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Personal Library Management

3 Post author: Ritalin 05 July 2013 10:14PM

I've just finished my finals, and, after six years of college, I am faced with this fact: I have accumulated one heck of a lot of books, most of which I haven't read yet.

An app, or at the very least an algorythm, on how to manage them, make a reading list, and go about reading them, is something I really wish for, but I have no idea how to approach this problem in a time-efficient, productive way, and I wouldn't want to reinvent the wheel.

Do any of you have the same problem? What are your solutions?

The main post will be gradually updated and amended as the discussion progresses.

EDIT: For Mac Users, it appears that Delicious Library is a great solution. While looking for alternatives, I found this web app, libib, which seems very promising.

EDIT 2: I've spent most of the day cataloguing all of my stuff on libib, which is incredibly efficient... as long as the ISBN is readily-recognized. This doesn't work so well with rarer books and older books, but they're a small enough minority that I can delcare a smashing success.

  1. Step 1 was making a list of all available books.
  2. Step 2 is going to be applying the Universal Decimal System,
  3. Step 3 will be Establishing a
  • Reading List and a
  • List of What's Already Read and a
  • List of What Will Probably Never Be Read

Comments (20)

Comment author: [deleted] 05 July 2013 11:25:41PM 15 points [-]

I used to sell used and rare books. At one time I had 35,000 books in my apartment. Now I'm indexing the second largest collection of works by and about R. Buckminster Fuller in the world. So I know what it's like to have a heck of a lot of books, and a need to organize them for use.

Books published since the mid-1960s will have an International Standard Book Number, a barcode or both. Use a scanner to enter these titles into a computer. Perhaps something based on the open source package zxing might be useful. Books published before the mid-1960s can be entered using image recognition software (perhaps Google Goggles) or by application of finger to keyboard.

As you index your books, patterns will emerge. Make note of them. Even if they are wrong or incomplete, they are a foundation to build on. Once your books are indexed, search online for lists of books containing the titles on your tentative reading lists. Someone else has already done that work, and again it is something you can build on. If by strange chance no one has ever looked at the same group of books as yourself, then any list you compile will be valid.

Sell one book for every book you read. It could be the book you just read, or a book you think you never will read, or a book chosen at random, or a book that will bring in good money. The point is to recognize your own mortality and that there is not enough time to read all the books worth reading. You'll meet yourself in the middle, with a core of books you read worth keeping and not a one you didn't that wasn't.

Subtract your age from the number one hundred. That's how many pages you should give a book before you decide it's not worth continuing. When you're young, you have to give them a good long fair shake. As you age, you get on with things. If you're not reading it, don't keep it.

You've already gone through some sort of filtering process to acquire them anyway, as part of your finals and six years of college. Have faith in that filtering, and simply start at one end and proceed to the other. Arrange them by size, as the Quran was arranged. Read them chronologically. Patterns will emerge. And diving in head first will prevent you dancing on the side of the pool, never getting your feet wet.

"One measures a circle beginning anywhere." - Charles Fort, "Lo!" (1931)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 06 July 2013 08:58:32AM 1 point [-]

When you're young, you have to give them a good long fair shake.

Could you offer supporting arguments?

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 July 2013 09:16:41AM *  0 points [-]

When you're young, you're still building even the roughest map of the territory.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 06 July 2013 06:37:24PM 1 point [-]

Wouldn't that suggest reading small portions of many books rather than large portions of a few books?

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 July 2013 07:49:51PM 1 point [-]

Maybe, but I think you need to get deep into at least a few things so you know what deep looks like. You need to know at least a bit of Level 0 before you really get Level 1, 2, 3.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 06 July 2013 11:12:00PM 2 points [-]

Maybe, but I think you need to get deep into at least a few things so you know what deep looks like.

Interesting. My strategy for independent study of technical material used to be to understand everything really well from multiple angles and as much as possible invent the material for myself, but then I switched to skimming and trying to get a general idea for things. It does seem plausible to me that this deeper understanding phase was pretty useful.

Comment author: Metus 06 July 2013 04:04:23AM 1 point [-]

Sell one book for every book you read.

I want to expand a little on this rule as I see it as too restrictive. This should be done after acquiring a selection of books, having a selection always at hand. You can argue that you should discard one bad book for every good book you read or that you should purge your library from time to time, liberating it from mediocre works.

Comment author: VincentYu 06 July 2013 03:44:59AM 7 points [-]

On the topic of books, time-efficiency, and productivity, here is the Washington Times on books and Tyler Cowen:

We should ask ourselves if reading a book we’re getting little out of is the best use of scarce resources.

[Cowen] takes his own advice, saying he finishes one book for every five to 10 he starts.

“People have this innate view — it comes from friendship and marriage — that commitment is good. Which I agree with,” he says. That view shouldn’t, he says, carry over to inanimate objects.

It’s not that he’s not a voracious reader — he finishes more than a book a day, not including the “partials.” He just wants to make the most of his time.

“We should treat books a little more like we treat TV channels,” he argues. No one has trouble flipping away from a boring series.

Books are another story. Mr. Cowen thinks our education instills the belief that books somehow are sacred. Not to him.

“If I’m reading a truly, actively bad book, I’ll throw it out,” he says. His wife will protest, but he points out that he’s doing a public service: “If I don’t throw it out, someone else might read it.” If that person is one of the many committed to finishing a book once started, he’s actually doing harm.

Mr. Cowen, who says he couldn’t finish Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” or John Dos Passos’ “U.S.A.,” offers a more direct economic rationale. He notes that many up-and-coming writers complain they can’t break through in a best-seller-driven marketplace. “We’re also making markets more efficient,” Mr. Cowen says. “If you can sample more books, you’re giving more people a chance.”

Comment author: Metus 06 July 2013 04:08:54AM *  2 points [-]

Nice viewpoint, though I can't agree with this part.

“If I’m reading a truly, actively bad book, I’ll throw it out,” he says. His wife will protest, but he points out that he’s doing a public service: “If I don’t throw it out, someone else might read it.” If that person is one of the many committed to finishing a book once started, he’s actually doing harm.

Sell the book or donate it to a public library. That way you get some of your money back and if the book is no good this will, over time, be reflected in its price on the second-hand market. Simply discarding it will actually raise it's price and thereby distorting the market through raising it's price and thus it's suggested value.

What I do with books that are no good but worthless to sell as their price in the low single digits, I put them in a moderately frequented area with a note saying "take me home!". Then I don't feel guilty about throwing away a perfectly good book, donating crap to a library and I don't waste my time with inefficient ways to earn money. Oh and I get a nice warm feeling knowing that someone has the satisfaction of getting a book he or she wants for free or this person gets enjoyment from throwing a bad book in the trash.

Comment author: gjm 05 July 2013 10:44:23PM 6 points [-]

Do any of you have the same problem?

Conjecture: a very large fraction of LWers have this problem.

I have somewhere in excess of 300 books on my to-be-read shelves. If there is a good solution to the problem, I'll be interested too. But I fear it's like dieting ("How do you lose weight?" "Eat less and exercise more." "Damn.") -- the only solutions are to buy fewer books or to find more time to spend reading them, and fiddling with reading lists and the like is second-order stuff. Which, I suppose, means that my advice on "how to approach this problem" is "Just do it" -- but it's advice I've been ineffective in applying to myself.

(Note: I am aware that it's possible that eating less and exercising more is not sufficient for some unfortunate individuals -- if, e.g., their bodies are misconfigured to prefer burning up muscle or something rather than excess fat. I claim no expert knowledge about whether that actually happens and, if so, how often. But, alas, it seems that eating less and exercising more is necessary.)

Comment author: Kawoomba 07 July 2013 06:56:22AM 2 points [-]

The key difference being that if you eat less, you actively have to change your behavior, whereas if you have an unrealistic amount of books to read of which you eliminate some, you're not. Instead, you're just updating your perception of the situation to involve less wishful thinking and to be more in tune with your actual resource constraints.

So if you throw out some of those books, you wouldn't be changing your daily reading behavior, you'd just acknowledge the reality of the situation, and nothing of value would be lost, merely an excess of books which you'd never have read anyways.

Comment author: gjm 07 July 2013 08:42:05AM 1 point [-]

But dealing with a book-hoarding problem in anything other than the short term requires behaviour changes too: buying fewer books and/or losing timewasting habits that get in the way of reading more.

And throwing out books is as difficult psychologically for book-hoarding types as eating less is for most people.

Comment author: 9eB1 06 July 2013 03:42:17PM 1 point [-]

Which, I suppose, means that my advice on "how to approach this problem" is "Just do it" -- but it's advice I've been ineffective in applying to myself.

I agree with your post, but there are definitely specific strategies that could be effective. For example, if reading my library were important enough to me, I would go to beeminder, set up a beeminder for number of pages read with some goal of pages per week, and I would be pretty much assured of reading a lot more books.

Comment author: drethelin 05 July 2013 10:24:27PM 3 points [-]

If it were important to have read any of them, you most likely would have already. This means that it's unlikely that the books are important, so just read whichever is on top of the pile or that you feel like reading.

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 July 2013 09:18:45AM 0 points [-]

This pretty much works.

Comment author: Ritalin 06 July 2013 05:53:42PM 1 point [-]

Updated the main post: I've finished cataloguing my books. Now I need to shelf them rationally and decide what I'll read, what I'll keep, and what I'll drop. Tough choices: I'm a natural hoarder...

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 July 2013 07:27:08AM 1 point [-]

For keeping track of what I have, I use Delicious Library (MacOS only, I think). It uses the webcam to read barcodes and looks up the ISBN online. As for reading them, my bookshelves are my to-read list. Books I don't want to keep go on Amazon if worth more than £5, or in a charity book bin if not. Unfortunately, I'm still acquiring books faster than I get rid of them.

Comment author: DanielLC 06 July 2013 12:23:20AM 0 points [-]

I have a similar problem. In my case, it's the public library, along with anything published free on the internet. I have access to an absurd number of books. I'd like to read some of them, but I have no idea how to tell which are worth reading.

Also, not just books. This applies to TV shows, games, webcomics, web videos, etc.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 July 2013 10:48:51PM *  -1 points [-]

A solution I've found to reading-list problems is this: find someone else interested in getting through a pile of books. You and this person can exchange 1 page chapter summaries once every few days, with great shame or some penalty attached to missing this deadline. (ETA: say, contribute five dollars to a pot for every day past a deadline for a chapter, where the person making the fewest contributions gets the pot at the end of the year, something like that). I've gotten through several (very boring but important) books in this way. I also recommend reading pomodoro style: give yourself one or two min per page, say.

As to organization: I say burn them all, and download e-books whenever possible. Then read them on an e-reader that can't go on the internet. Actual, physical books are horrible objects.

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 July 2013 09:18:27AM *  2 points [-]

As to organization: I say burn them all, and download e-books whenever possible. Then read them on an e-reader that can't go on the internet. Actual, physical books are horrible objects.

I just don't read physical books. I started hitting the ebooks hard, and suddenly I was reading again.

Paul Graham claims books don't count as "stuff". THEY SO DO.

(The loved one is still into the paper things, so Amazon packages turn up regularly and moving house starts with twenty boxes that feel like they're full of plutonium.)