a library that’s a wish list for books that you want. Then once you buy the book, you can move it to your “books owned” library.
That said, the search functionality in Libib is pretty lame, at least in the free version. For instance, I can’t find a way to search for an author’s name only in the author box. So it also returns any books that mention that author in the description. This is useful if that author provided a short story to that collection, but not so useful if the current book is just being compared to that author in the description. (Interesting: I just noticed that it only does this on the web app: the mobile app does not return books with the author mentioned in the notes.)
Update: I just figured out how to sort the whole library by author name (as well as title, which is the default, date added, and date published). So you can sort by author and then jump to that letter.
The results of the search (whether by keyword or tag) don’t seem to be in any particular order, and can’t be sorted. The mobile app gives you a list of the titles and authors, but the web app shows the full entry (only two of which fit on the screen) which means you have to scroll a bit to find the one you’re looking for. This is especially annoying when searching by tag if I have a lot of books with that tag, because although the original list was sorted by title, now they aren’t.
Sometimes the searches just don’t work, for reasons I cannot understand. For instance, if I search for “vandermeer”, I get all three Southern Reach books (among many others). If I search for “southern reach”, I get all three books in that trilogy. But if I search for “vandermeer & southern reach” for some reason it reliably gives me only book 2. What the…?
All complaining aside, the search function does work (eventually) and the ability to quickly see whether I already own a book is wonderful!
One of the main reasons I chose Libib was that it allows for easy export to a .csv /spreadsheet file. I’m always worried about investing time and energy on a system only to find that it shuts down and I can’t recover my data, or that I want to switch to another system but have to re-enter everything.
I tested the export, and it does export all the fields shown, including notes, reviews, tags, etc. as a bonus, it’s much easier to sort the database in Excel and thus easily find missing fields.
It’s a little counterintuitive to navigate around in the web app. There’s no “back” or “close”, and you can’t return to a search you just did, once you clicked somewhere else. But that’s minor. There’s also a fairly wide column on the right side labeled “feed” which is only useful if you’ve published your library publicly and are sharing reviews, have followers, are following others, etc. However, if you’re not, there’s no way to minimize the column, which just takes up real estate on your screen. I checked with Libib and they verified that this is something they allow on the paid version. That seems unusually petty to me, but okay.
Obviously I love it! There are more features I haven’t used yet, but this is all I wanted and more. It’s very easy to get started on, and so much fun. I would definitely recommend Libib to anyone looking for a basic, free library organization app.
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂