I love lists. I love lists of lists. I would probably love lists of lists of lists, but I cut myself off there because it seems like straying into the territory of dangerous obsession. Since books are one of the few things I love more than lists, I of course have endless lists of books. To read, have read, loaned out, borrowed, you name it.

So obviously creating an online catalog of all of the books I own is something I did a loooong time ago, with great delight. To some, this in itself probably already seems obsessive, but there are some practical reasons for cataloging your personal library:

  1. Makes book shopping easier. Was it book 3 or book 4 I was missing from that series? Do I already own this particular Agatha Christie novel? Is this author I ran across at the shop the same one who wrote that one book I liked so much? Do I already own too many Louis L’Amour novels? (Of course not.) Bring up my library on my phone, and I have my answers.
  2. Makes it easier for family to buy books for each other. My husband has access to and updates our online library as well, which makes buying books for each other MUCH simpler.
  3. Helps rein in your book-buying. We can comfortable fit around 1500 books in our house, and having an online library keeps us accountable, both financially and in terms of space. We have a rule (at least for now) that for every book we buy, we have to give away or sell one, and we can track how often we buy books, and how many.
  4. Keeps your books organized. On the shelves, our books are organized by genre, then alphabetically by author’s surname (with the exception of history books, which are organized chronologically by time period that they cover). Because my online catalog has columns for these genres and is sortable by author surname, I can look on the catalog and instantly know where any book is in the house.
  5. Helps to rebuild your collection. Heaven forbid, if I lost books due to fire or flood or some other disaster, I’d know which books to replace.

So how do you set up an online library catalog? There are a slew of options:

  • Goodreads. Goodreads already has an option to check the “owned” box for books, and I tried using this for a bit. I love using Goodreads for managing my read and to-read lists, but for me, it turned out to be impractical for a catalog. Searching for the particular edition I owned on Goodreads took too much time, and a lot of my very old books weren’t on Goodreads anyway.

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Yeah, pretty much none of these bad boys showed up.

  • LibraryThing. This one was super tempting, and I almost went with it. At the time, though, my phone was sketchy and wasn’t reliably scanning barcodes on books. Entering them manually had the same issue as Goodreads; finding my specific edition could be tricky, and really old books weren’t always on the site.
  • Libib. Very similar to LibraryThing, but wasn’t around when I was building my library.
  • Shelves, Home Library, Delicious Library, and BookBuddy are similar apps, so if you don’t mind scanning books, one of these may be your ticket.

Ultimately, I went a pretty clunky and labor-intensive route, but I have to admit, it works flawlessly for me because it’s so customizable. My books were already organized on their shelves, which made things pretty easy. I created a Google Spreadsheet and manually typed in every single book I owned. Ha. Yes. That did take awhile, though not as long as you’d think. Here are the column headings I use most often (click here to see larger image):

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This works best for me since I can sort by author, title, category, whether I’ve read it or not, etc., and if I want to add additional columns (whether I’ve loaned a book out, for example, or to track book-buying), it’s easy to do so and to remove them when I’m done. I can search for particular words, and I can make specific notes on editions when I care to do so. For example, I have two copies of Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint Exupery, and I have a note in the library that one specific copy includes hand-written notes in the margins from a particular philosophy discussion group. But if the particular edition doesn’t matter to me, I can just leave it blank instead of having to select an edition in an app. Also, when I’m out and about, I can browse this quickly on my phone without using a lot of data, and since this is a Google Sheet, I can share it with whomever I wish.

Before I got married, I had read all but 20 or so of the books I owned. Then Ross’s massive book collection got added to the mix, so there are a lot that we own now that I haven’t read (and to be honest, probably won’t read since he and I don’t have all interests in common). I did convert him to my library idea, though; he ended up cataloging all of his comic books in a similar way, and we created a tab for our movies as well.

Warms my organized little heart. 😉