Economy Size Geek - Organizing a Library

“What is a library? It's like Google made out of a tree.”—tevoul on
Adding Additional Lookup Sources

Now that I was able to add books to all three applications, I wanted to see how hard it was to add additional sources for lookup. GCstar ships with a number of sources. The application itself does not let you add or configure any of the sources, so your only option is to pick which one to use. The process of adding a book was straightforward. You just click Add and then put in the information. I am not sure if the problem was with authentication or something else, but the tool never found anything using Amazon as a source. I was able to pull up information about my books using Once GCstar finds a book, the system pulls in a lot of details, including the book cover. There also is a field for storing the book's location. It is just a free-text field, so I would have to come up with my own way of encoding location. You can search by location, but there is no way to sort by it or store the search, so you can't browse the shelves based on where they are, which ends up being useful in my library, as I keep books on the same topic clumped together.

GCstar does not have any support for a scanner; however, it does have a number of different options for importing data. It even can import an Alexandria collection. One way to get the data into the system is to put the ISBN numbers into a CSV file, and GCStar then can import that CSV. Once the data is loaded, you have to go to each book to trigger the lookup in the remote repository.

Alexandria allowed me to add my Amazon credentials. It also supports adding in custom Z39.50 sources. Tellico had the most extensive list of options for adding additional sources. It included support for Z39.50 as well as GCstar plugins.

Where Is That Book?

One of the problems I run into with my library is that even if I remember I have a book, I don't remember where it is. Recently, I moved a large chunk of my technical books to my office, making the situation even worse, so I want to be able to track books' locations.

Alexandria does not have any concept of location baked in. It does support tags, which would allow me to enter a tag to give me a better idea about a book's location (for example, Home:Cabinet 1:Shelf 3). The search allows me to search by tags, so I could see other things on the same shelf, which would be useful because I tend to put books on the same subject next to each other.

GCstar 1.3.2 had a field for location. The newer 1.5 version has replaced that with support for tags. Once the books were tagged, I could browse the books by grouping them by tags. The search function did not support tags, so I couldn't limit my searches to books only at home or only at my office.

Tellico had the most advanced features for this part. I actually could add specific fields for library, cabinet and shelf. Then, I could use those fields for grouping and searching.

Entering Books into the System

All this searching and sorting is useful, but I saved the most important consideration for last. How do I get all my books into the system? The first option is simply to type in the ISBN of all my books. If your library is small enough that you are willing to do this, you probably don't need a system to track your books.

The next option is a barcode scanner. I happen to have a Flic Bluetooth barcode scanner from a previous project, and I was fortunate enough to find a great guide to getting it working under Linux (see Resources). Once everything was set up, I was able to scan the ISBNs from all the books quickly into a text file.

I tried to import the ISBNs into Tellico, but each time, it crashed on the import. I wasn't able to confirm whether this was a problem with the program or the way I installed it.

GCstar was able to import the list of ISBNs with no problem. The annoying part of that process was that once the books were imported, it did not do any lookup on the ISBN. I had to go to each book individually to tell it to download the data. Once I did, I got the book cover and everything else.

Alexandria got it right. Not only did it do the import, but it also downloaded the information about the books.

I realize that not everyone has a barcode scanner lying around. Don't worry; you have other options. If you have a Webcam, you can install ZBar. This barcode-scanning software turns your Webcam into a barcode scanner. I was able to get the same list of barcodes from ZBar that I got from my barcode scanner. The only downside is that I had to bring each book to the camera. It's a lot cheaper, but not nearly as convenient if you are scanning in a lot of books.



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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.