Cataloging My Personal Library: There Has GOT to be a Better Way!

I own an immense amount of books, and I have to catalog my library for insurance purposes.

What I have been doing is to write the information (title, author, price, ISBN, subject, and type) on an index card which I then type into a database on my computer. (I need to burn the information onto a CD and store it at another location in case of fire.) However, given the sheer magnitude of the job, this is quickly getting tedious.

The computer is on the second floor, and the library is in the basement. Carrying up all of those books up two flights of stairs is not an option, hence the index cards.

I have looked at a couple of computer programs that include barcode scanners which look up the information for you on the internet, but I’d still have the problem of carrying the books up to the computer. I can’t take the computer to the basement because there’s no outlet for cable internet down there, and the room is so full of bookcases, there’s nowhere to put it. The scanners with memory cost too much.

I’m stumped. I can’t think of a better way than what I’m doing right now, but it’s incredibly time-consuming. Can any of you come up with better ideas?

What kind of a database are you using to store the data? I might have some ideas for you. Is the data in MARC21 format?

Uhm . . . I don’t know. My husband made it up for me in Excel. What I know about computers could be written inside a matchbook cover.

Do you have a palm pilot or equivalent? There are several freeware/shareware database programs available for PalmOS. While not as convenient as a barcode scanner, you could fairly easily set it up with some common information (author names, subjects, types). It would at least be a little bit more manageable than index cards. And the data, once entered, can be exported to Excel to download the complete data.

There are even barcode reader attachments for Palm devices, but they’re on the pricey side. (The cheapest I’ve seen is for the Handspring Visor, and is $193). You can get a bare-bones organizer for around $100, maybe even cheaper now.

Just a possible suggestion that may or may not make it easier: just write down the ISBNs, then’s search facility to find out all the book’s information. At least this way, you can get away with making only one trip down, and there’s less to write down with everything (plus you can copy and paste title, author, etc. instead of typing it all in). In theory, it would be possible to write a program to automatically query the database, then parse what it returns for the data and reformat it, but I don’t know enough about Internet programming to do the first, and don’t have the time to do the second.

Actually to amend my last post, it seems it would be easier to do it through Barnes and Noble’s Web site, as they put the search text in the address itself. For any given book, go to, replacing ‘X’ with the ISBN number.

Whoops, forgot about auto-hyperlinking. Anyway, the address is ttp:// (add an ‘h’ at the beginning of the address). Also, clicking the address in the last post won’t help, as it changes it to return a message that it is an invalid book).

I don’t have a PalmPilot, and I don’t want to spend that much on a scanner. (An avid bibliophile, I think of how many books that money could purchase.) The program I looked at, ReaderWare, offered a free scanner with its program (All for $40) but I’d have to lug the books up the stairs. The memory scanners which worked with that particular program were, IIRC, about $130, and only had the memory to hold about 100 books at a time.

I have been using Amazon’s search page for finding prices on books which aren’t marked, but your suggestion of just writing down the ISBNs is a good one.

I’ve gotten a catalog drawer like you see in public libraries, and at first, the idea of putting all of the books on cards seemed smart. I thought of how convenient it would be to keep track of which ones had been loaned out, and I could note on the card which pages pertinent facts were located. (When you’re looking through large amounts of books muttering, “I know I saw it somewhere,” you dream of having a system where you could find a quote or fact easily.) It was one of those things like Napoleon going to the Battle of Waterloo-- it seemed like a good idea at the time.

As I sit here, on the computer desk next to me is a four-inch stack of index cards which have already been entered into the database. Having put so much work into the cards already, I’d feel almost guilty abandoning the system when I’m only a small percentage of the way through. Yet the enormity of the task at hand is becomming very real to me. (I was silly enough to think I could tackle it in a couple of days.) Something must be done.

Maybe you could get a friend or your husband to help you? It sounds like it would be more efficient for one person to write the info on the cards while another entered it into the computer, that way both tasks could be done at once and it would be faster, this is assuming your system isn’t so personal/quirky that it couldn’t be explained to someone else.

I doubt I’m in the neighborhood, but I know I for one would love to help organize/catalog some books. I love organizational tasks, and I harbor a secret desire to be a librarian. Maybe you have some friends who are weird like me?

I’m busy cataloging my 5,000 (or so) sf books, and it’s taking years - but I’m in no rush. My computer is in my libary, and I’m using a database form in StarOffice 5.2 for it.

I know this doesn’t help - my suggestion is to try to hire some teenage kids who could use the money and who would work cheaply. They wouldn’t mind dragging the books up, I bet.

(The ISBN idea is good, but won’t work for me, since my books are too old for that - and lots are way out of print.)

I’m wondering if you could use the CueCat barcode scanner with an extension cable. This would allow you to run the cable down 2 storeys and scan the book with Readerware running upstairs. Depending on the details of the software, you might need someone upstairs to shout at (or some other communication system) to press buttons/click stuff on the computer, but that shouldn’t be a real problem if you have a willing assistant.

The CueCat comes in USB or PS/2 modes. USB cables are pretty expensive (you would need an active cable I think): Sewell Development sell a 5m (16 foot) cable for $21, that can be chained together, but you might need 3 for length. See:

I don’t know if anyone sells a longer USB cable that wouldn’t require chaining lots together.

For PS/2 LA Star does a 50 foot cable for $34:

That would be about $74 with Readerware+CueCat (could you use a barcode scanner with any free software?). I’m not sure if this is the best solution, but maybe you could find some company to send you a cable and offer a refund if it’s not what you need (you’d still need the barcode scanner though). (And before buying the PS/2 cables check that the connectors at each end match what you need.)

I had this exact same problem, except fortunately my books are located on the same floor as my computer. Here’s what I did to solve it:

I hired a friend of mine who was at the time an out-of-work librarian to do it. Paid her $7.50 an hour (was willing to go to $10 but she wouldn’t take more than $7.50) and she got it done in about 15 hours. Then we went to Great America and I paid her admission as part of her salary.

Hope this helps.

Seriously, call a temp agency and see what the going rate is for someone to come over, haul books up and down stairs and type. If it’s less than the cost of buying any extra computer equipment, hire someone.

You could also rent or borrow a laptop and use that in the basement and transfer the data via floppy or CD or email to your desktop upstairs.

Can’t you lug the computer downstairs, do the scanning there and haul it back up? I can’t think why you would need to be online if all you are doing is scanning in bar codes. You can look up the information the information the next day.

I cataloged my children’s book collection ( only 500 or so) in an excel program by taking my laptop from the various rooms that they are kept in.

Simply, your solution is easy: Give me your collection.


Not a chance. They’re MINE! Back off! :smiley:

I’m seriously considering this option, even without the scanner. My husband’s sci-fi collection is upstairs in the office, and that job went very quickly when he carried them over to the desk for me. It eliminated the whole index card step.

I’m only concerned about disconnecting the cables, and getting them back in the right places!

Having the same problem, here. Assigning a value to these books for the purposes of my insurance man will be difficult at best. (I’m planning just to go to some auction and antique sites and try to find them.)
Thanks for all of the suggestions, guys. Pray for me! :smiley:

My daughter cataloged her books on file cards in shoe boxes (Dewey Decimal System) before she had a computer, then just took her time transferring the catalog when she got one. It’s very time-comsuming, the idea of hiring someone is excellent.

Just out of curiousity, I once weighed 10 new books & figured the cost per pound – at that time it was about $30.

Another idea, Lissa: a decorating magazine suggested covering all your books with plain white paper (“such a fresh look for spring!”) – that way you’d never have to concern yourself with silly things like titles, authors, etc.


Who would do such a thing? Dear lord! Anyone who cares whether or not their books match their color scheme is not a * real * book lover!

Well, Lissa, I’m guessing they would be the people you see in art shops with swatches from their sofas, so they can choose a painting to match.