The choice to begin cataloging one's books should not be entertained lightly since a) It will take a long time; b) If it won't, it means you have too few to both catalog and probably haven't considered it, anyway; and c) To the normal people in our lives, there are better things to do. So I'm going to make it easier. I've waded through several options and below will outline the decision process I think makes the most sense. I learned by trial, error, and a lot of starting over and throwing things. I'm sharing to spare your books. And your walls.
First decision: Online or off?
I've come across two kinds of cataloging systems: 1) Web-based; and 2) Software. Web-based means you log onto the cataloging site, which lets you set up an account (usually free to try, a little money to hang on to) for your catalog. Software you download to your hard drive (same free-to-try, pay-to-keep deal) then use as an application just like MS Word. Both systems offer a series of fields for each book (title, author, isbn, etc.) and a way to enter then quickly (usually by typing or scanning the isbn or offering a search feature across several databases (Amazon, Library of Congress). Any system that makes you type in the data by hand, leave it now. Unless you're Adrian Monk, each book should take no more than 90 seconds to catalog.
I use this one. It's been around less than a year and already has cataloged 1.5 million books. Plus I asked the developer, Timothy Spalding, several idiotic questions and he was very nice.
- Simple interface.
- Quick cataloging (type ISBN and you're done)
- Generous try/buy policy (200 books for free, $25 lifetime membership).
- Sociability: Library Thing takes your catalog and measures it against the others in the system. In an instant, you can see who has similar libraries to you, what libraries are biggest, and what books and author are most owned. May sound trite, but trust me: after entering in a new pile of books, I immediately check whose library I match with. I've even used it to see who owns my book (3 friends and 1 guy from college. Sigh).
- Single purpose. Other cataloging programs let you do the same with CDs and DVDs. Library Thing is just books.
- A little assumptive. Although Library Thing's FAQs are thorough and clear, you're really not getting its full benefits unless you "tag" your books. And not everybody wants to or knows how.
Verdict: Highly recommended (4 open card catalog drawers out of 4).
Calls itself a "web-based collection manager application" (which sounds like it will seize your laptop when you refuse to pay for it). Works for books, CDs, DVDs, and Video Games.
- Multi-use. Will "scope" (or expand naturally) if you get the collecting bug and want to move past your books.
- Single-page interface. Can toggle between different catalogs without switching pages.
- Slow, picky search engine. Doesn't let you enter a book by ISBN. I typed in "Dandelion Wine" (in print for 49 years) and got nothing.
- Search doesn't differeniate between different editions. Fine for a book that just came out. Not so fine for a classic.
Verdict: More than suitable if you just want all your media in one place. But entering it is a pain, and that's where all cataloging begins.
A "social book list" as opposed to a collection manager, built by the crazy, ambitious people at Synergy Matters.
- Social on Steriods. Forums, chat rooms, tagging, and library comparison make it easy to not only see who has similar reading tastes but to chat with them as well.
- Hive-like. Feeds into another Synergy Matters project called Bank of Ideas which lets you participate directly in how the service will grow.
- They weren't kidding when they said "not a collection manager." The database of books seems only populated by what has already been entered into the system. So if you're the first person to read Colleen Curran's "Whores on the Hill" (which I seem to be even though it's been reviewed 91 times on Amazon), sorry, you have to enter the relevant data yourself.
Verdict: Skews younger, I'd imagine. Great if you're the only bibliophile in your town or amongst your group of friends or work a slow job with a T-1 line. Otherwise, what is missing speaks louder that what it has.
Came out to great fanfare last year from the blogosphere. I signed out right away.
- A marvel of design and beauty. I'm not expert as these things but Delicious Library is a work of art: simple, clean, elegant, and neato. You can display your books on a mock shelf which creates a collage out of your book covers.
- Lightening fast entry. Syncs up with an iSight camera if you've got one and lets you scan by UPC code.
- Works equally well for CDs, DVDs, and Video Games.
- Mac Only. if you're a Windows person, sorry.
- The "so what" factor? Okay, we've cataloged our books and now they sit, like the Terracotta Army, silent and noble. And then what? Do we bring friends over and brag? Cataloging of this nature scratches an itch, yes, but that's all. Which is why I purchased Delicious Library its first week out and haven't used it much since.
Verdict: Good for that "hug instinct." Do you just want to see all your books visually in one place? Then it's perfect.
New York Public Library's Home Library System
The NYPL has put together this software system aimed at book collectors. Comes with a guide to shelving, maintaining, and caring for our little angels.
- A ridiculous bargain. Full system, including guidebook is $40.
- Features for evaluating collection worth full an area the most other programs don't.
- Mac and Windows compatible.
- Not interactive in the slightest.
- No way to try before you buy.
Verdict: I'd love to try this out when I have more time to take my book collecting more seriously. Looks like a great later-in-life project, but if you're there now, I say try it. The price can't be beat.
Summation: Library Thing suits my needs, but one of the others might suit yours. Or you might have a different system entirely (the index card has never gone out of fashion). Let's hear 'em.