The Library Problem

The Library Problem

by Zack Grossbart on November 30, 2007

In March of 2006 my wife Mary and I owned about 3,500 books. We both have eclectic interests, voracious appetites for knowledge, and a great love of used bookstores. The problem was that we had no idea what books we had or where any of them were. We lost books all the time, cursed late into the night digging through piles for that one book we knew must be there, and even bought books only to find that we already owned them. There were books on random shelves, books on the floor, we were tripping over books when we walked up and down the stairs. In short, we had a mess.

We needed to get organized. We needed a way to store all of our books so they were easily accessible. We also needed to integrate the two separate book collections which represented one of the remaining holdouts of our single lives. We got together and came up with a list of requirements for our new system. …and yes we are both engineers.

  1. It needs to be easy to find a book.
  2. It needs to be easy to add a book to the system.
  3. The systems needs to handle foreign language books.
  4. It needs to be easy to maintain the system going forward.
  5. The initial cataloging effort can’t take forever.

To complete this project we needed a system to organize all of the books, a way to quickly add books to that system, and a place to store all of the books.

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

Our first task was to decide what system we should use for ordering the books. Most of the systems used to organize books are based on combinations of the author’s name, the title of the book, and the category of the subject matter. Some of the systems provide a general outline for where a book should be and other systems are very specific. We considered three different systems: alphabetical, Dewey Decimal, and Library of Congress.


Probably the most common system used for organizing home libraries is alphabetizing. Books are arranged in alphabetical order by title or author’s name. This makes books reasonably easy to find, but puts Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie next to Runner’s World Guide to Injury Prevention by Dagny Scott Barrios. This organization makes it difficult to browse books.

Adding categorization to alphabetical sorting can fix that problem. This system organizes books into categories and then alphabetically within those categories. In this system the book Three Seductive Ideas by Jerome Kagan might end up next to The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker because they are both about psychology. This system makes browsing by subject possible, but it requires you to create categories for each book. Should The State, War, and the State of War by Kalevi J. Holsti be categorized as international relations, warfare, or politics? Creating categories which will work well with a set of unknown books is very difficult. We needed a system with established categories.

Dewey Decimal

Dewey Decimal is familiar to just about everyone who came through the American educational system. There is a good chance the library from your grade school used Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC for short). DDC assigns each book a number based on its subject matter. DDC organized all categories into three levels. The system has 10 main classes, 100 divisions and 1000 sections. The book Larousse Gastronomique edited by Prosper Montagne may have a DDC number of 641.3/003 21 – 600 the main class for technology, 641 is the division for food and drink, and 3/003 21 indicates the specific subsection specified in that library.

However, DDC has one big problem. The assigned numbers are not fixed. There is no central authority assigning DDC numbers to books and the same book can have a different number in two different libraries. We didn’t want to spend time working out the right catalog number for each of our books; we just wanted to look it up. We could use the catalog of a large library system such as the Minuteman Library Network to provide DDC numbers for most of our books, but that system does not provide programmatic access to their database and does not assign numbers to many of the books we own.

lccSalt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky has an LCC number of TN900.K865 2003. This indicates that it belongs to the broad topic of technology, the sub topic of mining, metallurgy, and the subclass of nonmetallic minerals. It has a Cutter number of K865 representing the author’s name and it was published in 2003.

Library of Congress Classification

It was Mary who suggested using Library of Congress classifications (LCC for short). This is the system used in most university libraries in the United States. LCC uses two letter general codes followed by a set of letters and numbers specifying the location of the book. The LCC system was created in 1897 and has held up quite well for over 100 years. Wikipedia has a great reference page about the Library of Congress Classification system including a list of all the categories here.

Many books already have LCC numbers printed on their copyrights page. The Library of Congress also makes its catalogs available at The LCC system offered us a system which categorized all of our books into a well known list with categories which could be looked up programmatically. This is the system we chose.

To recap:

  • Alphabetizing with Categorization – Required us to design the subject categories, isn’t very precise, and must be done manually.
  • Hard Alphabetizing – Works a little better with computers, but has all of the other drawbacks of soft alphabetizing.
  • Dewey Decimal (DDC) – Has better sorting, but subject categories are still somewhat subjective.
  • Library of Congress (LCC) – Provides excellent sorting capabilities, has pre-defined subject categories, and can be categorized programmatically.

The Catalog

When I was 9 years old we had to take library class, spending time in the school library learning how to use it. Mrs. Snuffleupagus (none of use could pronounce her real name) would walk us over to a large cabinet full of index cards and tell us to use them to look up books while admonishing us to not touch any of them because our fingers were probably sticky.

Mary and I wanted a digital catalog with good support for sorting and an easy way to add, edit, and delete books. We also needed a catalog which would support LCC numbers and have a good interface when handling the number of books we had It should preferably work under Microsoft Windows or Linux, the two OS’s we are currently running.

I started my search by posting the question to I got a lot of responses. Some were useful, others were less so. My favorite was, “I think you lost most of the slashdotters when you started with ‘My Wife…’ People are googling this ‘wife’ to see what they can find out about the phenomenon.” I thanked my good fortune that I am interested in computers while still being blessed with female companionship and compiled a list of options. I first looked for a good open source alternative, but I couldn’t find one. I then figured the project was worth spending a little money on and compiled the following list.

  1. Readerware
  2. Delicious Monster
  3. Book Collector
  4. FinderWare


Readerware is flexible and pretty fast. It has a decently clean interface and supports Windows, Linux, Mac, and even Palm. You can create your own columns and it has pretty good support for Library of Congress Catalog information (with the addition of a provided Python script). It will find the LCC number based on the ISBN number. Readerware can also be customized with your own Python scripts. It costs $40. We chose Readerware.

Delicious Monster

Delicious Monster also costs $40. It runs only on MacOS, but that wasn’t the biggest issue for us. Delicious Monster has a slick looking interface which most Mac users will find familiar. However, it feels like a better solution for organizing 100 DVDs instead of 3,500 books. It also doesn’t have good support of Library of Congress Catalog numbers. Book Collector

Collectorz also costs $40 (actually $39.95) and works on Windows and Mac. It has the same problem as Delicious Monster of feeling like it is aimed at smaller databases. It also doesn’t have support for Library of Congress Numbers.


FinderWare also costs $40 runs only on Windows and once again feels like it is aimed at smaller libraries. It also has a clunky interface for adding multiple books at once and does not support Library of Congress Classification numbers.

A Custom Made Catalog

Readerware was a good fit, but it wasn’t perfect. This got me working overtime to create something better. “I can build my own catalog system,” I thought. It would be exactly what I needed, support large amounts of data, and import automatically from the Library of Congress Catalogs. “I’m a professional software developer. I could bang this out in a day or two.” The system would have a new kind of interface on the library data, so easy and intuitive to use that it would take over the world. Every library on Earth could use my software.

Mary found me a couple of hours later surrounded by the full Edward Tufte collection and every book on user interfaces we own. Well… only the books I could find. That is why we needed the system in the first place. It took one look from her for me to come to my senses and decide that building my own library software would be a much bigger project than I had time for.

The Scanner


Now that we had a library catalog system we needed to add the books to it. Most books have a copyright page containing publisher and cataloging information, most books published after 1975 have an ISBN number, and most books published after 1985 have a barcode on the back which contains the ISBN number. The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique number identifying that book. This number contains information about the book, where it is from, and who published it. You can use this number to look up the rest of the information about a book from many online sources.

The problem with the ISBN number is that it isn’t a very good number to use to catalog the books. Sorting by ISBN number would create a list which didn’t have anything to do with the author or the subject of the book. This would create an effectively random order of books and make it very difficult to find what you are looking for.

Typing 3,500 ISBN numbers into the system didn’t sound like fun so I went looking for a good bar code scanner. The first one we tried was the CueCat. The CueCat was manufactured as part of an abandoned marketing scheme. We found one for sale on eBay for five dollars and figure it was worth a try. We couldn’t make it work. We spent a few days and couldn’t make it scan anything. Other people have said they had some success with it, but we never did.


After our poor experience with the CueCat we decided to go a little higher end and bought a FlicWare scanner. The FlicWare scanner is simple, sturdy, and cost about $100 at that time. (It is now called the Microvision ROV, at $159.00.) There are a lot of other handheld scanners on the market and I can’t claim to have made an exhaustive comparison. The FlicWare scanner just seemed simple and had good support from ReaderWare. ReaderWare even provides a PDF file with settings specifically for this scanner. I’m sure there are a lot of other good barcode scanners out there, but this one has worked well for us.

The Bookshelves

With our scanner and catalog in place we needed somewhere to actually put all of the books. We had some bookshelves already, but we were going to need a lot more. The cost of our project up to this point was $140. I was worried that this was where it would start to cost some real money.

The bookshelves were more than just a functional choice. We had to live with them every day. We haven’t been in college for a long time. We have a mortgage and own a car. We are adults. Two by fours and cinder blocks just weren’t an option. Thos. Moser will sell you a tall solid cherry bookcase for $4,750.00. A bookcase of this size will hold about 180 books.


Luckily HomeDepot came to the rescue. HomeDepot sold us a solid particle board bookcase of the same dimensions for about $30. They don’t look too bad either.

Adding the Books

At this point we finally had a catalog, a scanner, and a source for good bookshelves. We were ready to start adding our books to the system. It made sense to shelve the books and catalog them at the same time. We set up one of our new bookcases, the scanner, and a laptop in one room and went to work. The process went like this:

  1. Scan about 50 books.
  2. Import the books into ReaderWare and let it find the information about them.
  3. Manually find LCC numbers for any books which weren’t found.
  4. Sort the list and add each book to the shelf.

We started this process with one shelf and moved on from there. We kept a clear gap between the cataloged and uncatalogued books. 50 turned out to be about the right number of books to catalog at one time. 50 is a large enough number to make it go quickly, but a small enough number that it is easy to look through the stack of books. We also added a column to ReaderWare to indicate whether a book had been shelved yet. This made it easy to sort our books by LCC number and just add the books that had not yet been shelved. Once we got a little practice the two of us were able to catalog 150-200 books an hour. We didn’t do it all at once. We took our time and slowly worked our way through.

Foreign Language, Oversized, and Children’s Picture Books

We have a decent number of books in languages other than English (mostly Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and French). These books are often not part of the Library of Congress system. We also have a number of oversized art books. These books need shelves which are especially tall and strong. We kept both of these types of books out of the system. Children’s picture books are notorious for going out of print quickly and being difficult to catalog. We kept all of those books out of the system as well since many of them did not have LCC numbers. This accounted for about 200 books.

The Results

At the beginning of this article I identified the following criteria for our system:

  1. It needs to be easy to find a book.
  2. It needs to be easy to add a book to the system.
  3. The systems needs to handle foreign language books.
  4. It needs to be easy to maintain the system going forward.
  5. The initial cataloging effort can’t take forever.

We achieved all of these except for number three. There does not exist (to my knowledge) a system which catalogs all books in all languages. The entirety of human knowledge just isn’t that well organized.

We started this process about one year ago. A new baby and life in general got in the way a little, but we have cataloged two out of three floors worth of books. Our current cataloged book count is 1,634. 87 of those books didn’t have LCC numbers and are kept on a special shelf. As part of this process we sold, gave away, or recycled about 500 books.

We have designated a shelf as the temporary holding shelf for new books until we get around to adding them to the system. The system has been working very well for us. We know what we have and where to find it, but there has been an added benefit – we can now browse within a subject. When we want to read something new we can go to that section and look at what there is. We can also easily sort the list of books by author or the date we bought them. This makes it much easier to find the book you didn’t know you were looking for.

A few statistics:

Total books – About 3,500
Sold, given away, or recycled – About 500
Cataloged – 1,634
Exempted – about 200
Total cost of Project – About $440

By the way, if you are curious I estimate that Mary and I have read about 1,300 of our 1,650 cataloged books. About 80 percent. We are actively working on the rest.

  • Milo

    This is pretty interesting. We’ve also been looking for a cataloging solution using similar criteria. For us the biggest issue is that what we want to catalog (zines and DIY comix) don’t usually have a bar code at all, so we also needed a system that could generate that for us. We’re in the process of getting a system up and running based on Koha, which is “real” ILS software. You may be able to use it for the non-English titles. It is FOSS, and runs on Windows, Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, and probably anything that can handle Perl.

  • Craig

    Sounds like an interesting project. I will have to pass it on to my brothers librarian girlfriend.

    Did you consider, I have been using it for a few years now, and it seems to fit the bill for me.

  • Anonymous

    Can we see some photos?

  • Anonymous

    Cool article and solution. Did you do anything to tag books with their LCC numbers once you found those numbers?

  • Ryan

    Do you have any links to the bookcases you got? I can’t see anything on the home-despot site…

  • aceinthehole

    Good read. I’d like to see a picture of what 3,500 books in a home looks like! 🙂

  • Rick Cook

    Well, for a small library of mostly newer books, I suppose…

    Seriously, thank you for sharing your experiences in so much detail.

    We’ve looked at this. (Like you I have one of those ‘wife’ things. And she brought nearly as many books into the marriage as I did.) The problems we ran into are:

    A) We currently have about 20,000 books.

    B) A great many of our books predate 1975 and perhaps most of them are earlier than 1985.

    C) A lot of them are popular fiction, which is not the LCC’s strong point.

    D) And this was the killer — the system assumes you can replace everything on the appropriate shelf in a timely fashion. Lazy slobs that we are, that’s a major problem.

    Still, you’ve given everyone a good overview of setting up a catalog system and that’s much to be appreciated.

  • Anonymous

    Post pictures of your library…

  • Fred

    If you can handle a router and a table saw (no, the other kind of router!), you can build a functional bookcase out of (yes) 2×4’s and 1×10’s. Costs less than the bookcases and can be customized to fit your space. I have 60 ft of 8-ft tall book cases, about 540 ft in all. This holds roughly 9000 books.

    Since I only have about 8000 books, there’s plenty of space for organizing subjects into a scheme that fits the way I think.

    But you’ve got to plan for expansion!

  • Greg Noe

    Great read, glad to see you had the perseverance to go through with it! Pictures would be great too!

  • Jay Maynard

    I’d like to know how you decided which shelf to put a book on, and if you attempted to do the cataloging in any kind of order…or if you just worked through things as they existed and depend on Readerware to tell you where the book is.

  • slambo

    We also have a large stack of books, but we’ve got a much larger stack of magazines (a very large number of them have to do with rail transport history [e.g. Trains, Railroad History, Passenger Train Journal] and model railroading [e.g. Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, Mainline Modeler]) that would need to be cataloged and shelved. How well would the software you identified work with periodicals?

  • edward aka heyduard

    particle board will do in a pinch, but will sag over time on long spans (except for furniture grade which is very thick!). Plus outgassing from the glue used to make particle board might not be good for collector items. Just some things to consider.

  • libri_amor

    My wife and I share your problem with 1500 books throughout our house. Now that you have an ISBN list please checkout Library Thing. A great catalog site for sharing etc. I am a big fan of “tagging” books. On Library Thing I am libri_amor.

  • Brian

    @Fred – Any pictures or drawings available online?


  • carlh

    See this article for how to work with ISBNs and lookup the LC data:

    You can use your own software to lookup the LC info.

  • Heather

    For your foreign titles, have you checked out ? Also, Melvyl:

  • A P

    the future library will be digital.

    “epaper” book readers like Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s PRS-505 are improving. you can store hundreds, even thousands, of books on one of these devices at a time. the main problem is that documents formatted for 8.5″x11″ paper do not look very good on these readers. I would expect this to change in future models.

    consider buying ebooks instead of hard copies, whenever possible, for future purchases. save trees, save lots and lots of space, and you can search for any text online.

    in your copious spare time, consider scanning books that are all text (no pictures, diagrams, math, or code). the free ocr software tesseract has worked nicely for me.

  • dlwa

    This is so Odd. I have been usein Koha and lc classification for more than a year. I even use the same bar code reader you have

  • Sean

    You didn’t mention anything about the labelling of the books themselves… I assume when you want to shelve or re-shelve a book, you scan it and then look up the appropriate location (LCC) in ReaderWare? As you expand your collection are you finding you need to physically move shelves of books around or does it adapt pretty well?

  • Maggie J

    This was very informative, but you did not address my most serious problem. I am constantly buying new books. I sort alphabetically within category. This is particularly important for my mystery collection, where I want to have everything by a given author in one place. But, I am constantly running out of room on the shelf to which the book needs to be added. So I end up with new books scattered all around the house, wherever I can find shelf space. How do you deal with this problem?

  • Larry W. Virden

    It sounds like you are in the midst of a project I yearn to begin. All of your tips seem useful.

    I have a shelving question. Are you just shelving things “randomly” as you go, and using some sort of notation to indicate the room and bookshelf that holds particular books? Or did you two decide some sort of room designation “the master bedroom will hold books on relationships, the kitchen will hold books on food, the media room will hold books on computers and the various medium, the baby’s room will hold parenting books, the bathroom shelves will hold humor, etc.” or what?

    Just curious…

  • Anonymous

    Great you have the books organized now how about the info in each book. I know I saw an article on some topic but i can’t remember which book it was in.

  • Anonymous

    Did you consider Evergreen ILS?

  • Anonymous

    Particle board might not be able to support a shelf stuffed with books, especially if you’re tempted to stack them two-deep (when your collection outstrips the wall space).

    Likewise, use care not to overstress the contruction materials of your home (especially in an area prone to earthquakes) by arranging your shelving as stacks in one room (especially upstairs). (Yes, I’ve seen this turn up as a problem.)

    Hmmmmm, I have one of those husband things, but have never been tempted to merge collections (except cookbooks, travel, and general reference). Congratulations on taking that on.

  • Anonymous

    Went the readerware system as well, but instead of Cue cats (I even had some laying around) I went to e-bay and got the barcode reader for my Handspring (cost 20$). I had to also pick up Handybase software ($29.99 but had to go to older version 2.75 DDH software was very cooperative about this).

    We are not trying to sort the books, but I have 2,842 books cataloged at this moment. And about 50-75 books were weeded out as duplicates. 7 or 8 shelves left to go, I’m closing in on the end of it.

  • Gabriel Hurley

    The last time I used, it supported Library of Congress classification…

  • Gabriel Hurley

    …I just installed the newest version of and it does suppport automatic Library of Congress and Dewey Classification.

  • efc

    Wow, a lot of effort. You should at least look at which rewards you with a rich community of co-conspirators for your home-cataloging project. They even sell scanners for about $15 (remember those old cuecats!).

  • Happy Lemming

    Another way to sort is:

    1) books we will read many times
    2) books we will read again, once
    3) books we will never read again
    4) books we will never read, ever.

    Anything classified 3 or 4 goes to the used bookstore, ideally to be replaced with category 1 books.

    This keeps our library a bit smaller, but it’s still overflowing, much to my wife’s annoyance.

  • Michael Bourgon

    Interesting. Our library is much smaller (probably ~1000), but visually quite impressive – we used Elfa hardware, and put on stained/sealed 1x6s. Screw into the headers (although theoretically the Elfa will be able to hold just using regular sheetrock). Our wall has 8 shelves (with room for another 2-3 at the bottom), and the hardware was only 100 or so. Plus it’s nice (and impressive to the neighbors) to see an entire wall of books.

  • Kevin

    Well done. Does your system enable you to record information about the physical volume, such as condition? How does your system distinguish multiple copies of the same book?

  • Thank you to everyone for your comments. There are a number of cataloging applications I hadn’t found and I am excited about looking into them. There have been a lot of questions on the shelving system that we use.

    We have all books on shelves organized by LCC number. This gives the books a good order for browsing and makes it easy to find individual books. We didn’t tag or mark the books in any way. It is pretty easy to find books on the shelves, but we still occasionally look them up in Readerware.

    When we add new books to the system we shelve them in LCC order. We keep a certain amount of space on our shelves to make it easier to add new books. It is important to have a good feeling for the types of books you tend to add so you know where to leave some slack. New book cases are added to the end of the system over time and the system will expand into those cases as we add more books.


  • Anonymous

    – Thank you for taking time to fully outline your solution, it’s great.
    As for the foreign languages, some real library system like Aleph used in university libraries, supports them, but this would probably be an overkill for a home library, even an extensive one:)

  • lambj

    I foresee another potential problem those on slashdot may not understand… you have a baby, who will grow into a toddler, who will grow into a child. It can wreck havoc on anything within reach in a remarkably short time.

    Mine reorganized my books for me… by cover color. Chaos!

    You may want to add child-proof to your system specs.

  • Uncle Dave

    I have just a few categories for my 2,000 books, each alphabetical by author:

    Greek, Latin, Russian, German, Science, History, Political Economy, Jefferson, Other

    Cheap and easy. I can quickly turn to any category and be amazed at what I used to know.

    The hard part is inserting new books onto the shelves — that is, making the horizontal additions vertical.

  • Anonymous

    You seem to be missing about a thousand books.

  • Kelly

    You are all closet Librarians! But thank you it was entertaining, and I guess we’ve (meaning us librarians who moved away from that old card catalog a long time ago) got it right after all.


  • Ben Bederson

    Well, this isn’t going to be easy to fit your problem, but it is an innovative interface for searching for books and reading online. Check out the International Children’s Digital Library – It has very nice visual tags for searching – even on things like the color of the book cover, and it supports books and metadata in many different langauges. And best, it is all completely free, and with no ads.

  • rAy

    I would second Heather’s comment about This service connects the world’s libraries and often will bring about possible LC numbers for books to those who prod it. Even with LC classification you have problems in that different libraries choose to use different cutter tables or use different parts of a cover’s details even if they are using the same cutter table. Thru WorldCat you can search by ISBN, see the libraries with the item you are holding onto and pick an LC # from one of the holding libraries who use it over their own classification or Dewey. Warning tho, some library websites link better than others to the OCLC number that ties them to that record.

    Before learning about Marc21 records, cataloging software, and other such things my wife and I labored on our own database using a customized Access file exported to HTML every few months. Talk about a PAIN. Mad props on the entry.

  • Ruth

    If Fred is who I think he is, the wall mounted system he described works very well and actually looks quite nice. It takes up one whole wall in a room, though those of us who are shorter occasionally find it difficult to reach the top shelves. A litte more work with wood stain and the like and it could potentially look quite nice.

    Personally I gave up a few months back and got the most recent version of software, which in its newest version not only supports LC numbers but also has support for the Flic scanner (which you can buy from them for a price about what you paid). I’ve been slowly working through my books in the form of a couple shelves every month or so. My biggest problem has simply been that many of my older books don’t have a barcode for the ISBN, so a large number have to be entered manually.

  • rbarr

    I really think that you should check into, as it stores just about everything about a book and all you do is enter the ISBN or scan the barcode. The site retrieves the cover art and book details (see below) from, the Library of Congress, or any of 136 sites around the world. May import book info from your current software. You can share your library’s info with others or keep everything private.

    Try it for free; lifetime membership: $25. Obviously run by a booklover that is doing this for pleasure. (I am not involved in this site, other than a happy user. I even set up a separate account for books loaned out to friends.)

    You can organize and display your collection many different ways. The cover art feature is especially cool. I hope you give it a try.
    Details: by inputting one ISBN, will collect the following for me (except my tags and personal ratings):

    Your review
    Other authors*
    Publication date
    ISBN-10 and -13 (including multiples)
    LC classification
    Primary language
    Secondary language
    Original language
    Date acquired
    Date started
    Date finished
    Private comments
    Number of copies
    Citation sources
    Entry date
    Data source
    Other members with book (count, ids)
    Number of reviews
    Popularity ranking
    Average rating

  • NSK

    I organise my books as follows: Every book is described by some tags (words or short phrases). Books with the same tags are put near each other, and books with dissimilar tagd end up away from one another. To find a specific book, one has only to find a similar one and look nearby. That’s all. Had I a robotic arm in my library, it would be completely self-organising.

  • david

    I second the recommendations as a happy user. It stuns me it wasn’t one of the ones you tried.

  • Jason

    I spent my money having a carpenter hand-craft custom book shelves in the walls of my own home library, but no time at all in organizing it like this. Of course, our own collection of books is dramatically smaller. That said, I would be very interested in seeing some photos of your bookshelves in use. How you have laid out your physical environment is at least as interesting as how you cataloged your content.

  • Jacob

    We have about the same number of books you do. My wife (go team!) eventually settled on BookCat for our software. It’s windows only, but it handles thousands of books pretty well, knows about barcode scanners, and can query both the LoC and Amazon (among many others). Her favorite part, though, is all the extra user-defined fields she has set up to reflect all the information she likes to track (like individual family-member ratings and who has read which books).

  • dan

    How do you relate db info to the physical location of the book?

    For books without bar codes, did you print & affix them to the cover? (if so how/what did you use to affix them?)

    For books without LOC numbers, did you ‘invent’ numbers or index on some other field?

  • Brad

    A far, far easier system is possible, though it doesn’t exist yet. However, the tools are around us.

    1) Shelve books wherever you feel like at the time. Reshelve later in different places. This is the only system that actually works for most people.

    2) With nice light, every so often quickly photograph the shelves with a nice digital camera.

    3) This is the hard part. You need a “book spine aware” OCR/recognition program. First, it would be a program that attacks the specific problem of book spines. Spotting the border between spines. Converting the random sets of background and foreground colours to simple contrast for the OCR algorithms. Isolating and identifying the varying type sizes and orientations of spines. Knowing it only has to search in a limited database of known book titles and known authors and known publishers. Publisher Imprint logo recognition helping it a great deal.

    However, it can also just recognize the spine by creating a fingerprint of the image, and comparing it to a public database of other people who have photographed the same book. (For libraries you would have to know to remove library catalog tags or just OCR them.) Like cddb, for books.

    4) Now you can create “virtual bookshelves” on the computer, with real images of the real book spines, for browsing. You can browse by author, by LoC, by DDC, whatever you like. Then it tells you “That book is #20 on shelf #15”

    This is what I really want, it’s what we all really want, I think. The OCR system is hard, but all the basic tools already exist, little new research here, just software eng. I think libraries and used bookstores would pay well for it too, so go write it!

  • Anonymous

    Would you consider donating the books to a local Public Library (or High School College/University Library) as a private collection? What money you would have spent on software/time/bookshelves could be donated to the Library to setup the private collection. You could ask them to make the Catalog entries so you can search to see what you had donated.

    Not only would you be able to check out the books you wished to read, others could benefit from your generosity.

  • Jen

    I love your enthusiasm for categorizing your books. My husband and I also have a large library, including my own collection of mysteries. Just organizing my small (100+) agatha christie collection has been a struggle. I kept buying titles and covers I already had.

    Solution: Delicious Library + iPod.
    I scanned the covers of my books into DL, along with all the edition info and loaded it onto my iPod, which I take with me to the bookstores. When I find a book I like, I scroll through the pictures and titles and I know whether I want that particular cover or not.

    However, DL is pretty limited when it comes to older books – took a long time to set it up.

  • Eric

    I had the (dubious) honor to establish our corporate library (after impressing the boss with my home library and its catalog). The largest departure between your research and mine was in the selection of a primary indexing string and the range of materials to be indexed. I also had to index and track magazines, catalogs, technical data sheets, corporate publications, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, software (no physical media), and the papers of ex-employees.

    You mention the difficulty in assigning one multiply categorizable book using a category system as a negative for DDS. Then you picked the LoC’s category system as your winner. In my research, this came out as a wash because

    * both DDS and LoC are subject categorizations
    * both DDS and LoC can have multiple assignments for a given volume

    However, your desire to classify foreign books more or less immediately disqualifies LCC for you — the LoC is only expected to catalog books published in the US. Other books are cataloged, but there is no duty to do so. This is one of the reasons I went with DDS for the library at work — there are DDS assignments for foreign works.

    You mention that DDNs can be library specific. My research did not support this conclusion — I found that there were published databases of DDNs, but these were priced out of my budget. Then I found that (1) the LoC assigns the vast majority of DDNs for US books (DC21, and similarly numbered authorities). I also found that your example interpretation of the DDS is not entirely correct. Given “641.3/003 21” in the LoC, “641” is the section, and an index of sections can be had with some Googling, “.3” is the rest of the assigned stem, and “003” is the optional continuation. “21”, meaning “DC21” is the assigning authority (LoC, in this example). Thus, the book has any of these DDNs: “641.3”, “641.30”, “641.300”, or “641.3003”. The idea is that a library may choose to include or omit optional digits, depending on how many are needed to reduce collisions in the local library. Being a geek, I decided that we always include all optional digits in our DDNs.

    I suppose the part that amused me in your article was your observation that LCC data was available, but DDN data was not. The LoC entries for their books almost always contain DDNs. I wrote the script that looked up DDNs in the LoC data from scanned ISBNs. So when you say you went to the LoC because you couldn’t get DDNs (“but that system [for DDNs] does not provide programmatic access to their database and does not assign numbers to many of the books we own”), I completely fail to see the distinction you’re trying to draw. DDNs are field “082”, part “$a” in the LoC MARC (Z39.50) records. Fixed and optional digits are separated by a slash. The assigning authority is in part “$2”. E.g. “082 00$a515.7/246$219” from “QA329.2.C665 1986”, is 515.7 to 515.7246, assigned by dc19 (also a LoC desk).

    However, there *are* DDNs for foreign books, so we got further in our cataloging than we could with LCCNs alone.

    Beware ISBNs. There are known collisions and there is a propensity for number re-use for children’s books. We found several “9876543210”s in our collection.

    In my research I also discovered that Cutter codes are not part of assigned DDNs. (Probably doesn’t surprise most of you, but it did me.) Cutter codes are published and can be had for a fee, but only serve the purpose of providing a short string for (roughly) alphabetizing by author’s name. So we didn’t bother.

    We ultimately ended up with what we found in several public libraries: distinct collections for distinctly indexable materials: the magazines are separate (sorted by title, then date, labelled with an expiration — add-ins are included with the issue with which they shipped and are labelled with the shelving and expiration information for that issue), the technical books are separate (DDNs and then by author), fiction books are separate (we didn’t distinguish scifi vs. western vs. mystery because we didn’t have enough to justify the trouble), catalogs and data sheets and corporate publications are together (sorted by the name of the issuing company (at the time of issue) with cross referencing inserts/dividers for companies whose names have changed, mutated, e.g. Aldrich vs. Sigma-Aldrich), …

    If only there were a coherent indexing scheme for all this stuff…

  • Anonymous

    The real (i.e. REALLY FAST AND EFFICIENT) solution would be different.

    1. Get a cheap digital camera (you probably already have)

    2. Print 3500 labels, each with a single bold large either consequtive or random number on it, on sticky labels using a regular printer.

    3. Stick the number – photograph the book spine. Much faster than 100 per hour, I’d guess 10 seconds per book or less.

    4. Dump one memory-card-full of lowest resolution photos to your computer.

    5. Crop them automatically from a free photo/graphics program

    6. Make a descriptions file to your numbered pictures of book spines (or first pages, for that matter).
    Because you stuck and photographed the labels in order, numbered jpeg filenames will match those on the book spines.

    7. Over time as you have your spare half-hours or free weekends, enter whateer info you’d like to make searches for into the one simple text descriptions file (e.g. topics/tags, author, title, …)

    3500 is so small a number, that this project will not burden you at all.
    3500 is so negligible, you can avoid using any databases, and keep one file which is a numbered line with description per book, and simply grep in it for info.

    You’ll get the answer in hundredth’s of a second.

    No scanner, no work, just go buy a pack of labels for your printer.

  • Demosthenes

    Yet another happy user. They support barcode scanners (including a special CueCat mode), and have tons and tons of features you get when you have multiple users combining their data. Would you like book suggestion from local library, based on books you own? If it’s a member of LibraryThing for Libraries, then you can do that.

  • KentSin

    I am a librarian, and I wonder this things a lot.

    Now, do yourself a small exercise : to locate a book about “red color”, yes!

    No classification is perfect! No one can make a perfect catalog. But a useful one that do 80% of the job possibly cost you 20% of effort.

    Organize your book by chronolical order, after you read it, put it to the back of the stack.

    Place all oversize book in one place.

    If you are not satisfy : check out

  • melvil dewey’s ghost

    You say: “The assigned numbers are not fixed. There is no central authority assigning DDC numbers to books.” Both these statements are totally untrue, and I’m puzzled as to how you’ve come to believe them. A DDC number is assigned to each newly published book by a division of (ironically enough) the Library of Congress, while the system as a whole is maintained through the regularly revised DDC catalogues. If you have indeed found two libraries assigning different numbers to the same book, it’s almost certainly because one of those libraries is using an older edition of the catalogue and/or disregarding the DDC number printed inside the book. It’s a pity that you have convinced yourselves against DDC, which is far more rationally organised than LoC and covers every possible topic, but there’s no accounting for taste.

  • Jacob’s Wife

    Jacob isn’t aware that BookCAT, created by a European, lets you scan all sorts of foreign databases–including most of the Amazon sites, which are increasingly complete thanks to users selling out of print books of all kinds. The program’s other major advantage is that it is constantly being updated, with minor upgrades being free and major ones costing about $18.

    I catalog the same way a typical public library does: fiction by category and alphabetical within the category, non-fiction by Dewey number. I also second Eric’s comments about DDS numbers; while it’s true that the system allows libraries to have variations in a catalog number, this usually applies only to the highly refined subcategories (numbers after the decimal point). In general, a book will have the same number no matter what library it’s in. Not that this means you shouldn’t use LoC over DDS, but the objection you raise doesn’t really apply. The Library of Congress site points out that the real difference between the systems is the underlying logic they use for categorizing.

  • Bruce Anderson

    AP suggested that the future library will be digital, and to avoid buying paper whenever possible. Without wishing to seem rude, but knowing it’s inevitable, I’ve got to laugh in his/her face. eBooks are evil. Even assuming you’re not locked into a DRM-laden proprietary format like the Kindle’s, you’re still reliant on technology. What happens when your Kindle’s batteries die? What happens if you want to return a book? Or what happens when you want to sell a book you’ve purchased but no longer need? If you’re locked into a DRM-encumbered system like the Kindle, you lose the right to sell the item you purchased. Worse still, you don’t actually OWN the item you purchased! You own the permission to access a file, that’s IT.

    My wife and I have several hundred books on our shelves, and I’m preparing to fully integrate them (heck, we’ve been married ten years…I think it’s safe to say if she hasn’t gotten sick of me yet she’s not likely to!) this month. I’m not sure I need to invest in a major cataloguing system, but it’d be nice to be able to keep things organised. I found this article to be very interesting and it’s given me some ideas. I’ll need to get my wife to read it some time and see what she thinks.

  • Chris @

    Granted, we are only at 1,500 books, but librarything and a CueCat barcode reader did the trick in terms of cataloging. I still need to invest in additional shelving, though. Librarything does allow you to import/export your catalog as well.

  • Anonymous

    Seems as if you put a lot of time, effort, and pocket change into reinventing a wheel that already rolls perfectly well (at $25/lifetime plus $15 for a hackable cuecat) over at

    Even with your sunk costs, you should check ’em out. They meet all your criteria, including #3.

  • Anonymous

    My book collection is small even by these standards. I’ve used Alexandria to catalogue them, but they aren’t really indexed, or organised. I might have to look into something like this.

  • jamminjj

    When the author says “It needs to be easy to find a book.” I think he means to find it physically on a shelf. Or at least that’s my concern. And librarything doesn’t seem to help with that at all, as far as I’ve been able to tell.

  • William

    I use Readerware. I’m a Mac guy. I now have nearly 2000 books, which I have been collecting since the early 1980s, so over 90% of them have ISBNs. I first built a database in MS Access 97, back when I had only hundreds of books. Then, the primary intention was to prevent duplicate purchases, and my Access database was sufficient. However, adding books was time consuming, since I had over a dozen fields as well as scans of the covers. So, after a few years, I started looking around for a better solution, and found Readerware.

    I think Readerware is one of the best apps for personal libraries, and would recommend it to anyone. It’s shareware, with a free 30-day trial, so give it a test drive. You can export it to a PDA, so I bought one–a Palm, which I take to the bookstores to prevent duplicates.

    One downside is making a “to buy” list, for when you browse used bookstores–I haven’t figured out how to store more than one Readerware database on a Palm.

    Overall, Readerware is not perfect, but it’s darn close.

  • Barry

    Readerware works pretty good for our library as well. I hacked the cuecat to not do the encrypting thing, then it works like a champ! Here’s what about 4000 books looks like in our library.

  • Wesley Parish

    Well, FWLIW, I tried to make my own library automation software, back in the nineties. I eventually gave up after realizing my experience was too limited to be able to sell it to any sizeable library.

    I’m currently considering Evergreen and Koha.

    Ah, yes, 4-by-2s and 10-by-1s! That would probably be the only way I could get my collection out and available to me. And no, I have not counted them. But I don’t have near enough, and there are very many authors I have yet to read, names such as Kalidasa, Li Po, Herodotus, etc, that should be in the list of any self-respecting well-read person! 😉

  • Anonymous

    I *like* real books — but my wife and I are making plans to move our family onto a sailboat within a year or so — which means the books can’t come with us.

    So I’m trying to come up with a workable digital solution. My plan is to get as many DRM-free books on a hard drive as possible (finding digital books we want to read that are DRM-free will be the stumbling block, not HD space) and they can be read using laptop, PDA, etc.

    But I’m trying to figure out what kind of “database” I should use, or should I just do a search on the drive when I want to find something about woodworking, or Heinlein or whatever?

    Any ideas on that as well as a source of digital books that are DRM-free (not just public domain books, but fiction and stuff that’ current) would be appreciated.

  • Ian

    You *can* get scanners that will scan using a camera, rather than using a custom scanner. This is much nicer – you simply use a $10 webcam to do the job.

    Unfortunately, I tried a couple of library programs and got nowhere with this approach – one (possibly Libra, but don’t hold me to that) scanned the barcodes and added the book 50 times, and I think I tried Libra only to discover that my camera is far too cheap to be acceptable to Macs.

    Anyone else had more joy with this?

  • Jac

    LibraryThing can help you find books on a physical shelf too – tagging. Tag books with the room they’re in, the shelf number if applicable, or your own strange code if that’s what appeals, and hey presto, you can look up the record and know instantly where it is in your house. Or out of your house if you’ve lent it to someone…

  • Multics

    A friend gave me readerware and the dvd and cd versions. I’ve got 1566 books cataloged (most imported from a palm database I started a few years ago). The palm export lacks a scroll bar to make it easy to scroll through large lists of books and only has a small subset of the data. I’ve got about twice the books you do. I’ve had very little problem with the cuecat (came free with readerware a the time). I’ve read all the books on my shelf. Many of my books are pre-isbn so finding isbn’s for them and/or LCC has been somewhat of a problem. My shelving is by category and then alphabetical by author. F&SF (paperback/hard cover separated), computers, odd sized, everything else.

  • Cujo

    This is cool, but I solve this problem by letting my local library keep the books and keep them organized.

  • Les the librarian

    The best way to organize your books is to hack into a large library’s catalog. Catalog your books into their system using a unique prefix for each title.

    The second best way is to hire a retired or unemployed librarian with experience in a cataloging dept.

  • Morbo

    What makes you think ISBN numbers are unique?

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting. My mother cataloged her (4000+) books using a database program (Microsoft Works 4.5… for Win 98… so you can tell how long ago THAT was…) She uses Dewey Decimal and tagged each book with a printed label with the DD# and another label inside with the number and her address so if they were lent out, you could find them. The regular old database allows searching by keyword in any category as well as sorting on any field, so it works well enough for her. Unfortunately, it does take a lot longer to enter things, but since at the time she started, bar code scanners were not really available for home use, I think she did a pretty good job.

    Myself, I used a similar system for my 3,500 books, but lost the catalog through a hard drive crash (and the backup CDs had failed, too… aaaarrrrghhh!). And now that I have Husband 1.0, the difficulty is merging the two collections together, as well as recataloging everything and deciding whose copy of “Digital Logic Design” we should keep (or both?) and other such things. 🙂

    I hadn’t really thought of a bar code scanner… I might want to look into that… though a LOT of my collection is pre-barcode, so it would only help on a small percentage.

    Anyway… excellent article! Neat to hear that I’m not the only one with books. 😉

  • MugsyNoir

    I also use Readerware. In fact I bought the entire suite, which has separate databases for Books, DVD’s and CD’s.

    With that package I received the CueCat Scanner free and I used it to enter all of my books that had bar codes with no problems. I currently have over 2300 books and audiobooks in the database. If an older book has neither an ISBN nor LCC, you can always go to Alibris and find a book listed that makes it easy to do the grab and drop of the information from the website right into the RW DB.

    I order quite a bit from Amazon and it was a nice option to be able to download my order history right into the database, then just eliminate those books I gave away as gifts.

    Other features:
    I have used both the Palm port and the Ipod port and found the Palm easier to view.

    I very rarely loan books, and then only to those I trust as highly reliable to return them, but I like the Loan Tracking feature, to track where they went and when.

    If the cover art isn’t available with your autoload, you can scan in the jpeg and add it to a record.

    I use the same bookshelves you found at Home Depot. If you scan the sale ads for Target , KMart, Wal-Mart, and others, you can find them on sale every couple weeks some where.

    Good article of your process.

  • Kristen

    Very neat!

    I’ll add one comment about LibraryThing.

    If you belong to an extended family of serious readers, having everyone’s collections online and thus available to everyone else is extraordinarily handy for birthdays, etc.

    It does have importing options, although I haven’t looked into them.

  • Jay Queue

    Thanks a lot for posting this. It was a very good read!

    I was part of the team that set up the UNLV Law Library in 1998. When we opened the doors for the inaugural law school class, we had statutes of 37 of the 50 states, with plans to acquire the remaining states’ codes over the following two years.

    Once in a while people would call and get angry about the fact that we didn’t have a particular state’s code, and they always seemed to think it was out of laziness. I call it the “Bridge Building Fallacy.” It goes, “Hey, you wanna build a bridge? What’s so hard about that? Just get some bridge stuff and put it up!” We are all prone to it when thinking about issues involved in disciplines the details of which we are not personally familiar with. Your post illustrates the problem from the point of view of a library very nicely. So far you’ve worked your way through about a third of your 3500 book collection, but picture doing 400,000! Not to mention that the requirements for a professional library catalog are much more complex than what you’re dealing with. Hopefully people reading this will gain a little more insight into what it takes to establish and operate a library.

  • Anonymous

    I just used readerware to catalog about 1000 books donated to my daughter’s impoverished school by her old elementary school community (she is a Teach for America volunteer). The CueCat worked in part but I ended up typing in the isbn as it was about as fast and more reliable. Then I let readerware fetch the cataloging and cover images in batches. These were all children’s books and I had trouble finding about 5 % of them, either because of bogus/missing isbn or because the book was too old for an isbn.

    Readerware supports modifying its screen scraping of cataloging mechanisms for new/alternative catalog info sites, and also comes with numerous European information sites. I didn’t have books in other languages than English, so I don’t know how well these would work. (Readerware did retrieve some of my cataloging from the British Library.)

    The backup format of the Readerware catalog is actually a zip file of sql and ddl for the java imbedded database it uses, and I easily modified this to restore the data to a different database of choice for a separate project.

    Support is excellent from Readerware.

  • Jay Levitt

    @jamminjj: Wait, you can read them, too?

    @Zack: Interesting that you chose the LCC solution. I thought about this when I was organizing my home library too, although I have no foreign books and probably about 25% of the number of books.

    I looked into the LCC, and the Dewey decimal system, and how they were organized, and I realized that neither was really suited to the way I “felt” about the books.

    Then I realized that there’s a third system: Bookstore (i.e. category). And you know what? I spent a lot more time in bookstores these days than I do in libraries – which is why I have a lot of books. And I can usually find things in a bookstore pretty easily without looking them up first.

    Now, at my level – say 700 books, I don’t know the count – there are obviously a lot of subject-matter gaps. But that’s actually an opportunity. I created an area for biographies; later, when that got too big to manage, I split it into personal biographies and “business biographies”. That flowed into the business section, which is next to management, which goes above software management, which is right next to software, then math. Math is one bookcase over from language, but also one bookcase from physics.

    Neurology and psychology eventually got split in two, with neuropsych taking up the middle, and Stephen Pinker sitting between neurology and language. And so forth.

    In short, I created a spatial organizing system that fit the books to the space in a way that flows. I too bought the Flic scanner, and it’s very cool – mine’s got Bluetooth, so I can scan a bunch and then go to the computer later – but I never got around to the scanning, because I can instinctively know where a given book is.

    Within each category, I usually organize alphabetically by author. I played a few games where it made sense – for instance, “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found” simply had to go next to “How to Find Almost Anyone, Anywhere” (in fact, that’s how they were shelved at the bookstore when I bought them).

  • Woeful

    As a librarian I commend your ingenuity. However, using LC for such a small library is overkill. There is a “fixed” system for Dewey Decimal classification, it’s called the Dewey Decimal Classification revision number 22 (DDC 22) and it’s published by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). The beauty of Dewey is that it can be customized for a particular library and its users. The real drawback to using Dewey is that in large libraries (over 500k items) accurate cataloging can mean a number that wraps around the book!

    You could have probably got the old version DDC 21 from a public library and for you purposes it would have been more than adequate to meet your needs. That said, LC is a fine system, and since you already went through all the trouble it should serve you well. Best wishes!

  • Richard Maine

    I’m in the middle of redoing my library database for a few thousand books with I used to have my own home-brew program, but it was sorely lacking in many ways and I needed to move to something better. Almost every commercial option I looked at was missing one thing absolutely crucial to me; without it I’d have felt like I was moving down instead of up from my old home-brew program.

    Contents of anthologies. I want to be able to search on an individual story and find where I have that story. was the only thing I could find at that has anything at all for contents. I won’t say it is perfect, but it seems ok. My only alternative was looking like another home-brew effort, possibly using something like FileMaker, but that would have been a lot of work.

    Yes, I have to manually enter all the contents, but at least it has somewhere for me to put them.

  • Brad Knowles

    I worked in the main library (shelving books) at the University of Oklahoma for 4.5 years, as I was working on getting my BSCS degree. I helped excute the move of one of our branch libraries during this time, and I helped plan and execute the move of another branch library. I am intimately familiar with shelving books in both the LoC and DD systems. My wife and I have well over a dozen Ikea bookshelves, more books than we have bookshelves for, and currently have much less space for bookshelves than the number of units we have (the rest of the bookshelves are currently in storage). I have a few comments based on my experience which I would like to share with you folks.

    First, one of the biggest pains we ever had at the library was when one shelf overflowed with books and we had to move the books around to re-balance the shelves. When a whole section in the library had this same problem, it became a nightmare. Part of the solution is to make sure that you keep ample growth room empty at the end of each shelf, so that you don’t have to re-balance, at least not very often. You also keep empty space for shelves at the top and bottom of each shelving unit, in case you need to add more shelves. And you leave space to add more shelving units at the end of each row in case the growth is really explosive. You can put oversize items on a shelf by themselves, or you can reserve the bottom shelf of each unit for oversize books.

    Second, the LoC system does accomodate magazines and other periodicals. Each title should have an LoC number, and then each specific magazine should have a volume and issue number. Just put the LoC number on the box(es) in which the magazines are located, and then sort the boxes by year/volume, and then sort each box by issue number. Simple. The LoC system also accomodates other types of items, too — including DVDs, videotapes, etc….

    Third, you have to keep in mind that things are going to get messed up. People (including you) are guaranteed to put things back in the wrong place sooner or later, and you’re not going to be able to easily tell it’s in the wrong place unless you label each and every thing in your library. Library management software should be able to use a standard label printer (or sheets of labels in a desktop printer) and you can then affix the labels to the books, magazines, etc…. I would caution you to stay away from inkjet printers for this function, because they produce output that is water-soluable, and even a single drop of water on your label can make it unreadable. Of course, you could put tape over the label and partially address that problem — unless the cover itself gets wet and the water comes in through the cover and behind the tape. I suggest laser printed labels and tape as the most secure solution. Note that the labels don’t have to be big, just readable.

    Fourth, when looking at building or buying shelves, keep in mind that books are extraordinarily heavy in large amounts. Keep your bookshelves on the ground floor or basement only, unless you have a certified engineer come in to check your house to make sure that you can safely store large amounts of weight in small concentrated spaces upstairs — more than a few houses have collapsed ceilings because the pool table/work out equipment/bookshelves upstairs are just too heavy and concentrate too much weight into a space that is too small, and the construction is so shoddy that the building just can’t take it. Don’t ignore the cost savings of buying lots of commercial-grade storage, if that keeps you from having to buy and install replacement cheap-ass particle board bookcases every year or so. Also consider proper built-ins, if that’s an option. Make sure all bookshelves are properly affixed to the walls for safety (trust me, you REALLY don’t want a shelving unit to fall on you), and make sure that all freestanding bookcases are properly affixed with rods, bars, or some other sort of method to the units that are affixed to the walls, or are otherwise kept secure from any likelihood of falling over, even in a moderate earthquake.

    Fifth, any decent library management system should also be able to use USB or FireWire webcams as bar code input devices, so that part should basically amount to briefly holding the item in front of the camera for a few moments while the software does the scan, then going onto the next item. Once you get a little practice, you should be able to do this part of the process very rapidly.

    Sixth, you do want to keep a “new books” section, where you keep items that have not yet been entered into the system. You also want to keep a “Returns” section, so that you have just one place to go when you’re done with a book. You can then go back every so often and pick up all the “returned” books and put them back on the shelves where they belong.

    I’ll check out LibraryThing, but I’m much more likely to use software like Delicious Library (despite the horrible name). Note that they support pulling information from six different international sources around the web, and the program is fully translated into multiple different languages. I might also take a close look at Koha.

    My point here is that ease of use is key, otherwise you simply won’t ever use the system. At least, you might use it once, when you’re doing the initial setup, but probably not after then. You have to design this system for ongoing maintenance & operations, not necessarily for what’s cheapest or what looks pretty. IMO, DL has all the hallmarks of a program that is both very pretty and also very functional. But we’ll see.

  • Brad Knowles

    BTW, when I say that you should leave space at the end of each shelf for growth, I’m talking like a LOT of available space.

    At the library where I worked, we had a 50/25 rule. Each shelf should have at least 50% space available for growth, and if any shelf got below 25% available then it should be re-distributed or re-balanced. If any shelving unit had an average available space less than 25%, then we’d add more shelves at the top and/or bottom, potentially including completely unloading the unit so that we could squeeze the shelves closer together in order to add even more shelves.

    When the average space available in a section got below 25% available, we would re-distribute and re-balance the whole section, including entire new shelving units at the end of each row, entire new rows of shelving units, or whatever else was necssary.

    You may decide you don’t need to use the 50/25 rule, but this concept is a good one to keep in mind.

    But you should know your library best, and you should know which sections are likely to grow faster than others, and you should be able to plan accordingly.

  • je

    I’ve cataloged about 3,500 books so far with LibraryThing see profile). My goal was exactly the same as yours – to map out the whereabouts of books scattered around the house and in storage. The LT tags provide an easy means to pinpoint location, as well as allowing me to give each book a meaningful ID. With the CueCat scanner, I can input about five books a minute. For unusual material – and I’ve got lots of oddities – all but about two dozen books were easily located in other world libraries linked to LT. It’s a remarkable tool.

  • Nann

    Re: shelving. At home we use Ikea units. Very sturdy and relatively inexpensive. If you are REALLY serious about shelving LARGE quantities of books, why not buy genuine library shelving? New stuff (e.g.;; is expensive but if you go to a library that’s moving/remodeling you can get a good bargain.

    You state that your local library system won’t let you see the intricacies of the cataloging. The major library catalogs have a “see full catalog record” feature that will display the MARC format. You can also see the full catalog record on FirstSearch, the OCLC catalog. Since OCLC is the cataloging utility used by libraries worldwide (non-English and non-Roman alphabets, too), you ought to find all of your personal books there.

    Personally, I’d rather spend my time reading (or quilting) than organizing our home libraries. Rough count for DH and me is 5000 volumes. We know what we own and we can find what we need. (Of course, DH is a former librarian and I am still a librarian.)

  • BRO

    Why don’t you use

  • James

    I would say one of the best reasons to do this is for insurance reason. If something terrible like a fire or flood happened in your house, you would be set for getting all 2,500 of your books replaced by your insurance company.

    Let’s just assume the books were $6 each (pretty cheap estimate), with a full inventory you’d get your $15,000 back to buy the same books or different again. And with a detailed list like yours you could actually price the books and find out the real replacement value which is probably higher than $15k.

    Well worth the $500 to organize and catalog them. Great effort. And I can totally relate to the urge to build your own software. Heck I would have wanted to build my own shelves too. Way to restrain yourself to the project at hand.

  • Talking Books Librarian

    I also wanted to second Library Thing, as at least one other reader mentioned! And while you’re at it, check out my blog on Talking Books at


  • Anonymous

    LibraryThing here! Yes, I work for them. Just to get out of the way.

    But: we do handle multiple languages, since we pull our bib’ data from over 80 institutions from around the world, including the Library of Congress. (and Amazon, lest we forget!) Our site has been tweaked to understand Cuecat scanners’ barcode gibberish; in other words, book ISBN’s are readable with Cuecats when scanned into LibraryThing. A lifetime membership is $25 – that’s unlimited books, forever – and a yearly membership is $10.

    And we have that whole tagging coolness. And we’re nice people who won’t spam you. The end.

    Assistant LT Librarian

  • John

    Zack (and anyone with a Mac who didn’t use Delicious Library):

    There is no product called Delicious Monster, the product Delicous Library.

    Delicous Library lets you use the Mac iSight camera as a scanner; you can use the external iSight or the one built into MacBooks and iMacs. No need to buy or configure anything!

    You can scan 10+ books per minute

    Ease of use is awesome

    Particularly good for cataloguing the collection; actual indexing and locating in the house-I’m not so sure….

  • Anonymous

    And yet another vote for They are continually adding foreign language support and foreign library catalogs from which to import the data, have gotten a way to get cuecats to work with their system, allow you to import and backup your catalog, and at least you can use tags to assign a location to a book as well as subject headings. For 3000+ books, you’ll need to pay, but lifetime memberships are worth it in my view based on what you’re getting for the money.

  • Fred Kiesche

    My collection is bordering on some 8,000 books (hardcovers, trade paperbacks, paperbacks) (and that doesn’t include eBooks!). Over the years I’ve used a variety of programs to track them; now I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet that I can export (DocumentsToGo) to my PalmOS PDA. Never got into scanning barcodes, etc., as I’ve been entering this stuff all alone.

    The various programs and sites have been recommended by friends, but I can’t see re-doing it all (plus Excel allows me to add whatever fields I want for my idiosyncratic needs) and paying for it as well. I have a system, it works for me.

    My non-fiction is “sort of DD”. Geology, for example is with geology, etc. Then it is alpha within a group. There are some other splits (“space and astronomy”, for example, has all the observing books gathered in one area, so if I come in from the backyard I can grab a star atlas without digging for it).

  • Anonymous

    I’m wondering if you’ve seen Libra ( Was it a competitor in your software roundup?

    Also, for the person who said particleboard will bend in the middle: That’s true of any wood. Even something like oak will bend if you put enough weight on it. One thing I always see Norm Abram do in the New Yankee Workshop when he builds bookcases and shelves that hold a lot of weight is

    1. Cut a 1/4″ or 1/8″ thick piece of plywood for the back of the bookshelf.

    2. Where the shelves themselves will go, he cuts a groove (rabbet) in the plywood back that is 1/2 the thickness of the plywood (so if the plywood is 1/4″ thick, the groove is 1/8″ deep).

    3. Fit the edge of the shelf in the groove in the plywood back of the case.

    That groove allows the whole back of the bookcase to support the weight of the shelf. This is stronger than adhesives or fasteners alone.

  • Laura

    Small point: the books that don’t have LoC call numbers don’t have to be abolished to a separate shelf. You can “assign” LoC numbers yourself. Decide where the book belongs, label it accordingly, and voila. Much better to have only one place to look when scanning for a particular subject.

  • The Phantom Reader

    Anonymous asked if there is any place for DRM free e-books. As much as I think they are evil (I love the smell and analog practicality of real books), on a boat, I can see it being handy. You might want to check out these sites:

    Project Gutenberg has over 100,000 DRM free books.

    Not e-books, but DRM free audio books, public domain works. Audio is just more HD space but I’d think an equally attractive boating option.


  • Anonymous

    So, we are a homeschooling family with about…1200 books and I had my fill of the “school room” a few months ago. We went to “IKEA” for our book shelves. They have a system called the Billy Bookcase system and they sell shelves that are sturdier than anything at the normal stores. They also go all the way to the ceiling with extensions. My problem is..How much weight can you put on a wall without worry? We are lining all our office walls with these bookcases and they are parallel to the floor joists. Should we worry about it?? Can the floor handle the weight in a 2.5 yr/ old “normal” home with, at one point, over 4,000 books?

  • donion

    Zack, Thanks for this informative article, which I used in my own quest to catalog.

    Extending your search for software, I finally decided on Books (for Mac) and here is my article on that.

  • Ross McPhee

    Interesting read. I wasn’t aware of Readerware.

  • beckwith49

    Does anyone know of a way to track magazines. I have hundreds of periodicals that need to be indexed – not just the Title, Vol etc, but contents. I could use an indexing software, but that just seems to be way to time consuming.


  • Dr. Minorka

    There are fine open source alternatives.
    I think Tellico is the best. Has many predefined collections, but you can define your owns, too (with customs fields). Automatic import from Amazon, LC, etc. Keywords, etc. Some experimental barcode scanning with a webcam. actively maintained.

  • Anonymous

    It seems to me both the article and the comments miss one of the things home libraries most have to deal with, which is the different sizes of books. My home library is probably on the order of 5,000 volumes, and I cannot organize them as I would like (by LCC) because for space reasons I must group books by size. When I worked at a large university deposit library, we shelved by size (I remember a big sign saying “Do Not Shelve Behind the Elephants” to which some wag had added “The Horses are bad enough”). At any rate, I often have a tall book that should go in the middle of a row of short ones, and I simply cannot afford the vertical space to shelve that way (as well as the potential damage to volumes when they are not supported all the way or at least most of the way up to the top). Can you imagine shelving St. Onge’s miniature edition of JFK’s Inaugural Address next to a full-size biography? The mind boggles.

  • ThePurpleSeal

    I just found your blog, it was a great read! A while back i actually found a british labels company who printed me some sticky labels for a really low price. If you are at all interested then it may be worth taking a look at their website as they do all different types of label printing.

  • Leodis

    A VERY INFORMATIVE BLOG! I am currently typing this while viewing countless of stacked books surrounding me that I organize several times before but with no continued consistency. Your system seems promising and worth a try. Thank You!

  • LUNA

    thanks for share,the context is useful

  • Gem

    Obviously I’m posting very late into the conversation but I didn’t see a couple of resources mentioned that I find helpful. This site will give you a break down of how popular a certain LC designation is. This is particularly helpful since sometimes the LC# given initially is not the one everyone else decides is what should be used. Many times you won’t notice too much difference. However, if you have a lot of books in one subject, sometimes you start looking and realize the order doesn’t look right (quite of few of my vegetarian cookbooks originally ended up in general cookbooks until I realized what was happening). Also, this is useful for sanity checking your LC numbers. Someone mentioned cutter numbers. If you want to use them, this works pretty well.

    Quite a few people mentioned LibraryThing which is what we use but I am a little dubious about a 3rd party organization (even a nice one) having my only list of books so I need to start backing up my data there on a regular basis. They also mentioned using some open source systems such as Koha and Evergreen. I originally dabbled with Koha but even though overly-complicated schemes appeal to me, I decided this was over the top. Also, then you have to take the time to catalog the data and download real MARC records (I suppose you could do brief MARC records but if you’re installing a full ILS, why would you stop at part-way?). However, if you do/are going this route, make sure you take advantage of the z39.50 servers throughout the country Some of them don’t allow anonymous access and some do, it just depends of the library’s policy but even the locked down ones might be willing to make an exception if you ask.

  • Anonymous

    Good read. I’d like to see a picture of what 3,500 books in a home looks like! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Delicious Library is a good choice, if you want to backup your DVDs to computer, try iSkysoft DVD-Library

  • W.J.R. Halyn

    The image of the Readerware software looks an awful lot like an Excel screen, which can hold over 65,500 items PER PAGE! With up to 256 details per item.
    And it’s free. Or, already included with your computer in most cases.
    I’ve cataloged up to 5,700 items in Excel databases, and that doesn’t even slow it down. Plus, all manner of sorting and cataloging systems are possible, limited only by your imagination. It will also present your data in “Page” format per item, in addition to list-wise.
    You could even add a column-item for $COST of each book, and frighten yourself with your total bibliographic outlay so far!
    The only thing I can’t make it do (and maybe someone else can) is multiple-connected relational databases. (But for that, use Access.)
    Anyway, I’m not here to plug Microsoft bloatware, but only to note you could’ve saved about $40 of your investment right off the top, and had just as much fun.

    Edmonton, AB

    P.S. – Your site was a pleasure to find. Everyone can spell, author AND commentors. Actual correct grammar is used. Easy to read at first pass! No waiting, no headaches! Thank you.

  • Paige

    What would you do with a call number of CPB Box no. 2379 vol. 7 ?

    I don’t want to leave these out of my collection – these are earlier books from Kim Harrison’s “Demon” series and I’d like to keep them in order.

    Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  • Zack Grossbart

    Paige, The CPB Box number is a temporary number that indicates the LCC number is still pending. You can either wait a little while, or check another library to see if they have more up to date information. I like to use

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve read through all this very carefully, and I’m afraid I don’t understand what it’s for. Surely everybody knows that the correct place to store books is under the bed, and the one you want will be the one holding up the legless corner?

  • Emily Odza

    I concur with Zack that Readerware was the best choice I found for my recent project cataloging a 1700-book personal library of a U.S. history professor. I have a mac laptop and he has a PC, so it had to be cross-platform.

    I cataloged all the books shelf by shelf, labelling each item in the database with its shelf number (arbitrarily/temporarily assigned, 1-53). Because I am slightly a perfectionist, I averaged 20 books an hour because so many ISBN’s (paperbacks mostly) were incorrect and many books did not have barcodes (I did purchase a high quality barcode scanner by SerialIO – the LaserChamp).

    In addition, he wanted labels. I ordered my labels from Brodart as they also supplied very detailed templates so I could create a custom label in MS Word (Avery doesn’t have any appropriate labels). I planned to use the merge feature with Word, using Excel or Word as the datasource.

    Exporting from Readerware to Excel is a breeze. In Excel I cleaned up the Library of Congress call numbers but found that it did not alphabetize totally correctly (how do you tell Excel that HD 51 is a whole number and not a decimal so that it will place HD 51 before HD 4000? Excel experts out there – please help!). I did a bit of tweaking and further imported the data into a Word table in order to insert paragraph spaces so the labels would wrap correctly. (Used a combination of search and replace and manual techniques.) I used the Word tables imported from Excel as datasources for my merge because of the better editing tools and better merge results. The result of the merge are beautiful labels but a lot of hand correcting is needed. After they were perfect, I printed out all the labels and they are ready to apply shelf by shelf. The labels are in same order as each shelf of books, very nearly.

    Only then will we attempt to organize alphabetically by LOC number. Any suggestions? Each shelf is in LOC order but the whole library now has to be reshelved in the proper order. We are also deliberating on whether to protect the books with clear tape first, and whether to apply the tape over the label as well. Some of the books are splendid volumes from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and I purchased archival book ID strips, and will apply labels to those (they stick out the top). Wish us luck in the next phase!

    I will try to convince the professor that importing his books into Google Books or LibraryThing will be rewarding. In Google Books “My Library” you will have cover images (you can have them in Readerware as well if you auto-update using Amazon), and be able to search instantly by keyword and even for text snippets if the book has been digitized! However, the books will appear in no particular order that would be useful to you, though they are instantly findable. You can carry your Readerware database around in a Palm-based system or on your netbook, or you can consult your “Google” or LibraryThing library to avoid buying duplicates.

    I imagine that in order to maintain this book catalog, newly obtained books will need to reside on the “new shelf” and when enough are accumulated, they will need to be scanned in to the catalog, and labels created, and then added. Leaving space in the most popular subject categories sounds like a good idea.

    I live in Oakland, CA and I’m looking for my next project!!

    I am a library student and I found that grappling with the myriad problems associated with cataloging a personal library without all the cataloging tools at your disposal in a regular library was very challenging. Thank you Readerware, SerialIO, and all the suggestions I have read online!

  • Emily Odza

    Just to add to my comment/description above, the rate of books catalogued per hour was also slowed down by the fact that Library of Congress often did not have the items (pamphlets, self-published books, etc.) in this very special library, at least not by the title of the edition that I had in front of me. Many of them however could be found in libraries that specialized in or were local to the issues being written about. WorldCat was one way of quickly locating the item in a library. Then I “copy catalogued” what call number that librarian had assigned to the item. Often times, two libraries (for instances, both in the UC System but at different universities) would catalog the item differently. Here it wasn’t too useful to split hairs, as the main purpose of the catalog was to group like items with like items, and to be able to find the damn book!

    Another interesting fact is that often times the professor I was working for would have gathered some interesting fiction that related to or illustrated a particular subject or era in history and shelved it (in his informal system) with the nonfiction. But in our new system, the fiction will be shelved far from its nonfiction cousins. However, Readerware stores keywords and subject headings, so I hope that the works of fiction can eventually be found again by consulting the catalog.

  • Zack Grossbart

    Wow Emily! Thank you so much for sharing the details of your project.

    I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Excel to help you with your first question, but I know a lot about reshelving books. The best solution I have found is to use slack and a gap. Slack means knowing the books you have well enough to get a good idea where you should leaves some space on the shelves. The gap mean using a mostly empty bookshelf in the middle. As you sort the books the empty shelf gives you more space for shuffling things around.

    I hope this helps and good luck with your project.

  • Emily Odza

    Thanks to Gem (11/21/2008) for the Cutter calculator website, and the OCLC site that tells the popularity of a classification number for a particular title.

    And Zack – utilizing “gap and slack” is going to be a lifesaver. Otherwise, the organization will be for naught, as the collection grows. The project has already inspired some purging, and the multiple copies turned up by this project are also an eye-opener!

    I am sorry to say, in reference to a comment above, that I inkjet-printed 45 pages of labels and wish I had laser printed them, to save the effort of covering with clear tape afterwards. It’s not too late, but a laser printer needs to be located. I am also going to take to heart Brad Knowles’ advice (12/12/07). On the other hand, the clear tape protection can be applied at any time (before the next flood!).
    I am definitely recommending earthquake protection for these shelves!

    It’s not just kids that create havoc; the Siamese routinely inserts chaos into the lower shelves of paperback fiction: I am recommending that these be boxed in clear plastic archival quality boxes.

  • Emily Odza

    In terms of making inkjet-printed labels water and smudge proof, I found Golden Archival Spray at an art store…. that was designed to protect inkjet (photo) prints. I sprayed all the label sheets and did a test — water still smudges. This might mean at least two more spray coats. And the saga continues….

  • Brf

    I wish I would’ve found this link before I purchased Finderware a few years ago. You are spot on with Finderware being more aimed at smaller libraries. there are so many little quirks with that program and I’ve emailed support multiple times pleading for an update to address the issues I’ve identified. They politely respond back thanking me for my input and “great ideas” but they never update the software.

    In the end I bit the bullet and purchased Readerware. The program is awesome. it is totally configurable with custom columns and so many ways the user can customize the views it’s amazing. The program will adapt to any library requirements you may have, so if you’re considering getting a library program to manage your book collection Readerware is simply the best. Don’t waste your time and money anywhere else.

  • Rich

    My suggestion is a way to satisfy the need to have some kind of exterior labelling without damaging the book or creating a lot of work. Consider printing out some kind of single-sheet version of the record from your software with the LC call number showing at the top; the sheet can be folded and tucked into the book with the top and number exposed. If you’re finicky about looks, trim the sheet so that it sticks up like some kind of rare book collection flag. Choose a fancy font and parchment paper or letterhead to give it a customized feel, like those old paste-in bookplates which we all love but can’t bear to use. Using library-style spine labels hurts book resale value like wallpaper hurts house resale value…

  • barticus

    Anybody with “bart” in their name & an organized home library has got MY attn!
    So many great considerations in this blog will take a while to digest. And to think I was two weeks INTO “developing” my own custrom cataloguing “system”; i.e. re-inventing the WHEEL? Or an “INDEX”? No WONDER I was feeling “crushed”. So, finally I tried the “WEB” & Voila! Guess my age & habits of a physical~book nut lifetime kept me “out of the loop” until NOW! THANKS for the BLOG “ZG”!
    Big Bart Las Vegas

  • Joan

    Thanks for the reassurance that I’m not alone on the planet! I’m librarian for a small Eastern Orthodox church in rural northern Indiana. I inherited the library when it was just a small bookcase with about 30 books on it. I detest Dewey Decimal – haven’t had to use it since junior high school – so we now have what may be the only church library that is on LCC. It’s grown to around 500 volumes with a goal to double in size by the end of the year. We have title, author, and subject catalogues done the old-fashioned way – too many people in the church aren’t computer-literate. I’ve created posters and a handbook to introduce people to the LCC system. Most people didn’t know there was anything but Dewey Decimal, but the response has been very positive. Thanks for putting this out here!

  • I’ve shared this article with several people who may not have as many books as you, but . . . . I’m an MLS student and ran across it looking for references for a paper. Nice job.

  • Shadowstormcrow

    Thank you for your article; this was the first place I was able to truly understand cutter numbers in LOC. My own library is still growing (just under 2000 books) but I use Readerware (all hail!) and CueCat (I did have some troubles at first, but there is a patch available if your computer just refuses to plug and play). I didn’t know that Readerware could look up LOC numbers. I am not very good with programming languages, so I still haven’t been able to make it work for me. For others in the same boat, I have found to be useful in finding LOC numbers (most, but not all universities, surprisingly, as well as some colleges catalogue with LOC) as well as Dewey. Just be aware, not all libraries put books in the same subclass: this can be especially true about fiction. I have had to adjust numbers to put subjects together that are logical to my circumstances (i.e. Mosaic instruction books were found under NA (Fine Arts, Architecture) and TT (Technology, Handicrafts).nnThanks again for your article.nnPS for those still having trouble with CueCat, there are many open software options. I use CatNip. Not surprisingly, my cats are jealous.

  • Gerson Arruda

    Good. Very webned this problem. How libraries catalogs their  books wharehouse. How they organize and find the books asked by costumers?

  • Zack, how are the HD bookshelves that “rescued” you from the need to buy a $4,750.00 solid cherry bookcase back in 2006 holding up now? The particle board usually performs terribly under constant heavy loads like  books and tends to sag over time. Sometimes lamination helps but not always.   It’s 5+ years later now, so you now have a great test subject, so to speak. Do you see any sagging or warping?

    I’m running out of space in my solid cherry  bookcases (yeah, I had to rub it in 🙂  and the local factory that built them is out of business, so I’m looking for options for additional bookcases.

    By the way, most of the $4,750 price was probably due to excessive decorations, fancy mill work and  moulding, most of which does little other than waste space and looking pompous and unnecessary in a 21st century library. The cherry wood grain, in my opinion, is decorative enough by itself and, with just a little bit of moulding looks great against the books, especially older and leather bound volumes. It’s still an expensive option (hence my question above) but it can be done at 1/3rd of the price and still look great.

    Oh, and on an unrelated note: I wanted to defend the little CueCat.  It does work! In fact, barcoded book ISBNs is the best barcode it ever reads. Yours was probably not modified (de-clawed as they call it) to remove the scrambling which is enabled by default in off-shelf units. Anyhow, it’s all very old news now and CueCat does look rather silly in a library, so I’ve also replaced mine with a laser scanner.


  • The particle board has held up pretty well over the years. There’s been some slight sagging, but nothing to worry about.

    I’m glad you got the CueCat to work. I’ll have to give mine another try one day.


  • Martyknox

    You want to use the HD 51 as a text name not a number. You have the same problem with parts numbers , social security numbers, addresses, etc. If it is not an actual number you are going to add subtract, multiply or divide treat it as a label or alpha-numeric text. In Excel select FORMAT-CELL-NUMBER then choose GENERAL or TEXT. You call still use SORT to arrange any column you see fit. I use this feature all the timre for addresses, phone numbers,parts numbers, etc.   

  • Martyknox

    Sorry re-read your question RE: HD 51 before HD 4000. I had the same trouble when I started using Excel, or even making up file names. You have to type HD 51 as HD 0051 with leading zeros as placeholders (what a wonderful invention the zero is!!)
    So that way HD 0051 is ahead of HD 4000.
    I give programs a speaker and had the same problem because program 7 for example came after program 40 in my files on my computer so I always got into the habit of putting in leading zeros as placeholders.

  • Aero_pyro

    Surely you didn’t read this article “carefully”. So tell me, how will you ever store 3,000 books under your bed, assuming that the other 500 books are the ones that you like and are also stored somewhere-out-there-inside-your-house. Elizabeth, this article was made for the purpose of helping people with loads of books. And by loads I don’t mean 10 or 20 or 40 books. The author is obviously talking about people with a hundred or more books (though this article have already helped me even if I only have around 30 books). Having a software to track the whereabouts of your books and store information about the books AND A SYSTEM to store/classify your books would be a great help, specially if you are a researcher or just someone who would like to reread the books that you have already read. Rummaging around boxes and boxes and boxes of books just searching for that one tiny book will surely be really a pain in the ass.

    My father owns a lot of books and I’m planning of classifying them using LCC. Then buy Readerware to have a software to KEEP TRACK of the books, to know what BOOKS WE ALREADY HAVE, what BOOKS TO LOOK FOR in case I needed a specific one to help me in my research, and to know what SPECIFIC PLACE (or shelf) TO LOOK FOR. This way, time wouldn’t be wasted searching ALL the books that you have just to look for a book authored by Ms. Rowling or someone by the name Ewin. Hope this will help you understand what this article is all about. 🙂

  • Re foreign language books, I find that Readerware works just fine – I have books in Japanese, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Faroese, Welsh, Anglo-Saxon and Latin in my database as well as English.  It even copes with multi-lingual books (such as a tri-lingual copy of Aelfric’s Colloquy I have).  Sure, there may be no Library of Congress code for these books, but Readerware doesn’t care, it can still catalogue them by looking up the ISBN or (in a coupla of cases) by me manually inputting data.

  • Bruno de Coninck

    Hi there! I have to do something similar at work and I have a problem : some books don’t have the Library of congress number printed in it. How can I create the cutter number to classify those documents? o.O

  • Paul Bellehumeur

    I fit 500,000 books easily under my bed as ebooks on a 3 Tera-byte USB disk drive (with a backup in the basement synced with FreeFileSync). I scanned my paper books years ago with Adobe Reader pro and a fujitsu high speed sheet feeding scanner after chopping off their bindings with a professional paper cutter. calibre is one nice program that reads most ebook formats for cataloging purposes. On android tablets, mantano can display most of them. hope this helps you on you way to figuring how to fit the library of congress in your bedroom…


    It’s nice to know there are still people who like to arrange things! I use the Dewey system,, and sometimes compromise purity to keeping books together where I want them…
    I use slotted angle steel shelves as well as the cheapest partcicle board… not good for the rain forests!

  • Burt Smith

    Finally last year I decided to start using software to catalog my books after I got tired of laboriously typing entries into a giant text file, and I settled on Readerware as well.

    I don’t net anywhere near the speed you do, largely because I tend to enter extra information beyond what Readerware picks up.

    I’ve catalogued about 2,500 books (and games, I catalog my games also), but still have almost 10,000 books in the giant text file and I don’t know how many books and comics yet to be cataloged.

    Readerware has indeed been a huge timesaver. Unfortunately, I recently inherited my grandfather’s collection of books, the vast majority of which are older than even the Library of Congress number, so they take significant time to catalog. It will be well worth it in the long run when I can narrow my search to books from his library.

    Bookcases remain an issue, however – the majority of my books and stuff are still in banker’s boxes on pallets in the basement 🙁

    Someday …

  • Burt Smith


    Also note that for the $4,750 price of the uber-shelves, he could replace the particle board ones over 150 times each and still be ahead. So I don’t find the tradeoff unreasonable 🙂

  • With 3000 books, you just sleep closer to the ceiling. You can use some of the books to make a staircase so you can get in and out of the bed.

  • Tavian Hunter

    The was a great read. Can I ask how long this whole project took to complete?

  • Thanks for reading. In some ways this project never ends. We’re always adding and removing books. Adding all of the books we had at that time to the system took us about a month of on and off work.