Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Managing the books

I have a few thousand books.  About a thousand of them are on shelves in the house.  Over the past few weeks, I've been VERY slowly sorting them on the shelves so I could find what I'm looking for... and last night I finally realized I needed help doing it.

That's what the Dewey Decimal system is for, right?

So then it occurs to me (naturally) that the web must've already solved this problem.  So I went looking.  And boy have they... as long as you're near a computer, don't mind a short wait for each search, and are willing to enter thousands of books by hand--at least partially.

The good news is there's lots of free services which can generate a complete listing for a book, including Dewey decimal number, summary, keywords, and all the bibliographic information you could want, as well as links to purchase sites (no thanks--I already own the book) give a title fragment or ISBN number or really any basic identifying information. For a small fee, you can also buy a barcode scanner (or adapt your webcam, with a bit of ingenuity), to scan the ISBN numbers which became ubiquitous on dust covers sometime in the last decade or two, which covers maybe 50% of my library.

The bad news is that while that helps a lot, I still have to get the data into the computer somehow--and it doesn't really solve my filing problem.

I want a solution which (a) gets me bibliographic data on all my books in searchable form, (b) doesn't cost thousands of dollars, (c) will allow me to find what I've indexed. RFIDs paired with an existing on-line system seem like the natural choice.  And RFID reader can be got for as little as $50 (and as much as $1000 for a hand-held proximity unit).  Tags cost quite a bit--so much that they violate criterion (b), so that solution has to go on the shelf for now. The price is falling dramatically as manufacturers find ways to print them on labels and manufacture them without a silicon backing, though, so I'm hopeful this will be practical in another couple of years.

For now, I'm experimenting with (my favorite so far),, and as tools for getting me enough data for good filing.  And I'm still looking for a real solution to the problem.

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