Cataloguing the Library of Babel

So I exaggerate – we’re not quite at the level of certain other bibliophiles, but we do have upwards of 3-4000 books in Gark Villa. Unfortunately, I also have a poor memory so I’m forever buying duplicate copies of books that I already own, or lending out books and forgetting who to. One of my projects for paternity leave and Christmas was to investigate software for cataloguing our collection, and perhaps make a start on the task. However, the took up more of my time than I’d envisaged (that is, all of it) and I didn’t get very far.

mentioned the software that she’d been using to keep track of her books: Delicious Library. Given that I have a shiny new MacBook Pro, I thought I’d take a look. Five minutes later, I found myself $40 lighter.

Delicious Library is a very slick piece of software that automates much of the tedium of building a library catalogue. It uses the iSight camera to read barcodes, and automatically retrieves the bibliographic information from Amazon. In addition to books, it can also catalogue CDs, DVDs and computer games. It has minimal circulation functionality for tracking loans, but this is nicely integrated into iCal and the address book.

It isn’t perfect, and there are a number of areas for improvement, some of which may be dealt with in the next version: integration with online library catalogues is essential for high quality metadata, since the Amazon data is uniformly dreadful (LOC or COPAC would be my choices here, and services like CDDB would suffice for music); it needs to improve the way it handles metadata (representing editors as well as authors would be a good start); it needs smart collections along the lines of iTunes’ smart playlists.

There are other systems with similar (or greater) functionality, such as Bookpedia from Bruji or the open source Books, but Delicious Library is better finished and more robust.

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