So how do I track my books?
August 16, 2021 7:21 AM   Subscribe

This post on the blue resulted in some discussion of tracking books online, but I want more. Is there an online tracking system that does what I want?

I've never used anything but Amazon for tracking books online - and that only for books I want to read. After reading the thread, I signed up for Library Thing, but I'm not sure it's my solution. I am not interested in book recommendations, meeting people, or basically any social aspect of any of this.

I want to be able to track books I've read and books I want to read. I tried inputting the books I want to read into Library Thing, but I'm stuck with their genres. On Amazon, I can, for instance, create a World War I list that includes multiple genres because I'm working on a novel taking place during that era. What I don't like about the Amazon lists is that I can't make notes about the books. Is there anything that would let me make up my own categories and take notes? (BTW, I don't buy books from Amazon - just using them to keep track.)

I have pages and pages of paper lists of every book I've read since about 2001, and I'd like to put those lists online. But I'd like to retain the years I read them. I don't see a way for Library Thing to let me do that - except maybe the tag function. Ideally, I'd be able to sort those books by author and genre. Is there a site that will let me do that? Will Library Thing work well enough with the tag function?

Would love to hear more from people on what works for them.
posted by FencingGal to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Honestly, I keep a spreadsheet in google docs - or I did, before the pandemic knocked me for a loop. I also had an Evernote for more detailed thoughts, but I was often too lazy to use it.

I kept the google doc open all the time and used to just make a new entry when I saw a reference to a book I wanted to read. I used filters to set up, eg, title, author, date completed, genre1, genre2, etc. Because I set up the fields, I was able to assign genres as I saw fit - so I had "light fiction" and "serious fiction" to differentiate between, basically, fiction I found extremely easy to read and fiction that required concentration. I differentiated between pop history and academic history because I was trying to get myself to read more difficult books.

I actually kept my "books I want to read" list unsorted at the bottom of the page so that I could easily move them up into "books I read" but there would be no reason not to have a separate tab. I kept separate tabs for each calendar year but moved the "to be read" list each year.

This has always been a much better system for me than Goodreads or LibraryThing (both of which I've tried) because it is thin, transparent and extremely customizable. It takes more typing up front but the end result is quicker to use.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on August 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also I can keep companion sheets for new music and new recipes in the same book.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on August 16, 2021

Best answer: Why not hijack a system like Zotero, designed to create bibliographies for academics. It can easily be used to track books, and you can add your own folders so you could have a 'read' and 'unread' section. With Zotero you can organise books into categories, keep notes, and export your lists in a million different formats. There is also an official ipad/iphone and various unofficial android phone versions of the app now, for adding to your list on the go (using search or by ISBN numbers).

Install Zotero desktop, then the Zotero addon in your browser. Now adding books to your list is super super easy. Find the book on Amazon or any reputable site, clock the browser addon button, and you can easily add the book to your bibliography with a couple of clicks.

I am sure if you already have a hand written list you could import it into Zotero from .csv or something. I use Zotero in conjunction with LibraryThing, so I can keep track of my bibliography on both. But you can ignore that part if you like. It means your data is futureproof anyway, as Zotero is so adaptable to whatever use you put it to.
posted by 0bvious at 7:54 AM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have my stuff in storygraph. It allows for lists, tags, read dates (including just a year if you prefer), and while it has social aspects they are easy to ignore.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:30 AM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Goodreads does all of that for me. You can set up and name your own bookshelves, so you could create a World War I shelve and put whatever books you like on it. And I can specify the date I finished a particular book before shelving it with other books I've read. I don't write reviews (although I read others' reviews before deciding if I want to read a particular book) nor do I follow anyone, so I'm not involved in the social aspect of the site at all, but I rate the books I've read just to jog my memory.

Upon re-reading your question, I don't know if Goodreads lets you sort by genre, but you can definitely reorder the books on any shelf (or all your books) by author, date read, date shelved, and so on.
posted by DrGail at 8:36 AM on August 16, 2021 [7 favorites]

I would have thought that Librarything would allow you to do what you want. You can create collections or use tags for the genre. There is also a reading dates feature, though I think that may only take full dates rather than just years. (Some people set 1st January for the date as a workaround.) There is also a spot for comments on a book both private and otherwise.

It can be a bit fiddly, and while there's a lot that can be adjusted to suit you, it is sometimes difficult to find how to do it. (I ignore subjects for example, and have set up views of my library not to have that column.)

You can also sort by author and either tag or collections, however, it gets complicated with multiple tags, as it can only sort by one - in this case the first one. However, you can also pull up views of your library with only one collection or one tag.
posted by scorbet at 8:52 AM on August 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Most of the complaints in the post on the blue centered around GR's relationship w/ amazon (which you already use) and it's problems with authors/reviewers. If you aren't upset by those things, importing from amazon to GR is straightforward.
I think GR's ability to create shelves that the user designates would allow you to do what you are trying to do.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:54 AM on August 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Goodreads or your own spreadsheet. Even though I’m letting Prime lapse so I can get Amazon out of my life, having notes and highlights available to me from any browser may keep me on GR for a while.

I don’t use the social aspects or recommendations, and I rarely write reviews because I don’t want to create free content for Amazon, but GR works well for some things.

The spreadsheet I use for my book club would do what you want it to, but it was more work to set up and is kind of annoying to maintain. One difference between what Frowner describes and what I do is that I keep “Future Books” and “Read Books” on different tabs that are formatted exactly the same so I can easily copy a row from Future to Read.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:16 AM on August 16, 2021

Seconding Zotero. Your use case would not be 'hijacking' it all - it's literally a tool for keeping lists of books (or many other kinds of information-bearing materials).
posted by niicholas at 9:21 AM on August 16, 2021

LibraryThing does exactly this - you just tag the book as you want it to be tagged.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:29 AM on August 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

I would use LibraryThing and simply tag the book as "want_to_read" when you add it, and later replace that tag with "finished" or something.

The referral mechanism there is pretty good, so you could use it to find other books you might enjoy.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:36 AM on August 16, 2021

I use LT and have done for years, happily ignoring all the "social" aspects. I'm not sure what OP means by being "stuck with" genres--I've never noticed anything remotely like that. As for including the year you read a book, you could do that with tags, as someone upthread said. I suspect your issues with LT could be solved by figuring out how you want to display your lists and by doing some creative tagging. I keep my read and unread lists separate by having two accounts, though plenty of people use tags like "to read" or "unread pile," etc.
posted by scratch at 10:23 AM on August 16, 2021

(I switched to StoryGraph because of the Amazon/Goodreads connection. You can easily import all your stuff. )
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:29 AM on August 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not sure what OP means by being "stuck with" genres--I've never noticed anything remotely like that.

To clarify, I mean that when I go to "setting" and "genres," they have a list of standard genres and I can't add my own. So they will automatically categorize books as "history" or "historical fiction," but if I want to create a category, such as "World War I," I don't see a way to do that.

It is more than possible that there is a way to do what I want and I'm not seeing it.
posted by FencingGal at 10:33 AM on August 16, 2021

If you have an android, Read More does all of this for me. It combines some of the features of librarything/goodreads, adds a few more decent ones (you can photograph bar codes and book pages to capture quotes and add books), and is completely not social. Just a tracker for your own use. You can create lists/labels (I forget what they call them) to tag your books as well.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:00 AM on August 16, 2021

Best answer: I've never used LT's genres either, so I went in to take a look. It looks like that settings page applies to a feature called GenreThing which I've never heard of or used, and my LT experience is great.

So I recommend you ignore it!

*puts on IT nerd hat* The issue here is that you have requirements that overlap weirdly, word choice-wise, with the features that LT actually offers, so that's a level of difficulty you probably weren't expecting. Reading through your requirements, I think what you want is to create Collections based on year. While adding books, you can tag based on whatever you like (genre according to you and not that weird predetermined list). A book can also belong to multiple collections, so you can list something in the collection "World War I" and also the collection "2019" (haha). Or you could just put the book under 2019 and use your private WWI tag.

LT has a feature called "All collections" which combines all of them and enables you to search your entire catalog - so you can search by author, and also by tags (your genres).

(This happens to be how I use LT personally, so hit me up if you'd like help making it work!)

There is a comments field if you go to the Your Books tab and choose style B.

As a personal preference which I'd like to recommend, I completely avoid the out-of-the-box collections (To read, wishlist, currently reading, etc). I don't get anything out of moving books around, and I don't want to mess with any logic that may or may not be attached to those specific collections, so I ignore them. It's barebones tracking for me :) If you use them and find out they behave / do more things than you want, feel free to ignore them and start a new collection called "Actual To Read" and use that instead.
posted by snerson at 11:04 AM on August 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I use both LibraryThing and GoodReads. I have a list on LT that consists only of Books I've Read Since 1995 and I use the Date Read feature to date the reading. (I did most of them retroactively, since I transcribed the list from a handwritten list sometime in the early 2000s.)

I use Amazon to list books I want to acquire, but GoodReads has that feature as well. Also
posted by RedEmma at 1:48 PM on August 16, 2021

I use a free note taking app called Joplin. Each book read is a note, which goes into a notebook. Books-to-read could be another notebook. Tags are for genre. There’s a time stamp function.

Advantages: searchable, private, doesn’t rely on outside maintenance of app, can be exported to common file types.
posted by Comet Bug at 8:22 PM on August 16, 2021

The Genre feature in Librarything is pretty new it seems - I went looking yesterday evening as I hadn't come across it before. From looking at the discussion around it, it's more meant as a very rough division into genres that can be potentially used for other features (it may help with recommendations for example), rather than for individual people to assign personal genres. (That's also why they are quite broad - think normal bookshop sections rather than academic library categorisation). It's also not completely finished, so I would definitely recommend ignoring it.

Everyone uses LT a bit differently - I use collections for the status of a book for example (unread/wishlist, etc) and tags for genre or subject. (Part of this is historical - I joined LT long before Collections were around.) I think there can be issues with a very large number of collections, which isn't the case with tags. You can also be as idiosyncratic as you like when using either.
posted by scorbet at 5:32 AM on August 17, 2021

If you don't need social features, I'd recommend an ASCII text file. The file format is not owned by Big Tech (so you'll never need to buy a new version of Word or Excel just to open your own file) and it's easy to share, in whole or in part, with a simple copy-paste. Backups are easy, too: just drag the file onto a USB stick and add today's date to the file name, indicating that it's a snapshot of the file on today's date.
posted by mark7570 at 9:31 AM on August 17, 2021

But I'd like to retain the years I read them. I don't see a way for Library Thing to let me do that - except maybe the tag function.
In Library Thing, you can set one or more "Dates Read" by editing the book. From the book's main page, the second link under the cover is "Edit your book" and there are tons of options. You can add tags here, reviews, etc. There is also an option to make Collections, which I haven't done at all but seems like something you would find useful.

I am not interested in book recommendations, meeting people, or basically any social aspect of any of this.
Groups and Talk are both optional parts of the site. As for both Auto and Member recommendations, you can hide them from your Home page.
posted by soelo at 9:42 AM on August 17, 2021

As an alternative to Zotero I can recommend Calibre. It's primarily an ebook library tool, but I have also started using it to catalogue my paper books (as metadata-only records) so that I have all my books in the same place.

Once I have finished all my data capture, I plan to export the database into some kind of read-only summary that I can keep somewhere that I can access from my phone, but since my efforts have stalled halfway through my garganutan SFF collection I haven't got that far yet.
posted by confluency at 9:56 AM on August 17, 2021

I haven't used this, but someone on Mastodon just recommended a federated book-social app BookWyrm. According to a review, you can import your book list from StoryGraph, GoodReads, and LibraryThing (apparently through CSVs, so you can presumably get most lists into an importable state).
posted by clew at 12:57 PM on August 20, 2021

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