Zotero for Personal Library Management

My name is Scott, and I'm a bookaholic. When I hit rock bottom, I was rummaging through library sales, garage sales, and even dumpsters behind Barnes and Noble to feed my habit. I bought books that no one, including me, wanted to read. But I've been giving it all to my higher power, taking it one day at a time, and remaining accountable to my sponsor - and things are getting better.

Seriously, I thought I had a problem until I visited my Greek professor's home - he had books pouring out of his kitchen cabinets! And there were no first editions of The Great Gatsby in the pile - he had Danielle Steele paperbacks for cripes sake.

At about the time I visited his home, I was also preparing for a big move - and decided that it was time to rethink what to collect and keep in my physical library. I can honestly say that, at this point, every book on my shelf (whether at work or home) has earned its real-estate. Desk copies that I don't like get donated, novels are given to friends, and paperbacks get recycled. I still have a LOT of books, but the ones I have are important to me.

About a year ago, I started cataloguing my library in Zotero. At first, it was a laboriously slow process, and I'd log a book or two in my spare time. More recently, I discovered some ways to automate the process so that I could move much faster. Now, whenever I receive new books that I intend to keep and use, I log them immediately with almost no effort. Here's the workflow so that you can save time at the expense of my experience...

Scanning ISBNs

I use a free iPhone app called "Bar-Code" to scan the ISBN code on the back of the book. In this example, I have scanned only one book (it just arrived), but you can scan several at a time. I found that if I scanned around 10 at a time, the app was reliably stable and happy to help - if I got greedy and tried to do more than 10, the app would sometimes crash.

Once the codes are scanned, the app offers the option to "Do something with the scanned barcodes." I choose "send the list by email."

The app sends the list of bar-codes in plain text format. Select all of them and copy to the clipboard.

Import ISBNs

Open Zotero (standalone or webapp) and click the "Add Items by Identifier" button (it looks like a wand). A small window will open in which a single ISBN, or a list of ISBNs, can be pasted...

Zotero will search for the ISBN information, and import the record into your library. Zotero will search for the bibliographic information, and create a record of the resource.

Old Books and Bad ISBNs

I'm sure a library scientist could describe why, but some ISBNs are not easily searchable. I was VERY frustrated with bad ISBNs, and books that were printed before ISBNs - until I ran across a workflow that should have been more obvious from the start.

When I find a book with no ISBN or with a bad ISBN, I simply go to my university's online catalogue and search for it. Since the online catalogue searches for books in lots of libraries, I am able to use the Zotero web-clipper to download the information into my reference manager. Other resources that can be used in a similar way include the Library of Congress, and even Amazon!

Books printed by self-publishers, or that are unique imprints (like some specialized textbooks) won't show up in any of these places. In the end, I had a few books that I had to enter information manually - but only a few.

Managing the Library

Tags - You can move all of the records for your physical library into a folder in Zotero, or you can tag them as items in your physical library (I used the tag "Personal" to note all of my own physical books). Consider tags for Personal, Home, Work, etc. Zotero will also import the keyword tags that some catalogues include in the citation information.

Notes - If you continue to be a sucker like me, you can note whom you lent your books to, or even annotate specific information about the book. I do keep annotations in the notes section. I used to note which were at home and which were at work - I now do that with tags.

Standalone - The standalone app is really quite nice. The catalogue syncs nicely across all my devices.

iOS - If you want to access your Zotero libary from iOS, ZotPad is a great tool. It's free, and will open any pdfs that are stored in your Zotero library right on the iPad. It's a great way to organize a lot of reading!

Keeping it Up

No that everything is in Zotero, it is VERY easy to add new members of my personal library. When I receive books, I scan the ISBNs, copy the numbers, and import them into Zotero. It takes only moments to log a new book into the reference library. It's a great way for a bookaholic to feel like they have a handle on his addiction.

Seriously - he had Danielle Steele paperbacks!!!

Image Credit: http://bit.ly/1J8MIKn

Posted on June 19, 2015 and filed under General.