I need to organize all these books.
November 19, 2009 9:28 PM   Subscribe

I have about a thousand books and a burning desire to reorganize them.

I'm getting rid of my current bookshelves -- an Ikea Expedit and the several others I've had to buy since I bought my house -- to move to shelves that I can put along the wall. The Expedit was a room divider in a previous house and it's not working for me anymore. I figure while I've got all of the books off the shelf, I ought to cull (again. I do every year) and somehow make a database with everything I keep. This will help me avoid buying the same books over again. Plus I like the idea of having all that information in one place. I figure that my collection will only get larger from here since books follow me home.

So how do I do this? I have this vague idea that I can take pictures of the barcodes of my books with my iPhone camera and populate some magical database that way. Did I make that up? What about the CueCat? Where can I get one of those?

I have a Mac running Leopard and want to do this on the cheap.

Bonus question: I'm thinking of organizing everything alphabetically by author. Anyone want to convince me to use LoC or the Dewey Decimal system?

(I saw this question but it's from a while ago and I don't have MS Access.
posted by sugarfish to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Pfft, Dewey decimal? Author? Nah, organize by color!
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:30 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't tell you how to electronically catalogue your books, but I can tell you I had a super fun time organizing mine by Dewey Decimal, with fiction books by author.

Next time I get a wild hair, I'm doing them by color.
posted by padraigin at 9:30 PM on November 19, 2009

I believe Delicious Library is the standard recommendation in situations like these.

As for switching to LoC (for the love of all that is good and holy, don't use Dewey), I would say that it makes sense to do so if your books span a large number of genres/subjects.
posted by sinfony at 9:31 PM on November 19, 2009

Haven't used it personally, but many recommend Library Thing.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:32 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

It might take more time, but organize them autobiographically (that is, according to your own life story).
posted by j1950 at 9:50 PM on November 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

I did my (smaller; ~250 book) collection in very little time - a couple of hours, I think - by getting an old CueCat barcode scanner from BookMooch*, hooking it up to my laptop and letting LibraryThing do the work for me. Note that the free version of LibraryThing only allows for 200 books, so you'll have to spring for the pro version. But definitely worth it. BookMooch and LibraryThing can also import and export to each other.

* BookMooch is a great book trading site where you list some unwanted books for points, and earn more points mailing them to requesters around the world (or just your country, if you prefer.) You can then use those points to 'mooch' what's available from the millions of titles they have. The BookMooch blog has more information on the basics, as well as new features such as Twitter.

CueCat scanners do come up from time to time as Moochable items.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:58 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can buy a cuecat for not too much money from Library Thing and scan in all your books. I just got one last week. They're legit and cute. However, when you put them on the shelves, color is really the only way to go.
posted by jessamyn at 10:00 PM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

In regards to your bonus question, I organised my bookshelves so that my most favorite or most widely used books are on the top shelf, with each shelf going down holding less read, less frequently used books, until you have the least popular stuff at the very bottom. Where it belongs.

Then, on each shelf, and purely for the sake of visual neatness, I like to order my books from left to right, tallest book to shortest book.

This is useful for me because a) I like neatness and b) the books I access the most are right at eye level, with a minimum of bending/crouching required. It could also be useful for you as years go by in regards to your annual cull of books. Stuff on the bottom shelf is the first to go!
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:06 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oooh! Thanks for this post. I'd never heard of a CueCat before, and now *I* want one!
posted by MuChao at 10:50 PM on November 19, 2009

nthing Library Thing and the CueCat. It's a fantastic system.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 12:07 AM on November 20, 2009

Don't organize by color, you'll never find anything unless you include the color for every one of your books as metadata in your database. This would be a pain in the neck, even though it would look cool.

Unless you have mostly non-fiction, Dewey won't be great since fiction is primarily restricted to the 800s (usually 813). LCC would be better than Dewey for this reason, but again, you'll mostly be restricted to one or two classes. I recommend alphabetically by author for fiction and Dewey for non-fiction, which is how I have my personal collection shelved.

LibraryThing and a CueCat will be great for this task. Be aware that for collections with more than 200 items aren't free. A one year membership is $10 and a lifetime membership is $25. It's a great site, though, and well worth the cost for a collection as large as yours.
posted by k8lin at 12:31 AM on November 20, 2009

If you're fast at 10-key, it really doesn't take long to enter all your ISBNs into LibraryThing or a similar site. And if you're not fast at 10-key, you will be after you're done! :)
posted by Jacqueline at 12:56 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cue Cat with something like Readerware, for stand alone, or Library Thing for cloud. I organize by general topic and by my desk are the books I use for the courses I teach for that semester or prepping for the next.
posted by jadepearl at 1:04 AM on November 20, 2009

For cataloging, nthing LibraryThing.

I've got my books categorized according to subject matter (fiction, history, literary criticism, religion, etc.), then alphabetized within the categories.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:50 AM on November 20, 2009

There are lots of CueCats on eBay (thanks for solving a Christmas gift idea!)
posted by ceri richard at 3:39 AM on November 20, 2009

I divided a few different ways, which might work for you if you have a few predominant categories:

Mass market paperbacks live on one smallish bookshelf all their own. I divided them by fiction/non-fiction/science fiction (I have a lot of science fiction) and organized each section by author.
Science fiction in trade paper and hardcover (told you) get two tall bookshelves, alphabetical by author and organized by series within authors.
The other bookshelves house fiction in trade paper and hardcover, alpha by author, and non-fiction, which got divided into a few major categories (cooking, personal finance, memoir, self-help/inspiration, decorating), all alpha by author. The rest of the non-fiction is slotted at the end of that, also alpha by author.

I really wanted to do color, but I knew I'd never find what I was looking for.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:17 AM on November 20, 2009

Nthing LibraryThing, etc.

I organise mine by topic (for non-fiction) or sub-genre (for fiction): for example, all my historical mysteries are together, all the more-or-less contemporary mysteries are together, urban fantasy is separate from high fantasy, etc. (And in non-fiction, all the Arthurian reference stuff is together, all the science stuff is together, etc. etc.) Within category, I shelve by author and then by series sequence, with some adaptations for hardcover vs. paperback, etc.

I do that because when I want to read something, I usually have an idea of the topic or sub-genre I want to read, and can then go stand by that shelf and skim. Shelving all the fiction together by author wouldn't do that.

(I'm a librarian by profession, and of course, the library I run isn't organised like that: all our fiction's together alphabetically, non-fiction and media by Dewey. But I actually really like having something different and much more personal at home.)
posted by modernhypatia at 6:26 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

n+1 for LibraryThing and a CueCat.

Once you scan in all the barcodes and LT automagically populates your library, then examine the tag cloud and organize by those categories.

I sort my books by general subject (sports; food; WWII; reference...), though you could do it like my wife and line them up by height. *facepalm*
posted by wenestvedt at 7:12 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have enough books that I finally gave in and went alphabetical. Previously I was doing it by theme/genre, but it just got too hard to find stuff. (I also have something like 1000 books - I'm cataloging them manually on www.goodreads.com and I'm at 317 so far. I'm only in the J's. Of my fiction.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:34 AM on November 20, 2009

Ditto on the lining up books by subject, at least for Non Fiction. For Fiction, I go by author and then by country of origin - I collect CanLit, so I have a whole bookshelf of those organized by author, then I have my British and American authors together, since I have large-ish collections of those, and then make up somewhat ad hoc groupings otherwise.

I use Library Thing for keeping track of my books and LOVE it. I also have Delicious Library, which is handy because I can use my iSight webcam to scan in barcodes, but that does me absolutely no good for books released before barcodes or ISBNs existed, so I mostly use it for keeping track of my DVDs; plus, there isn't really an online component, so when I am in a bookstore and trying to remember if I have ___, I can't pull out my iPhone and check; with Library Thing I can, and they even have a mobile-formatted site that displays well on the iPhone to help me out.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:39 AM on November 20, 2009

If you're on a Mac, you can use your iSight camera to scan the bar codes for Delicious Library. It's also good for cataloging you DVD's and so forth.

I would recommend against organizing by color. It does look neat, but it's a pain. I group books first into genres (history, drama, classics, mystery, sci fi, etc.) and then roughly alphabetically. It seems to work pretty well.

I have, however, dramatically culled my library in the last few years. Using a system similar to the one suggested by Effigy2000--where the most frequently used items go on the top shelf--makes culling much easier. Every time I reference or read a volume, I move it to the far right of the shelf. At the end of every month (or three) I evaluate what can be donated to the public library, and what needs to be re-shelved in its proper place.
posted by paulg at 12:33 PM on November 20, 2009

Ha. I hadn't realized I had a strong opinion on this, but I do.

Organizing books by subject is a far more useful way to go* than barcodes or the Dewey system, which seem absurd for home libraries. When I need to find a book, the subject of that book is the thing I'm interested in most. Since you mention "all that information," I assume the same thing is true for you.

First do basic categories: I have a shelf for poetry, and others for music, film, religion, art books, Shakespeare and science. Also, space for graphic novels, mythology/fairy tales, a bookcase of nothing but classic fiction, another bookcase and a half for history, a few shelves for genre/modern fiction (love the stuff but rarely feel the need to keep it around after I'm done), etc. That's the best way to go if you tend to keep books you actually use (say, in internet arguments :). I alphabetize by author within each subject if I have more than one shelf but don't bother otherwise. I organize the history books by time period instead. Oh, and add a shelf for borrowed library books.

Works for me. It lets you have fun - the point here, right? - sorting them out, and still have a useful system.

*unless, of course, you choose the awesomely fun "by color" route, but that should really be for special occasions - dinner parties, say - and you should revert after so you don't get sick of it
posted by mediareport at 3:58 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another vote for LibraryThing, with or without the cuecat.

As for arranging them I'd say it really depends on what kinds of books you have. Are they mostly fiction? Non-fiction? All kinds? Just history? Personally I do non-fiction separated into subject, and then just sort of arranged how it makes sense to me/looks good because I don't have so many non-fiction books. I put all my fiction )regardless of genre) together by author and then within author by title and/or series.

Unless you really thing you'd get a kick out of arranging them by LoC or Dewey it doesn't seem necessary.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:22 PM on November 20, 2009

Response by poster: Ooh, thanks for all the good tips. I think I'm going to try Delicious Library first.

All y'all who organize by color, (et tu, Jessamyn?) how do you find stuff? I'm probably just going to go alphabetical because I mostly have fiction, anyway.

As an aside, I'm thinking about library school and the scales tipped a little more when I saw that Delicious Library page. I actually got giddy. That's a good sign, right?
posted by sugarfish at 4:49 PM on November 20, 2009

I really like Books (open-source book cataloging application for MacOS X) for cataloging my own collection.
posted by kristi at 11:44 AM on November 21, 2009

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