Economy Size Geek - Organizing a Library

“What is a library? It's like Google made out of a tree.”—tevoul on
“Personal” Is the Keyword

I eventually figured out that the problem with my previous searches for software was the omission of the word “personal”. Adding that word narrows down the Google search a lot. As a result, I found two different options to consider: Alexandria and GCstar. Unlike Koha, both are available as Ubuntu packages. After dealing with the install guide for Koha, it was nice that all I had to do was apt-get install, and I could try them both (well, that was almost all I had to do). In the process of playing with these tools, I found another application called Tellico. It was nice to have several apps from which to choose.


Alexandria is a Ruby GNOME application for managing a book collection. The current official version is 0.6.5. Things got off to a very bumpy start with Alexandria. The default version in Jaunty is 0.6.3. It was not able to find either of the test books. Even worse than that, it crashed and exited when I tried to search by ISBN. Not one to give up easily, I ended up downloading a current beta version (0.6.6-beta1). There was a problem related to two Ruby libraries because I was installing it under Jaunty. To get everything to work, I had to install two gems (hpricot and htmlentities) and manually install the package:

sudo dpkg   --ignore-depends=libhpricot-ruby -i

The system relies on Amazon for some of the lookups. Due to a change in Amazon's policy, I had to sign up to get my own Amazon AWS access key. An explanation and link are available on the Alexandria Web site (see Resources). Technically, I could have removed Amazon as a provider and skipped this step.

Figure 2. Alexandria Loaded with Some Books

The application itself is very simple, which was a nice change after wading through so many screens on Koha. You can search for books by title or ISBN. It lets you browse your library and search by details.


GCstar collection management started out as GCfilms. As a result, it supports many different kinds of collections, including books, movies, music and board games, among others. It also allows you to define your own collection type, so you can track and collect anything you want.

Figure 3. GCstar Loaded with Books

Installing GCstar was easy. I installed the package and then started the application. Obviously, I chose to start a collection of books. I clicked Add and started the process of looking up a book. I tried to use Amazon as an information source, but it never found anything. I assume this is related to the same policy change that affected Alexandria. I ended up using as my main source and was able to pull up information and book covers for all my test books. To make sure this wasn't fixed in a later version, I upgraded the package to 1.5.0, and it still had the same problem.


Tellico is a collection management application for KDE. It was available as a package, which installed with no problems. After creating a new collection of books, my first step was to add one of the test books. The process of adding a book was the most confusing out of the three applications. I clicked Create a new entry, which pulled up a dialog with a lot of options spread out over six different tabs. Title was on the first tab. ISBN was on the Publishing tab. I entered in a title for a book and clicked Save Entry. On the other applications, doing that triggered a lookup, but Tellico just sat there with no additional data. Eventually, I found an option to say Update Entry, which was able to pull down information and update it (though no book cover was provided). I tried a second time, and this time, I filled out only the ISBN field. I saved the entry and asked it to update, but nothing changed.

Figure 4. Default Tellico View

The version that shipped with Jaunty was 1.3.5. Version 2.1 was available as a Lucid package, so I decided to install that to see if any of these problems had been resolved. The good news is that the newer version fixed the problem with Amazon. The bad news is that it still was not able to look up the book with only the ISBN. The ISBN allows you to identify a book uniquely, which should simplify the process of confirming what book you are talking about. Searching by title provides a list of a lot of other books that are not the ones I want.



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I'm the creator of the Linux

Brendan's picture

I'm the creator of the Linux wedge for the Microvision Flic. I released a new version today that fixed a race condition (that could result in linebreaks being entered at the wrong place, either before or in the middle of the content of the barcode). It's available from the same URL listed above, and all you have to do to update is replace the FlicServ executable.

I actually created the wedge because I wanted to register all of my books just like the author of this article. I tried lots and lots of different solutions and it took me years until I found open source software that I was satisfied with. I ended up using GStar. The advantages of GStar is that it's ready to use, but one can at the same time customize it greatly if needed. In addition it's written in perl, so it works equally well on Windows (for those sad, sad times when one only has a Windows-box available). Just make sure to back up your libraries from time to time. I once experienced my library becoming completely garbled which resulted in a whole night of manual labor and creating emacs regexps to save my library.