Book cataloguing review: LibraryThing and BookBuddy
It’s not that I have too many books. It’s just that I have enough that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Some far wiser friends once told me that the day would come when I would learn to let go of them, but I figured that I need some kind of plan between now and then, lest I lose my walls in the process.
The last time I catalogued all of our books, I did it in a program called LibraryThing. I can’t remember the exact reasons for choosing that platform, but I liked the idea of not only being able to track my books, but also connect with the reading community that it supported (and still supports). I bought a lifetime membership for $20 about ten years ago and it has served me really well.
The problem with any of these lists, however, is when you stop actively maintaining them. When you’re bringing books home and scanning them in right away, it’s easy. And when you remove the ones that you get rid of or use to prop open a window (and forget about when it rains), you have an accurate list that you can consult while you’re standing in yet another bookshop wondering which book of the six-part series it was that you were missing again. If you don’t do these things, however, over time the list becomes less and less useful, and you are therefore less willing to spend time fixing your lax, shitty attitude.
So after a four-year gap of not updating anything in my catalogue, I realised I had a problem. I looked at my LibraryThing database to see what my options were. The easiest thing for me to do would be to delete the original database, but I had made a lot of notes for any limited editions etc., and I think that LT deletes your reviews if you remove the books from your library, which wasn’t ideal either.
Sidenote: Another problem I had with LibraryThing was that it automatically added early review ebooks to your library, and I didn’t consider those ‘books I owned’, which is a problematic opinion that I’m sure the future will punish me for in due course. In my defence, however, I will point out that I started cataloguing books for insurance/replacement/purchase purposes, and ebooks don’t fall under any of those categories.
So anyway. LibraryThing was going to make it awkward to delete everything and start again. But even worse than that, it would let me scan duplicates into my collection, which meant that if I went through and just scanned everything again, I’d wind up with a lot of doubles (and probably some quadruples). Now I KNOW I have some duplicates already, but I didn’t want to have to go through and manually delete doubles (I hope you’re listening, iTunes, you’re just as bad).
What I needed was a new, relatively lightweight cataloguing app that would scan barcodes and let me access my database from my phone, at the very least. After a five-minute peruse on the app store (if I was more patient and/or diligent, I wouldn’t have had this problem in the first place, remember), I settled for one called BookBuddy. I’m approaching having a third of my collection scanned in now, and it’s going okay.
The app backs up to the cloud, which means that it can be accessed across multiple devices, and that I can use multiple devices to scan stuff in (but not at once, which is okay). If I try and scan in a book I’ve already scanned in, it gives me a pop-up notification that the book is a duplicate. I’ve run into a few problems with a few barcodes, some where the wrong book is tagged to the barcode, and some where the ISBN is recognised but there’s no information saved. For those cases, it’s easy enough to manually search for and select the right book and add it to your collection. It’s a little annoying for manually adding some things though, as it insists on you listing an author, and not all books have one listed.
In some ways it’s a little annoying, because there’s a bulk barcode scan, so you can ostensibly just work your way through a shelf in minutes, but there are no notifications to let you know if a barcode hasn’t been processed properly, so you still need to manually check. It might not be so bad if you’re scanning in small batches (like maybe five books?), but quite often two or three books in a five-part series might not turn up, which is a little frustrating. This isn’t even on the weird stuff either, this is just on the sci-fi shelf.
Overall though, I’m happy with it so far. It let me add 50 books before I had to fork out actual money for it, but at only $8 for ‘lifetime’ access, I’m happy to take a punt. It also lets me export to CSV, so if I really wanted to (and I might just), I can then import those books into LibraryThing so that I can keep using that. One frustrating difference between LT and BB is that I can add something by ISBN on LT, but I don’t seem to be able to add things by ISBN. There seems to be some search capacity for ISBN, but the few times I tried it, my results were mixed.
But I’m splitting hairs. There are squillions of books out there, and as I can’t keep track of the ones in my house, I’m not going to judge the app for not knowing everything?
Do you live under a rock?
Why don’t I use Goodreads? To be honest, I’m not sure now. At the time I started scanning this stuff all into LibraryThing, I think that GR had been purchased by Amazon and I felt like handing them my information was a little too easy (which is the same reason I don’t use Chrome). Now though, I think that GR is too fiddly for someone who has as many books as I do, and perhaps only the most passing of intentions to actually read them all. I know that you can do crazy shit with tagging and shelves and whatever in GR, but who on earth has time for that (bar the kinds of people who bullet journal what books they’re going to read next instead of, you know, actually reading them). I will confess that I’ve started using GR regularly now to keep track of the books that I’ve read, mostly because I like the reading challenges but also because it’s interesting to see what other people are reading. But I will never feel the need to import all of my books.
Also, another reason why I like LT more than GR is because LT has an active early review community, as in there are tons of books every month, and it’s relatively easy to get a freebie if you’re keen (and willing to leave a review). I don’t know if GR has changed, but when I last looked, it was far more competitive (and to be honest, early review books can be pretty hit or miss, so they’re not worth fighting for).
I kind of miss that BookBuddy doesn’t have much of a community attached to it, but honestly if you’ve spent nearly any time at all in book or reading communities online, maybe it’s for the best. It turns out that there are only so many times that you can read about a book simultaneously being the most amazing, world-blowing thing forever, or the worst bit of carping trash that has ever disgraced the Earth with its presence (Reddit’s r/books isn’t much better either). For now, I’ll settle for an online platform that let’s me check whether I’m about to buy a second copy of a book I’ve had sitting on a shelf for long enough that I’ve forgotten that I own it.