Sunday, 15 July 2012

Book Database

For years I've catalogued the majority of my books. I started with one plastic box with a set of 4x6 inch index cards. I now have 6 absolutely stuffed boxes. I include fiction, travel writing, biographies, 'academic' (e.g. history, anthropology, religion), poetry, current affairs, etc. What I haven't included are books such as recipe books, travel guides, dictionaries and so on. There's also the question of when does a pamphlet or booklet become a book and deserve a card in my index box? I've always been a bit stuck with this one.

I write the name of the author or editor at the top of the card in red ink. Underneath I list all the books in my collection by that author/editor in blue or black ink. If a book has more than one author or editor I note this in brackets after the title and have a separate card filled out for each author or editor. The cards are then filed in alphabetical order of surname.

This has always been an effective way of keeping track of my books, but now I'm starting to wonder if I need to go digital. A few things have prompted these thoughts. One is my recent purchase of a Kindle. If I have a book on Kindle should I add it to my catalogue? Or should my catalogue solely be a way of keeping track of the books that are sitting on my shelves? Also, I'd quite like to know how many books I've got. I used to be able to look along my shelves and count them. That's not that easy any more. And with six stuffed index boxes, counting titles written on cards isn't that practical either. And anyway, a lot of my books aren't included on the index cards such as my three shelves of recipe books, or my two shelves of travel guide books.

Something else that has got me thinking recently is the proliferation of sites such as Shelfari and Goodreads. I've had a bit of a play around with both and I like the idea of them. They have so many categories including the date you finished reading the book, if you have loaned it to someone, what rating you give it, and so on. There's also space for a synopsis. As much as I like filling things in and ticking boxes I know I'd never have the time and patience to do this for all my books. And although I like the advantage of being able to access my book database from anywhere in the world, there's also the disadvantage of not having complete control over it. What if the website ceases to exist? Or if it morphs into something I don't like? Or if a charge is introduced? So although I'll put a few of my books on Shelfari and Goodreads, I'm probably better with my own database.

Last night I started playing around with Access on my laptop. I've set up a basic database and started entering books thinking of categories as I go. There's no point me having a 'date read' category as for most of my books I've no idea of the exact date I read them. So instead I've included a box that can be ticked if I've read that particular book. I've also got tick boxes for whether or not the book is fiction, if it's edited, if it is has more than one author and whether I have a paper copy, a Kindle edition or both.

Other categories I've included so far are the author's name and the title of the book and three 'genre' categories. In these I'm entering if it's a children's book or a thriller; if there's a particular Scotland or Peak District interest; if there's a theme running throughout e.g. dogs or biscuits; and so on.

As I've only just started working on this, I'm not sure how it will end up. Will I finish with some really elaborate database, or will I give up after a few weeks and go back to my index boxes? If I do continue with the digital database I know I'm probably looking at a few years to get all my books catalogued sufficiently and appropriately. Ah well, no point in doing things by halves is there?

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