The Sunday Salon: Book Cataloging Nerdiness

I’ve been a LibraryThing user for nearly 6 years, and am still finding features I didn’t know about.  I enjoy the social interaction and have “met” a lot of book-lovers there (and have even had the pleasure of meeting some of them in real life).  But LT is much more than a social site for book lovers.  Book Riot recently published a comparison of LibraryThing and Goodreads (read Part 1 and Part 2), concluding with “LibraryThing is for people who want a serious, accurate, extensive book cataloguing tool.”

And yes, that’s where I began back in 2006.  I looked around my bookshelves and started entering ISBNs for any book I had read or planned to read.  I also added classics I’d read at some time in my life, but no longer owned — going from memory, so it’s by no means complete.  My catalog grew as I borrowed books from the library, received gifts, or acquired them from used book shops, Amazon, Paperbackswap, etc.   I use LibraryThing‘s collections and tags to keep things organized.

But LT has a myriad of cataloging features; I’m sure I don’t know about half of them.  Many have been added over time and weren’t available when I first joined.  Of course you don’t have to use them all; it’s a matter of personal preference.  But sometimes I can’t help myself, and I end up falling down the rabbit hole of catalog organization.  Just a couple of weeks ago, someone mentioned a catalog field that keeps track of where your books came from.

“Oh no, I don’t care about that,” I said to myself.  But then others continued chatting about it, and I kept thinking about when certain books entered my life:  that really cool used book shop … the four years I lived in England … my visit to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate … my public library … the books I’ve received through Paperbackswap … books passed on to me by LibraryThing friends … Secret Santa events …

I thought perhaps I’d just do a bit.  I’ve tagged all books borrowed from my library, so in one fell swoop I could update the “From where?” field.  Oh how cool, I can link to a venue page!  Well, it wouldn’t take too long to work through my Paperbackswap transaction archive and update those books.  And oh, look!  Online booksellers have a record of my purchases!  Before I knew it, I had filled in the “From where?” field for most of my 800+ books.  Sure, there are some where I haven’t a clue:  I marked 95 of my books “unknown.”  But it’s kind of fun to look over my library statistics and see I’ve cataloged 163 books from Paperbackswap, 141 from my local public library, and 68 from other LibraryThing members (plus 19 Virago Modern Classics received from members of the Virago LibraryThing group).  This was a satisfying little project, but also a bit of a time suck …

And then last week someone mentioned the “pages, weights, and dimensions” feature.  LibraryThing uses a book’s ISBN to fill in the number of pages, the weight, and the height/length/thickness of a book.  Who cares, I said.  Then I looked at my library’s physical statistics, where LT happily informs me my book stack is just a little higher than the Sphinx, would fill 1.6 bathtubs or 5.52 IKEA Billy bookcases.  But wait: there are several books in my catalog with “no data” !

Oh dear.  Where’s my tape measure?

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21 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Book Cataloging Nerdiness

  1. Hmm, I don’t track much of anything on Library Thing. After adding the first 200 books I’d read, I had to pay to enter more…so I abandoned that aspect. On Goodreads, I can add as many as I want! So I do catalog books read, books to-read, and books currently reading there.

    I do track books read, with links to my reviews, on one of my blogs.

    Here’s MY SUNDAY SALON POST

    • When I discovered LT, I didn’t even know GR existed. I really enjoy the cataloging features (as you can tell), so I didn’t mind paying for books beyond 200. It was only $25 for a lifetime membership and unlimited books — quite a deal actually.

    • Karen, it’s certainly an individual decision. Some say LT’s social features are not as rich and that may be true, but I haven’t lacked for conversation there. I’m sure either on is fine if you understand its strengths and decide to get the most out of it.

  2. Yes, I don’t use Library Thing much because when you hit the 200 book limit you have to pay and I read about that many in one year and GoodReads and Shelfari are free. Glad you enjoy all the features though so you can get you monies worth.

    Have a great week!

    • Dollycas, as mentioned in a previous comment when I joined LT I was unaware of any competing sites. However, I didn’t find the $25 one-time, lifetime membership fee a burden. Of course, by then I was hooked! But individual taste matters so as long as you enjoy what you’re doing, that’s what matters.

  3. I use LibraryThing and Goodreads. I am not quite detailed as you are with cataloging…however, that sounds quite interesting. I do like to post my reviews on there because that is where I tend to read reviews of other books. It just seems more personal that reading a review on Amazon or B&N.

    • Books in the Burbs, I agree with your point about reviews. I trust the reviews on LibraryThing and many of the books I read come from recommendations there. That may lead me to Amazon to purchase, but I rarely check their reviews.

  4. Uh-oh! I do use LT to track my books, and I think (after reading your post) that it’s going to become a bit of an obsession…. Thanks (I think) for pointing out to me all these cool features!

  5. Interesting – I’m on LibraryThing but I have looked at Goodreads – I never thought that the latter looked quite so user-friendly so frankly I would probably pay to use LT as I wasn’t aware it had all these features – thanks for the heads-up, though I can see myself spending much to much time cataloguing books from now on….

  6. I own a lot more than 800 books, and I started entering them all into Library Thing when it first came out. However, I ran out of time, and I really don’t even go back here very often. A waste of my lifetime membership, for now. Someday I hope to have time to play with all the features and catalog all of my books.

    • Sherry, there are tons of books in the house that I haven’t cataloged yet either! I decided my LT library would be “mine” and not a family library, so there are loads of books that I consider my husband’s, or they are reference and I’ve never summoned the energy to catalog them. I created my LT catalog based on memory and certain lists (like 1001 books to read before you die), and have then just added to it as books come into the house. I hope you’re able to get back to LT someday and get your $25 worth! :)

  7. Oh, Laura, I hadn’t come across the stats page! I’m so intrigued. It claims that I own a book that’s 0.75 inches tall – really? Also that my average length of pages is 344, which is probably rather fewer than yours, or most people’s. Apparently I also own a 1090p book – probably a dictionary or something??

  8. I’m so silly! I was looking at your stats still, instead of mine. My books are taller than the Niagara Falls, and the average is 287pp, which is closer to what I would have expected, given my loving for short books. But my max is 2552pp – what could that possibly be?? And apparently I have a 0.25 inch book – surely not? SO interesting!

    • Aren’t the stats fun, Simon? I’m working on acquiring an elephant’s worth of books myself, although I doubt I’ll reach blue whaledom in this lifetime. I have a .01 inch book–what could that be?

      • Tui, if you every discover that 0.01-inch book, let me know! Although I have found a few errors in my “dimensions” data so I fear that’s probably more likely.

    • Well Simon, now you have me all curious about the oddities in my stats. And wouldn’t you know it, LT is acting up and having difficulty producing my stats for me right now. Argh!

      In any case I’m delighted to know I’ve inspired you in this rather curious way.

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