Monday, July 14, 2008

Library Management Made Easy

With thanks to Cynthia F, I now have a CueCat, one of those nifty little barcode scanners that a dozen years or so ago were given away for free so that a person could scan coupons in magazine ads. If you have a large library of books that you want to catalog, you may want to get yourself one of these little gadgets. Using the CueCat, I am now able simply to scan the barcode/ISBN code on a book, and it automatically is entered into my library with most of the bibliographic info included. It really is that simple: just wave it back a forth a few times, and it reads the barcode, converts it, and searches for the book. Okay, now that I have your attention, here are the qualifications...
I've highlighted library management tools before (here and here: LibraryThing, Shelfari, Zotero, Endnote, ShelfServant, and others), but there are only a few programs for which this CueCat scanning trick will work (and unfortunately, Zotero is not one of them):

For PCs, you have a couple options.
  • LibraryThing is a neat online option. It's free for up to 200 books and only $25 for a lifetime unlimited collection. It has a community commentary component to it, and it can generate a bibliographic reference for a book using OttoBib. It can also export your whole library to an Excel file. A couple drawbacks: it really isn't intended to be a research/footnoting resource, it only handles books, and it stores your data online.
  • Here's the new one I discovered: Libra. It's free. It's graphically attractive. (It looks similar to Shelfari. Cf. the graphic above.). It's a small download that runs locally. You can use it to catalog books, DVDs, games, and music CDs. You might not even need a CueCat, since the website claims that you can simply use your webcam to scan in the barcodes. (I was able to make it work for books using the CueCat. I couldn't make it work on CDs, and I couldn't get it to work with my webcam at all.) It has an easy way to check books in/out to friends. You can export your libraries to Excel files and to attractive HTML pages (eg). It does have some drawbacks. Like LibraryThing, it's mainly a book cataloger, not a research tool, though you can add description details in addition to what it pulls from Amazon. It pulls a bunch of bibliographic info, but it can't sort by author's last name. The other drawback is that it appears that it may be an orphaned or at least a temporarily abandoned program. In any case, it works as is and is free and does a great job with the CueCat for books.
Psyched to get your own CueCat? LibraryThing sells them for $15 shipped, but you can also find them on eBay.

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