January 13, 2015

Using Goodreads to Catalog Your Book Collection

I had a handful of goals when 2014 started and being the procrastinator that I am, I waited until the end of the year to cross most of them off the list. One of these projects was cataloging all the books and trade paperbacks in the house. Having moved all those books a few times in the last year and a half, I knew it wasn't a small task and never worked up the necessary amount of resolve to rise to the challenge. But, I grew weary of looking through our many bookcases to try to see if we had a given title - it especially became relevant around the holidays when I couldn't remember which trades of Saga we owned, etc. It was time.

Two of many, many bookcases
On the last Saturday of the year I spent some time researching which apps and programs would work best for the project. I needed something with a scanner that could pick up all the necessary information from the barcode and a list that I could export into a spreadsheet. I read about a ton of apps, free and "premium," and I ended up going with Goodreads. I don't know if it's the best app for the job, but it covered the basics. I spent most of Saturday and part of Sunday scanning everything I could and while I haven't organized and merged lists yet, I know we have almost 1,400 titles. Yes, I'm aware I have a book problem.

Here's how I made Goodreads work for book cataloging:
You can set up custom lists outside of Goodreads' three default ones: Read, Currently Reading, and To-Read. But here's the catch: as far as I can tell, you can't export the custom lists. So, the custom Owned shelf I created didn't really matter. For the purposes of the project, I decided to scan the book collection into the To-Read list. Yes, any friends who pay attention to the home page on Goodreads got flooded with my work for two days. There's probably a way to make what you add to your lists private, but I was too lazy to look into that (sorry, Goodreads friends!).

When I finished scanning and searching, I exported my shelves into Excel and filtered it to only show To-Read (it automatically includes all three lists in the export). That's the base for my catalog, and I can add new books to the Excel list as well as other books that don't have barcodes.

The negative part about using Goodreads for the project:
Like I said, Goodreads worked fine. Many of the hiccups I encountered would likely have happened regardless of which app I used, but there was an annoying thing about using Goodreads. You can't have a book on two lists. That's fine, it makes sense. However, that means any books I own and have already read and have in the Read category on Goodreads got moved out to the To-Read list when I cataloged them. I made note of those books by taking pictures of them, and I need to carve out some time to add them all back to the Read shelf.

I could have left them on the Read shelf and just made notes to add them to my final spreadsheet, but that also would have involved taking a picture or writing the title down. It would have been a little less work but still a pain.

The tedious aspects of cataloging:
Aside from anything specifically related to using Goodreads, these were the most tedious parts of the hours and hours I spent cataloging:
- If a book didn't have a 13 digit ISBN number, I had to use the search function and look it up manually. That meant old books, nearly all my paperbacks, and many trade paperbacks that were labeled as "direct sales" couldn't be scanned. That added a significant amount of time to the process.
- If you like purchasing sketchbooks or indie books at conventions like I do, prepare to make a handwritten or typed list of all those things because chances are they aren't in Goodreads. And I'm not saying sketchbooks should be in Goodreads, that doesn't necessarily fit, just a caveat to be aware of. I wrote the titles down at first and then switched to taking pictures of the covers. I have yet to translate those pictures to items on my list.

Overall though, I was surprised it only took a couple of days. I marathoned the Serial podcast and then rewatched some Vampire Diaries as I worked, and that helped the time go by. At the end of cataloging, my joints hurt and I was covered in dust, but it was worth it. It makes me happy to be able to see every book, trade, and graphic novel at a glance and to learn in a second whether or not I have the first two Saga trades (and I don't for some reason even though I know I've read them). The process also allowed me to weed out duplicates.

For 2015, I'd like to take my spreadsheet and use it to determine a way to organize the book collection so it's easier to find any given title. It won't be simple to arrange nearly 1,400 books in a proper system so I'll probably put that off until next December.


  1. This was an awesome article! For awhile, I played with the idea of purchasing an old laptop and keeping it in/by my bookshelves as a "directory" machine, but never made the effort of a) finding an affordable machine for one minor function and b) actually cataloging everything I have.

    I started a Goodreads a week or two ago, and while I DID go through and add some things I've read from favorite authors, I could pretty quickly remove all of these for the purposes of making a list such of this, which would be useful. And something I would have never considered, normally.

    My library should probably be under 1000 at this point (due to constant moving and, until recently, lack of reliable storage space, but I disagree that you in any way have a book problem; keep up the good work!

    1. For as long as I put the project off, I was surprised that it only took me a couple of days to do everything. Good luck with cataloging your library!

  2. I inherited my dad's extensive sci-fi library, and have started cataloging it with Goodreads. Thanks for the input!

    1. Oh excellent! Best of luck with the project! :)

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