Sunday Salon: Online Book Lists (with Giveaway!)

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a big list-maker. I love to keep lists of books I’ve read, books I want to read, authors I want to try, and so on. Over the years, I’ve tried lots of different systems for these lists. I’ve kept notebooks complete with Dewey Decimal numbers for quick reference during library visits, I’ve used stray bits of paper that tended to get lost, and I’ve used Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

These days, though, I’m relying more heavily on online tools for book organization. For me, these have a huge advantage over paper in that I can search and sort. And I don’t end up listing a book multiple times. (This happened to me a lot with paper lists.) Plus, I can check these lists from anywhere I have an Internet collection; and if my computer dies, the list will not be lost. (This has happened to me—it was not a happy thing.)

Book lovers have lots of choices when it comes to online book lists. You can just create a Google document, you can put a wishlist on a bookstore or book-swap site, or you can use a specialized book-cataloging site like LibraryThing and Goodreads. For me, the book-cataloging sites have proven to be the best choice. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve figured out a way to use LibraryThing and Goodreads to track my books and book lusts in a way that works well for me.

LibraryThing (my profile): This is where I track books I have an actual relationship with—either I own them or have read them. I’ve been a member of LT for years, but it’s only in the last two years or so that I’ve become a heavy user. Although I know opinions vary widely on this, I find the interface easy to use and very clean. The tagging and collections functions are wonderful. Right now, I have collections for books I own but haven’t read, books I’ve read each year, and books I’ve read but don’t own. I use tags to keep track of things like author demographics, publishing years, and the numbers of works in translation I’ve read or have in my TBR.

The other brilliant thing about LibraryThing is its Early Reviewers program. LT uses a complex algorithm to choose reviewers for books in the program, with the hope of matching books with the right readers, not just any reader. I’ve had extremely good luck getting books through Early Reviewers, and only a few have been duds.

One drawback of LT is that you do have to pay if you’re going to list more than 200 books. The lifetime membership costs $25, although I understand that when you go to the payment page, there is also a pay-what-you-can option. For me, the books I’ve gotten through Early Reviewers have more than paid for the $25 membership. (And if that’s what’s holding you back from joining LT, check out the giveaway at the bottom of this post.)

The one thing, though, that LT does not do so well for me if to track my wish list. I tried keeping a wish list there, but when I acquired the books on my wish list, it wasn’t easy to switch to the actual edition I bought or read and move it to the correct collection. It was especially vexing if I forgot a book was on my wish list and went ahead and added it. I would enter the book, LT would say I had a duplicate book, and I had to look at the book to figure out if the wish-listed book was the correct edition, and then decide which one to delete. I figured out some workarounds, but they were clunky and involved more steps than I wanted to bother with. This is where Goodreads comes in.

Goodreads (my profile): I tried out Goodreads years ago, when I first reached the 200-book limit on LT, and I did not like the interface at all. I know many people strongly prefer the GR setup, but I found it clunky and slow. When I rejoined earlier this year, I found that things had improved, but it still doesn’t rival LT on that score. But for wishlists, GR is excellent. I can create shelves indicating which books are available in the library and which one aren’t. If I read or purchase a book, switching to the actual edition is incredibly easy–one click and I’m done!

GR also has some other features that I wasn’t looking for but I have come to enjoy. I like that I can connect my list of books that aren’t available in the library with Goodreads’ book swap program and then snag the book if it becomes available. Their swap program is a little unusual in that it’s not anything close to a one-to-one swap. You can earn credits by sending your own books—10 books equals one credit—and then use those credits to snag books. If you don’t have credits, you can just pay postage and a small service fee. Since I have more books than I have space for, the 10 to 1 ratio is not a bad thing; and it’s nice that the person sending the book doesn’t have to pay postage. Unfortunately, it’s not international, which is what I love about Bookmooch.

The other (mostly) cool thing about GR is the social networking. LT does allow people to follow one another and check out their libraries, but those features aren’t front and center.  At GR, they are. It’s similar to Facebook—on the main page you can see what your friends are reading and wishing for and even comment on their books in progress. My favorite thing is the currently reading bar that shows how much progress I have made in the books I’m reading. Members can also feed their GR activity to Twitter, which I like because it has led to some Twitter conversations about books I and my friends are reading. Of course, like on Facebook, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the updates. You can set your GR feed to only show certain friends, which is what I do.

As much as I like GR, I’m not giving up the sleek and simple cataloging features at LT. The two just serve different roles. I also haven’t given up on spreadsheets. I still keep one for keeping track of blogging events and commitments, but it’s more of a scheduling tool than anything else.

And now for the giveaway! Every year, LT does a Secret Santa program called Santathing. This year, the weather and some security issues with shipments to the U.S. meant  a lot of people didn’t get their books until February. To ease everyone’s frustration, LT was kind enough to give all participants in the program a free gift membership, and I’d like to share that membership with one of you. If you’re interested, just mention it in a comment. I’ll do a drawing Wednesday night at around 10 p.m. EST.

How do you organize your book lists? Any particular tips or tools you’d like to share?

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56 Responses to Sunday Salon: Online Book Lists (with Giveaway!)

  1. Kristen M. says:

    Oh, lists!

    I use LT for my home library. I have my books and Z’s books in there but not my husband’s books or our big stacks of textbooks. I should probably actually have all the books in the house on there eventually. This is where I play with my TBR list too.

    My library TBR list is in a Google doc because I can pull it up on my phone while I’m at the library (if I don’t just request my books as holds beforehand).

    My wishlist is on Amazon because I can pull that up on my phone too while I’m out shopping. I love taking my list out at an indie store and buying the books there. I feel like I’m counteracting some of the people who browse at stores and then buy on Amazon.

    Now that I write it all out, it seems like a mess but it works for me!

    • Teresa says:

      If I had an Internet-enabled phone, I’d probably pull up my lists when I’m shopping/library browsing too! Your Amazon wishlist at an indie store story cracks me up.

  2. Pauline says:

    I have accounts of GR, LT and Shelfari! I even tried Listography for my yearly reads, though it’s been dormant for months now. I use GR for keeping tabs on my TBR books, and I love LT for the groups – I’ve make quite some friends over there. Shelfari I still keep because it’s my first online book library. :)

    Oh, please include me in the draw! Thank you very much. :)

    • Teresa says:

      I had forgotten about Listography–I used to use that when I was trying to watch all the AFI notable films.

      LT does have some nice groups, although I haven’t gotten into following any of them closely.

  3. gaskella says:

    I too am a big LT fan – love it. I’ve dabbled lightly in GR, but don’t have the time to go further – one online cataloguing system is enough for me.

    • Teresa says:

      That’s how I felt for ages, until I decided I needed to figure out wishlist system that worked better for me. Managing the two has been easier than I thought, but only because I use them differently.

  4. Alice says:

    I am a big GoodReads fan, it is brilliant for what I want to read have read and am working my way through. I also keep a list on my website of what I have read, I enjoy updating it so haven’t wanted to let it go and rely solely on GoodReads.

    Please consider me for the draw :)

  5. I use LT to keep track of my Persephone and Virago collections (which collectively currently sit at under 200 but not for much longer so please enter me into my draw). I keep an Amazon wishlist too, which I (and my boyfriend) have been adding and buying from for years.

  6. Audrey says:

    I haven’t tried Library Thing or GoodReads (though I’ve heard of them), but would love to explore!

    I keep a reading notebook (have done for 25 years!) listing the books I’ve read and the ones I’m interested in. It’s not particularly well organized, but it keeps all my book info in one place, and they’re fun to look back on, which is the best part. I’ve also been keeping a TBR list on my blog, because it’s easy for me to see it there.

    One new piece of technology I’m enjoying now is that our library’s website lets me keep lists (as many as I want, for different purposes or categories) of books I’m interested in — it has a cart, like a shopping cart on retail sites – how happy is that? :) From there, I can add them to a list, or reserve them. It also gives me access to a list of the books I’ve borrowed and returned – very handy if I have to return something before I have a chance to read it and want to look for it again a year later! :)

  7. Nadine Nys says:

    I also use both LT and GR, but the first for my Dutch books, the second for books in English. Just like you I prefer LT; I think it has a really nice lay-out and is easier to use than GR. Because I have more than 200 books in Dutch (about 500 at the moment), I certainly could use this free membership. Thanks for this opportunity. I would love to win… :)

    • Teresa says:

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who finds LT easier. I tend to hear the opposite more often, but perhaps it’s just a matter of which one you started with.

  8. Deb says:

    I’m afraid I’m a dinosaur–still using composition books, arranged alphabetically by author’s last name. I also jot down quotes that grab me as I’m reading and any bits of pop culture flotsam & jetsam that make a blip on the radar. After I’ve read a book, I’ll put a checkmark by it and will occasionally write a brief comment (“This was good–read more by this author” or “Awful–could not finish,” that sort of thing). If I pick up a book at random (which often happens), I don’t ever document reading it. I think the LT or GR tools wouldn’t work for me–I’m just not a disciplined enough reader.

    • Teresa says:

      Your notebooks sound like they would be great fun to browse through! I do have one that I keep for quotes, but I’m not always good about jotting them down.

  9. Frances says:

    I actually closed my Good Reads account because I did not really use it and prefer LT and its more librarian friendly interface. That being said, I still do not use LT as fully as I would like although my lifetime membership gives me hope that there is time for me to get my act together. Professionally, I am an excellent librarian but personally I feel little inclination to organize my books. They run amuck all over the house!

    • Teresa says:

      I didn’t think I’d seen your GR updates in a while :) And I know what you mean about not indulging in your work activities while at home. This might also explain why I rarely grumble about typos in my recreational reading (and why I, alas, don’t proofread my posts as carefully as I could).

  10. I use GoodReads occasionally (it’s sometimes nice to be able to sort by different tags), but spreadsheets all the way. My TBR list is a spreadsheet, as is my list of books I want in my library (when I have tons of money, heh).

  11. I joined LT years ago and I rarely use it. I find adding my books to my library slow — it’s too many steps. With GR I it’s one click and I’m done. I hadn’t looked at LT for years until recently, when I was participating in Virago Reading Week and I kept hearing about the Virago reading group. I’m on Goodreads at least once a day though.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve heard other people say the same about LT, but I think I’ve just gotten used to the number of steps. The library browsing and tagging are what I find a lot easier in LT, but it’s probably a case of being used to their way of doing things.

      • Annabel (gaskella) says:

        I got one of their Cuecat barcode scanners – makes adding books really easy – as it normally gets the right one first time.

  12. Word Lily says:

    I’d love to win a LibraryThing membership!

    I have book lists all over the place: BookMooch, Amazon, random documents on my hard drive and/or desktop. Oh, and a few on my blog … It’s honestly quite scattered.

    • Teresa says:

      I do have Bookmooch and Paperback Swap wishlists, just of books my library doesn’t have, but I have pondered getting rid of them. I don’t like that scattered feeling.

  13. Dorothy W. says:

    I’ve started using Goodreads and LibraryThing more in the last few months, and I’ve often looked at your profiles and lists to see how you organize things and get ideas for myself, so I owe you a thank you! I haven’t looked into the Goodreads book swap, so I’ll have to do that.

    • Teresa says:

      You’re welcome. I noticed that you’d started using the “to investigate” shelf, and that made me smile. I like the GR swap because I really need to just get rid of books, and the 1:1 swaps kind of defeat the purpose. But a credit for every 10 books is fine. I get a little something out of the deal, but I’m still clearing my shelves.

  14. Victoria says:

    I love my goodreads account actually. It’s the first and only book cataloging site I use. I’ve slowly been getting more people on it so my friends list is growing, I love being able to look through what they’re reading and being able to compare books. I like that it’s also so easy to add books, whether from a search or from other people’s lists. I use a ridiculous amount of tags but love it all! It really works for me :)

  15. I joined LT quite a lot of years ago, and even paid for my lifetime’s membership (so I don’t need entering into the draw), but have let it lapse. I found my book buying and giving away habits so chaotic that it was difficult to keep track – my fault rather than LTs! I need to get back to it, because recently I’ve found myself buying duplicates of books by accident.

    I signed up for a GR account just recently, in the last couple of weeks and have really enjoyed using it so far. I think I’ll be using it to track books I’ve read, rather than books to read. I use my (very long) Amazon wishlist for that, though admittedly its an unwieldy tool.

    • Teresa says:

      Just got your friend request on GR :) It is a lot of fun to see what others are reading. I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected.

      I’ve made logging books into LT part of my ritual of putting them away. They just sit in a stack by my couch until I have time. It’s removing books from my collection of owned books that I never get around to doing, but at least I’m unlikely to buy those books again!

  16. Steph says:

    I have to admit, I’m one hundred percent a GoodReads girl. It’s been so long since I used Library Thing that I don’t fully remember what its interface was like, but GoodReads does everything I want. I love that I can create different shelves and that I can track my reading progress, and I personally really like the design and layout of the site.

    I will say that I did have more luck getting early review copies via Library Thing than I do through GoodReads, but since I’m not trying to acquire books this year that’s not really a dealbreaker for me!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve never won a book through the GR giveaways (and the list takes forever to browse through, so I haven’t tried for many), but my luck at LT has been almost too good. But like you, I’m trying to slow down my acquisitions, so that’s not a big deal, just a nice bonus. It’s one of the few places where I’m likely to take reading risks.

  17. Jenny says:

    My mother got me a lifetime membership to LibraryThing, and I love it for cataloging my home library. I need to update it actually — I’ve gotten a lot of books from work since coming here, and they’re not yet entered in my catalogue.

    As for my TBR list I just keep one on my blog, sorted roughly into categories. One of these days I’m going to sort it better, but for the time being it works pretty well for when I’m at the library and can’t decide what to read.

  18. justbookreading says:

    I use LibraryThing for books I’ve read and find it pretty useful but I still keep a spreadsheet of TBR books. I’d like to combine them in someway but haven’t yet thought about how to do that without causing more work for myself.

    • Teresa says:

      I know what you mean about not wanting to create more work. Trying to incorporate my TBR books I didn’t own into LT proved to be too much work for me. But GR has filled that gap nicely.

  19. Ingrid says:

    Oh wow … I just wrote a very similar post at The Blue Bookcase not realizing you had pretty much wrote the same post a few hours earlier! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to copy you!

  20. Nicola says:

    I have a written reading journal which I’ve been keeping for five years now. I also keep a written note of quotes that appeal to me!

  21. Emily says:

    I love, love, LOVE the tagging and cataloging features on LT, and I also love the fact that they don’t have ads. I’m on both, but the ads on GR irk me. I’d much rather pay the $25 membership fee for an ad-free space (which I’ve done, so no need to enter me!). I use LT to catalog my home library and run the “books I’ve reviewed” widget on my blog, and GR to track the books I’m currently reading at any given time. I agree with you that their social networking emphasis is “mostly” cool; it’s sometimes a bit much for me, especially since I am more centered around my and others’ blogs. But for someone who doesn’t have a separate blog, I can see how that would be a big plus.

    Since I buy most of my books from Powells (I live in Portland, about a mile from the big City of Books store), I keep my wish list on powells.com.

    • Teresa says:

      It sounds like we use the two sites similarly. I’m with you on liking that LT is ad-free, although the GR ads don’t annoy me. The main social networking features that I like are the Twitter feed and the currently reading feature. I do very little actual commenting on GR, and I don’t know many bloggers who do more than make the stray comment here or there..

  22. Gavin says:

    Like you, I use both LibraryThing and Goodreads for different reasons. I started entering my own books on LT but gave up when I realized I would quickly run out of room on my basic account. I would love that gift membership.

    I signed up for Goodreads to track what I am reading and quickly started keeping my TBR list there as well. I like the social aspect of GR. I use Google Docs to keep track of interesting books I read about on book blogs, Award Winner Lists and books I would love to reread someday and I keep a list of used books I want to find in a “Field Notes” booklet that I carry with me, also adding any new books I find in bookstores that I want to request at the library. Not very organized but it all works for me!

    • Teresa says:

      I love your field notes idea! I used to do something similar with a small paper notebook. Now when I’m browsing, I just kind of see where the winds take me, which is also kind of fun.

  23. bookssnob says:

    Great post! I am on LibraryThing mainly for the Early Reviewers programme, as I reached the 200 limit and never got around to paying! (So I’d love to be entered into the draw, please!) When I moved house I started cataloguing everything but then I reached the limit, I got rid of a load of books, and I moved my bookshelves around, so the systematic way I had been cataloguing books shelf by shelf suddenly stopped working and I gave up. I wish I’d have just paid and done it, because then I’d have a complete catalogue of my books by now. Oh well. I will eventually get around to paying for LT as I do want to have a record of all my books, especially as most of them are in boxes and I’d like to be able to know what I have without having to root around.

    I use an amazon wishlist to keep track of all the books I see on blogs and in shops that I want and can’t afford just now, and some have been in there for years. It works for me as then I can just send the wishlist to friends and family for birthdays and Christmas.

    • Teresa says:

      If the day ever comes when I have to start keeping books in boxes, I’m sure I’ll be especially glad to have the LT catalog. I’m trying to be ruthless with my collecting/keeping to ensure that doesn’t happen, though.

      I’ve let me Amazon wishlist go, but I did the same for years. It worked well, but I’m not shopping from Amazon these days, and Goodreads links to multiple booksellers, which is nice.

  24. Mae says:

    That was kind of LT! I use it on and off but found it tiresome listing my books. I like the Early Reviewer bonus too but a lot of the good books are only for UK and US.

    Currently, I just use an Excel spreadsheet and that has worked quite well so far. Your post reminded me that I should back it up! I used to use the free (not sure if it’s still available) software from abebooks that’s really meant for booksellers. It gave me a little thrill using the database but that disappeared when my computer went kaput a few years ago. I do love the whole aspect of organising books though!

    • Teresa says:

      The ER program is definitely skewed to the US, which is lucky for me, but not so lucky for many of my friend :(

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who finds book organizing to be fun!

  25. I use LT for the books that I physically own and GR as a record of the books that I’ve read, as I read them. I prefer to keep these two separate, though there’s no particular logic behind that, it just makes things neater in my head.

  26. Sylvie says:

    I started on Shelfari for keeping my wishlist, but soon switched to Goodreads for the layout, ability to create shelves, and networking aspect. I also use GR as a reference for quick book descriptions. I can get a better sense whether I’ll like something based on the descriptions and a few reviews than I can at a site like Amazon.

    I looked into LibraryThing, but the layout didn’t appeal. Plus, as someone who rarely buys books, it didn’t seem to make much sense for me since the primary appeal seem to be the cataloguing feature.

    • Teresa says:

      It’s funny about layouts, isn’t it? I like the LT layout better, but I know lots of people who feel as you do, which just shows how subjective it is.

  27. Kerry says:

    I love lists, but I hate the idea of a strict TBR-list. I do jot down books I’d like to read one day, time permitting, but they tend to be all over the place: LibraryThing, Goodreads, my iPod, my phone, post-it notes, random notebooks, etc. I’d love to be entered in the draw to see if I can make some sense of this mess of lists and actually put LT to good use!

    • Teresa says:

      I’m not strict about reading only from my TBR list (unless I’m making a deliberate effort to read books I own), but I like having the possibilities listed in one place.

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