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?