Cataloguing your book fetish with Librarything

By Mark O’Neill

librarythingtopleft.gifIf there’s one thing that geeks have a plentiful supply of, it’s books. We just revel in them, whether it is a software manual, a science-fiction novel or the latest comic book.

But as with everything else you collect in life, there comes a point where it becomes virtually impossible to keep track of what you have. Volumes pile up in huge toppling stacks that randomly pop up all over your home (prompting your partner to deliver the ultimatum “it’s either me or the books!”), friends borrow books promising to “return them soon” (a cardinal sin in my house) and you eventually can’t find what you’re looking for when you need it the most.   That’s where Librarything comes in to save the day.   It’s book cataloguing on steroids.

I was initially doubtful about whether Librarything would be of any help – until I started cataloguing my library and discovered FIVE copies of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22!   I was also able to find a software manual in record time when the software program started malfunctioning.  From then on, LH has masterfully tamed my wild beast of a book collection and here’s why :

  • Add books by ISBN number – if you have a bar-code scanner, you can enter books into LH quickly by zapping that bar-code.   Or just enter the ISBN number manually.
  • Support for over 250 libraries around the world – including the Vatican Library, the British Library and the Library of Congress. More libraries are constantly being added.
  • Add books manually – if you have a book that is extremely rare with no ISBN number, you can add it manually by title or author. Now you can show the world your 1588 first edition of “Ye Olde Literary Delights”
  • Find similar-minded readers – to call Librarything just a book cataloguing site would be to seriously undermine its full potential.  Amongst other things, LH has a very vibrant and active user community.
  • Find books of a similar topic / nature – whenever you look up a book title on LH, it gives you a recommendation list of similar books.   Very good if you specialise in a particular area and you need to find other titles to expand your knowledge.
  • Add private notes to each book entry – are you constantly loaning books to friends?   Or does your manual have pizza sauce splattered all over it?  Now you can add private notes to each of your entries to remind you of these things.   Or if you have set up an indexing system, you can assign a reference number to the book and enter the number in the private notes.    Or give yourself directions to where the book is – “under the huge stack of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD’s with a red bookmark”

I want to briefly expand on the “add books manually” part. The fact that you can add things without a corresponding ISBN number means that you can in theory also catalogue e-books, audio recordings, technical documents, comic books, historical documents and much more. That is extremely useful if you have a geek lair which is bursting to capacity with paper, books and files.   Now you can impose some order and discipline!

You can add up to 200 books to Librarything for free and after that, you are asked to pay a one-off lifetime fee to record as many books as you want.    Initially I wanted to build a book database using MySQL but I decided it was a lot less hassle and time just to pay the fee and use Librarything instead.

Do you use Librarything?   If so, what’s your username?   Let everyone see your collections!