Recataloguing a large home library - looking for advice/resources/tips
November 8, 2017 2:45 PM   Subscribe

I have been asked to help recatalogue a large private library and am looking for any good suggestions/tips/resources that might be helpful, whether software, shelf naming systems, or just web resources that might be helpful.

The book are scattered across various rooms and bookshelves, and the owner is particularly keen to be able locate books in the house so he can decide how to organise them.

The books were last catalogued 10 years ago, and there is currently an access database of the titles.

Also, I won't have regular internet access in the house, but I will have in the evenings when processing results.

Any help gratefully received!
posted by coupedloups to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I believe that Readerware lets you scan barcodes to a list, and then later you can auto catalog from that list using the internet. That may help with your internet access issue.

Readerware is very databasey, I can't really compare it to others but my wife likes it.
posted by bongo_x at 3:36 PM on November 8


A few questions (that would help with suggestions)
1) Is internet access an option for the owner, or do you need something that works without it?

2) What operating system preferences are in play, if you want/need a non-Internet solution?

3) When you say 'large' can you qualify that? (Some solutions scale better than others)

4) What aspects does the owner particularly care about? Managing physical locations? Finding items on a particular topic? Building personal notes about items that can be referred to later? Tracking loans (even to friends or family?) Managing a to-be-read list or project lists? Being able to walk into a bookstore and not double-buy things because you can check a list? Other things?

5) Are there portions of the collection that really need to live together in an easy to access place (i.e. books being used for a long-term project or interest?) Alternately, are there items that should be kept, but they don't need to be readily accessible?

A few thoughts
1) Don't underestimate the power of quick photos.

It's a pain to do this for each item, but I cataloged a bunch of my own collection last winter from shots of 10-12 spines in each image, and over 95% of the time, that was all I needed. The others I'd make a note, and then check them.

2) The physical location of a book and the subject context of a book do not automatically need to overlap.


Some people are fine with a collection where all the big books are in one place, and they use the catalog to figure out what books they want. Other people really want to stand in front of a set of shelves and know all the history books (or 'history of this thing' books) are right there. Different cataloging, shelving, and tech choices are preferable each of these variants.

(And some people overlap: I really want my fiction to be shelved by fairly refined genre, but my books on other topics can happily be spread out over multiple sets of shelves)

3) The question of subject headings / tags / however you group stuff is highly individual.

But there are reasons libraries have systems and processes for these things. Once you get up over whatever you can hold in memory, documentation and a few basic standards (they can be totally unique standards compared to someone else, as long as they work for the people using them) help a lot.

There are tons of options, but I've discovered (I do some consulting on this for private collections) that it works best to sit down with the people whose collection it is, ask them how they use it, how they think of things, and then try to come up with a consistent list of terms. Things like a general list of parallel terms for topics (history, sociology, archaeology, gardening, knitting, forensic science, etc.), tags for specific projects or specialised subjects , in multi-person households, maybe one for who the book 'belongs' to.

It's usually not a quick process, but it helps so much with the long-term planning. I use a spreadsheet, tag a bunch of things (50-100), then go through and figure out if I've got duplicates or things that can combine, rinse and repeat until I've got a manageable list that works for me. (Or if working with someone else, them.)

4) Think about expansion, format, etc.

Is this person going to keep buying print books regularly? If so, about how much extra shelf space are you going to need, and which sections of the collection seem most likely to need it? This will affect your shelving and storage choices. Is the person buying fewer things in print but more ebooks? Then you need a system that can manage telling you you have a thing, but it's a digital version.

What I use
I use LibraryThing (with separate collections for print and ebook, so I can search everything together, but also go "do I have an ebook that is about X?" easily or "What do I have in print about Y that I can loan someone?") LibraryThing has the benefit of a fairly active userbase and discussion community, so it may be worth your time to browse a bit, and see how other people handle a particular thing.

There are tons of other software choices out there, though - that's why thinking through the actual usecases helps a lot, since some of the software will do some things really well, and other things not so much.

(Feel free to MeMail if more info about any of this would be handy.)
posted by modernhypatia at 3:48 PM on November 8 [7 favorites]


Library Thing has an app so you can scan and tag.
posted by jadepearl at 6:51 PM on November 8


Yep, LibraryThing. They even organize volunteers to go to libraries and crash through the place in a hurry. It works pretty well, with the caveat that if the books are unknown to WorldCAT or Amazon or other major sources -- because they are super old or rare or maybe foreign language or something -- you may need to edit the details yourself.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:08 AM on November 9


I like Librarything a lot as a website for keeping track of reading like Goodreads, but I don't love it as a database at all. It seems kind of slow,clunky, and not pleasant to read, to me.
posted by bongo_x at 11:26 AM on November 9


Thanks for all the replies, I've just spent a few days there (hence lack of reply) and now have more of an idea of the task. In response to modernhypatia's insightful questions:

1) Is internet access an option for the owner, or do you need something that works without it?
Ideally something that works without it - there is (very) limited internet in the house, but they do not have steady access to it and it is very slow, when it works.

2) What operating system preferences are in play, if you want/need a non-Internet solution?
It's windows

3) When you say 'large' can you qualify that? (Some solutions scale better than others)
10 years ago there were 5,000 books, and by now there are considerably more - so maybe 7,000?

4) What aspects does the owner particularly care about? Managing physical locations? Finding items on a particular topic? Building personal notes about items that can be referred to later? Tracking loans (even to friends or family?) Managing a to-be-read list or project lists? Being able to walk into a bookstore and not double-buy things because you can check a list? Other things?
The main thing is to be able to physically locate the books in the house, and know where they should go back. However, tracking loans may be useful, as would not duplicate buying (which nearly happened while I was there, but I managed to find the books in question using the old database. However the ideal for the owner would be to have a couple of printed indexes initially, as this is what they are used to. However, they would be up to a user friendly computer search function, I'm sure.

5) Are there portions of the collection that really need to live together in an easy to access place (i.e. books being used for a long-term project or interest?) Alternately, are there items that should be kept, but they don't need to be readily accessible?
It's a mix - there is a study, where the most "important" books are kept, and a lot of the others are grouped by area on various shelves (though it's not exact, and physical limitations mean that groupings do not always work. The owner has their head round this - so they know which shelf is supposed to be a particular subject.

--
Unfortunately I now know that they have not been able to find the most recent database, but I am slowly managing to piece things together (although it is taking some time). It also needs error correction. I think I will have to present reports on rooms as I go, so they can reorganise.

Hope this helps, and many thanks for the responses.
posted by coupedloups at 1:50 PM on November 11


Thanks! I'm a lot less familiar with the Windows side apps for catalogs, but it sounds like LibraryThing would be a bad move, given the limited Internet. The individual pages are mostly text with small files for images, so it might still work, but it would be frustrating to do the data entry there if your connection is unreliable.

However, a lot of the apps out there will accept a comma separated values file for input (they usually have some specific requirements for which columns go where, but that's an easy thing to move around as needed) so that might be a thing to base your collection management on, since it would give you a large number of long-term options. (Excel or Libre Office) You could also potentially build a Google form or something similar to do input (again, low-bandwidth option if there's only text involved.)

You could use various catalog apps info to figure out what columns you might need or eventually want. (Here's the LibraryThing page: there's a sample csv file linked at the bottom of the sidebar you might consider as a structure, for example.)

In terms of 'get things back to the right shelf' it sounds like you might want something that works like spine labelling (but is presumably easy to remove and/or edit) such as in a library.

Demco (major library supplies company, and they sell to non-libraries) has lots of options for this, but a small Post-It Note with the location inside the cover would probably work fine for books where you weren't concerned about preservation. (You shouldn't use them anywhere near rare books, archival materials, etc. because the glue is potentially damaging.)
posted by modernhypatia at 1:43 PM on November 12


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