Monday, April 12, 2010

Mentor Monday: Library Thing

Books, books everywhere.

Like many writers, I am a lover and collector of books. I have books in every room of my house (yes, including the bathrooms). I have books on shelves, books on windowsills, books on desks, books in milk crates, boxes, baskets and bags. At the moment I have a pile of books on the floor, right next to my desk.

Some of these books are old and beloved friends, collected since childhood. Many were accumulated during my college years. A few are treasured heirlooms, inscribed on their flyleaves with the names of ancestors I never met. Others are autographed by writer-friends. Some are borrowed from various friends and libraries. Many were purchased for specific purposes; others drifted in mysteriously and never left.

More than once over the years I have attempted to introduce some order to this wealth of words. All the writing books on one wall of my office, all the theology books on another. Children’s books in the old nursery (now known, simply, as “the book room.”) Books for the current writing project near the desk, of course – books from the last one in boxes in the closet.

Problems with this hodge-podge? Let me count the ways. There’s the three-hour search for the title the high-schooler needs tomorrow morning (“Mom, I need to buy Crime and Punishment.” “No you don’t, we already own it.” “Mom, remember you told me we own Crime and Punishment? Where is it?”)
There’s the going to put the latest purchase on the shelf – and discovering that I already own that book. There’s the library book that I wound up paying for because it got shelved in someone’s bedroom, and the six already-paid-for “missing” books I returned to the school district when two kids packed up and moved out last year. (“Mom, I can’t graduate next week because they say I never turned in Principles in Mathematics freshman year!”)

Enter Library Thing. I know we’ve mentioned Library Thing here before – if you haven’t checked it out, you really should. Today, a few ways I’ve found to use Library Thing to control the collection.

First – When you enter books in Library Thing, it adds them to “Your Library.” But it allows you to set up any number of collections. One book can be a part of several collections – just check the box. I have now set up a “collection” for each major book-holding area of my house. I haven’t finished entering all the books I own, but for the ones I have entered, I can check library thing to tell me which room or bookcase to start my search in.

I’ve also used the “collection” feature to add books I’ve purchased or borrowed from various libraries for my current writing projects. In this list, I put the holding library in the comments box, so I can sort out what came from where – and find a book again, if I need it. The “private comment” feature allows me to make notes to myself about books that might – or might not – be suitable for the “read more” section of a Notable Women book.

I have already saved some money by using Library to determine if I already own a book when a title catches my interest, and made some money when, as I entered books, Library Thing informed me that I had duplicate copies. Unless there’s a reason I want more than one copy, the spares can be added to my “sell these books” shelf – and sold or donated.

I have not figured out a way that Library Thing could solve the missing textbooks problem – but that’s only because I haven’t any more students at home. I’m sure there must be an application.

A really nice add-on to Library Thing is a cute little tool called CueCat.* It’s a barcode scanner that scans the ISBN off the bookcover and adds the book to your library. So quick!! So simple!! (Except, of course, for the plethora of pre-barcode treasures I own.) When I bring a stack of books home from the library I can get them all into my collection in matter of minutes. (Tip – you can edit the order of your “collections” list – whichever one is at the top of the list is the default.) Now if there were only a way to export directly from Library Thing to EasyBib, I’d never make another typo in a bibliography.

Library Thing accesses a variety of library and database sources to search for publication information. For new books, the Amazon list is generally fine. For older books, I switch to the Library of Congress, the Boston Athenaeum, or the New England Library Consortium. They have hundreds of sources, so if your collection is foreign or technical, poke around a little to see if there is one that has more matches for your books.

There are lots of fun things to do at Library Thing – connect with people who read the same books you do. Peek at the collections of people who have books you’ve written in their collections. Join in book-discussions. Fix errors in listings. Check out book-related events in your area. In fact, like many fascinating internet sites, you could waste a lot of time here!

But I have books to scan.

*note - If you buy the CueCat from Library Thing, it works automatically with Libary Thing. If you buy it from the manufacturer you can also buy software to use it to catalog all kinds of stuff (movies, cds, etc.) or catalog your stuff online through them (I haven't tried this.)


Diane Mayr said...

Are you queen of the gadgets or what? ;-)

Mur said...

I think the title has to be shared between Sally and Diane!

Andrea Murphy said...

I love Library Thing! I'm entering my school library books little by little, and I add tags so I can search out books by subject. Just yesterday, I needed a book to go with an art project (we're room weaving) and found GET BUSY, BEAVER! by Carolyn Crimi and Janie Bynum. It was perfect. I would never have remembered it without the tag search function of Library Thing.