Sunday, August 7, 2011

How not to loose the needle in the haystack.... or.....Keeping track of your library

How often have you stood in a store and wondered "do I already have this book?". Or, had a conversation with someone and wished you could remember the exact title of a book you know they would love to read. Wouldn't be easier if you had a list of all of your books - available on your cell phone (assuming you have a smart phone)?

There are a couple of online services that will let you "build" your own library. Library Thing  is the best known. Library Thing kinda-sorta grew out of public library style reader's advisory services - if Mary Jane reads a lot of the same books as you the two of you might want to share library and reading lists to find titles you might like. It lets you type in just an ISBN and it will find all the usual pertinent data about it. You can tag the books with super short notes and you can build multiple libraries to help sort things. The shortcomings? It's free only up to 200 books (I refuse to count but it's more than that). The display of you library shows only the more basic information (title, author, date), it's meant for pleasure reading where publisher and place really don't matter. You can't make notes longer than a little tag. There is no provision for output into a bibliography. And finally, you can't add links to online versions.

There are a multitude of smart phone apps which purport to track your library for you. I've yet to find anything which comes close to Library Thing yet they all have the same shortcomings. The only thing gained is the ability to scan by barcode instead of typing ISBN's in. (Library Thing will let you scan in if you have a scanner)

So what's an overly nerdy librarian/history geek to do? Oops. I left out cheap, I didn't want to spend  money on this.

Zotero to the rescue. Zotero is citation software created by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason, it's been funded by the IMLS and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It's meant for tracking citations for research but there is no reason it can't work on a more grand scale to track a library. A word of warning, before I get anyone to excited, if  you don't have (and won't use) Firefox you can't use Zotero in the way I'm going to describe. They are working on a standalone version which wouldn't be browser dependent but it's only in alpha, don't hold your breath. The only drawback I have found to this is that there is no "official"  mobile access, you can just look at the website. But, the website is view only so you can't add titles, edit, or add tags. Of course the more  people who ask for a more functional mobile version the better the chances of bumping the project to the top of the list. Zotero will let you enter all of the usual bibliographic data, plus URLs, and has several fields which could easily be re-appropriated. For example, "Location in Archive" could easily be things like "kitchen", sewing rooms" etc for those of us who have books scatter hither, tither and yon. If you were moving and happen to be slightly psycho extra geeky you could use one of those fields for box numbers. You can add tags which you can search against but you can also add longer notes. You can export all or part of the library in several bibliographic formats. If you have an extensive library that could be a really good thing to save -outside your house- for insurance purposes. And since Zotero lets you make as many libraries are you wish you can copy entries into research specific lists. If you have ISBN's Zotero can search those in several databases sparing you manually entering all the data.

Still, the idea of typing all of those ISBN's, in addition to manually entering the oddities I have, seemed daunting. I don't type ISBN's at work I scan them, why would I go backwards at home. But...I really didn't want to buy a scanner. And, I have a phone which scans perfectly well. So I went in search of an app that would let me scan from my phone to my computer. Presto - Bluetooth Barcode Scanner, it's not free but $1.49 seemed cheap enough to try. And since it's Bluetooth I don't even need to have the phone tethered to the laptop. You do need to download some software onto your computer for this to work. If you've got something other than an Android you're on your own but I'm sure there is something similar out there. It's not quite perfect, for want of one little key stroke I need to have the laptop in reach.

So, enough yammering on, here's the nuts and bolts.
Download Firefox if you don't already us it. (it's more secure and more standards complaint than IE)
Download the Zotero app
Download the Bluetooth Barcode Scanner onto both your phone and computer
Open Zotero and make a new folder, name it whatever you would like. I wasn't very creative the night I did mine, it's got the very boring name "library"

Click on the little  wand (add item by identifier)

Open the barcode scanner on both your computer and phone, hit "connect" on the phone and make sure they show that they are connected. Click on "continuous scan"
Scan you first barcode

Check that is found the right book
 (and please ignore the fact the I look like some sort of over the top Facebook addict, I'm not sure why I have ever multiplying FB tabs)

Add tags and notes

Click on the wand again (my one little annoying keystrok)
Keep going.

 Why add tags? Because you can search to see what you own on a topic. It's actually a key word search. So, I have books tagged as lace making and books tagged as lace knitting. If I type in lace I get all, if I type in lace knitting I get just those. (and before anyone starts telling me about lace knitting books I need to buy...I've only just started scanning, there are more, many more)

Why make notes if you can tag? Notes are searchable too but let you say more. So, that favorite receipt that you can never remember what book it's in, leave the name in a note. Note the name you remember it by and the real name so you can find it in the library then find it in the book.There is (as far as I know) an unlimited number of notes. You could also make notes for individual receipts detailing how you've made them.

Zotero will sync to their cloud which is how you can see  your library online. If you work off of more than one computer it will sync all back and forth. You can lock down your library online so only you can see it or you can set up groups so multiple people can see it. I can see this as being a cheap solution for small organizations needing to keep track of books and documents.