How to catalog my personal library? And do I really have to use Zotero?
February 27, 2015 9:49 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way and least time consuming way to catalog my gazillions of books? And is Zotero really the greatest thing since sliced bread?

I'm an academic in the humanities, and like many of my kind, I have a lot of books. They're all over my house and my office, totally higglety-pigglety, and I'd like to impose some order on them. What I need is a personal library catalog, but because I'm lazy, I'd like to do this the easiest possible way by scanning the ISBN bar codes and having that data go directly into a personal library database. Once I've done that, then I can simply order them by Library of Congress call number (which, ideally, I'd print out on little stickers that I would then put on my books as I reshelve them by call number). I've looked around and there seem to be many options, so what I'm looking for is advice on which is the best route. I have an Android phone but an Apple laptop, so any phone apps need to be appropriate to my platform. I guess that, given my profession, this is really a two part question, since one major personal library cataloging option is Zotero in connection with a third party scanning app. In the past, my colleagues have tried to get me to join the modern era and start using Zotero. After a few weeks of trying with Zotero, however, I succumbed to laziness and a steepish learning curve and went back to managing my personal research materials the old way. Fellow academics, is it time to bite the bullet and start using Zotero? Is Zotero really worth the time I'd have take to learn how to use it properly?
posted by pleasant_confusion to Technology (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at Delicious Library?
As I understand it, you can scan with an external scanner or your webcam, or even with an iPhone app dedicated to the library (Delicious Scanner).
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 10:03 AM on February 27, 2015

In terms of whether Zotero is worth it, do a search for groups relating to your research interests here, and ask colleagues, librarians, or research assistants you might collaborate with whether they think using Zotero's "collaborate" feature would make the working process easier. For most people who strongly prefer Zotero to other options, the community aspect tends to be a big factor.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:08 AM on February 27, 2015

Goodreads sells a barcode scanner for use with the website.
posted by musofire at 10:08 AM on February 27, 2015

I think it is LibraryThing that sells the scanners. Goodreads lets you use your phone's camera, but it is not going to give you LoC call number.
posted by soelo at 10:56 AM on February 27, 2015

I highly recommend LibraryThing. I now have over 6,000 books in my catalog, and the interface is very easy to use.
posted by languagehat at 11:27 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

LibraryThing does indeed sell CueCats for your scanning needs. I maintain my library catalog there and have found it more than adequate for my needs (8K and counting...). However, if mobile use is important for you, its functionality on a phone is...basic, although sufficient if you're trying to figure out whether or not you already own that book over there on the store shelf.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:29 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

> For most people who strongly prefer Zotero to other options, the community aspect tends to be a big factor.

LibraryThing also has a strong community aspect (though I personally don't make much use of it).
posted by languagehat at 11:29 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Zotero is easy to use with a barcode scanner (such as a CueCat). As with any program you might have to do some manual editing, including at time finding and entering the Library of Congress call number (of course you could avoid that by looking everything up in the LoC catalog first and clicking the 'save to Zotero' button/icon in your browser, if you've set it up that way).

LibraryThing is also very good, and will allow you to display images of your books, if you want, so it's visually more friendly. You can do lots of 'social' things, too, with LibraryThing, including finding all manner of literary events, bookshops, etc., in your location (so might be useful when travelling). It's more geared to curating personal libraries, and in that regard it sounds more like what you're after.

Having said that, what are you using in your professional life to manage your bibliographical material? And why are you not inclined to use it to organize your home collection?

Another thought: one of the things that LibraryThing does, as a community, is to have flash-mob cataloguing parties, where people with scanners collaborate to quickly catalogue libraries (e.g., Perhaps you could persuade some students/friends to help you with the hard-slog of cataloguing, whichever software solution you choose.
posted by davemack at 12:26 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I use Librarything. Getting them in there was a little time consuming, but once done, management is a snap.
posted by smoke at 1:46 PM on February 27, 2015

Since you mentioned easiest way, you can also consider outsourcing it by contacting your local library school and asking if any students would be interested in taking this project on - many of my coursemates jumped at the opportunity to put their skills into practice when we received calls like that. Offering some cash and defraying transport expenses helps.
posted by appleses at 6:59 PM on February 27, 2015

The free RedLaser app lets you scan barcodes on your smartphone, then save them as a text file. That can be uploaded to librarything. Or for about $20-$30 you can get a usb barcode scanner. See the Librarything help page for more options.
posted by Sophont at 10:31 PM on February 27, 2015

LibraryThing appears to be a web-based service, and it may be worth pointing out that if and when their business model changes or the business fails, you stand to lose a lot of time and effort if the data is not easily exportable to some other service. Give some consideration to data longevity issues and whether or not you might be forced to move away from a given platform.

I've been relatively happy with Bruji's Pedia products because I had multiple types of content to manage, but my management needs are rather different than yours.
posted by jgreco at 4:20 AM on February 28, 2015

I back up my LibraryThing catalog regularly through their export functionality, which was the main reason I started using it 10 years ago. Set up was a month long slog without a scanner but I agree that maintenance has been pretty easy since then.
posted by bluesapphires at 6:45 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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