Sunday, 10 April 2011


I’ve discovered a new source of distraction – Librarything – which is a website to allow you to catalogue what’s on your shelves, as well as all the usual social networky stuff de nos jours.

Now this sounds incredibly geeky, but I have a serious purpose here. We have a lot of books, some of which would be quite hard to replace. We used to have a lot more, but when we moved from York to Canberra we gave about three quarters of them away, including my science fiction collection, as there just wasn’t room in the shipping container for them all.

When we gave the books away we intended to be rational and give away the mass market paperbacks, the stuff that didn’t do it for us any more and keep the literature and the good factual stuff that might come in useful.

We weren’t that rational in the end. Somehow all of George Orwell got given away, along with Lindsey Davis, and some things that shouldn’t have come did, some things just got lost, like my copy of Ae Satyre of the Thrie Estatis.

So, as well as buying new books, we’ve replaced some of the missing books, though for some reason Lindsey Davis seems to have taken precedent over George Orwell.

The upshot is, we don’t know what we’ve got, and Librarything seems the perfect solution to let us catalogue our collection. Also at the back of our minds is the problem we had when we had a break in in York and some miscreant stole all our CD’s (as well as the stereo, a Mac, and the rest).

We of course didn’t have a list of what we had but we did have a couple of hundred CD’s. The insurers were happy to agree we had had that many – we could point to the empty CD racks and show them some photos we’d taken that showed the racks to be fairly full.

What they didn’t of course do was deal with the fact we had a pile of classical and medieval music and a pile of world music exotica, some bought on our travels, and offered us the average price for a cd bought from a discount music store.

We argued, at one point I sarcsatically suggested they fly us to Johannesburg to replace the world music cd’s as it would probably work out cheaper than buying the individual imports, and eventually they upped the amount a bit, and we compromised.

And even today, we have less than half the number we used to have.

Now, while no miscreant is going to steal a paperback of Aristophanes’ collected plays, we’re always aware that there’s a nature reserve on top of the hill, and in the event of a serious bushfire it would be ‘grab the cat, the passports, grab a laptop, grab the cd’s with the scanned essentials and get the hell out’.

And afterwards, we’d need to get a valuation on the books we’d inevitably lose – so Librarything seems the ideal solution to show what we had - and of course since the data lives elsewhere, we don't need to make sure that one of the essential CD's was an uptodate booklist.

But how to get the data in?

Well Librarything is part owned by AbeBooks who are themselves part owned by Amazon. Most of our books come from Abe, Amazon in either the States or the UK, or Bookdepository. And we’ve been buying from Amazon for as long as they’ve been going so getting that data in seemed like a start.

Now because of the ownership chain we thought that at least AbeBooks and the Amazon’s would have purchase history import/export filters to LibraryThing. Not a bit of it.

They didn’t even have an option to download your purchase history to a csv file. Neither did Bookdepository.

I was quite prepared to write a little bit of perl if necessary to transform the data (actually, being a sad anorak I was looking forward to it), but no, not a bit of it. Nothing to do but spend an evening with a tab open on your purchase history and another tab open on Librarything doing the data entry by hand.

And that’s probably given us 50% of the books. For the rest, we’re probably up for a few evenings manual data entry.

While Librarything will sell you a cheap barcode scanner for $15, itwould mean waiting for a couple of weeks minimum for one to come from the states, and with no guarantees as none of our computers use any of the operating systems listed on the librarything cuecat webpage.

And, a barcode scanner wouldn't solve all of our problems, given Borders' and Dymocks' habit of sticking their own SKU labels over the publisher's barcode which of course renders them unscannable with no alternative other than manual entry.

And the obvious machine to use for data entry is the OokyGoo, our linux travelling netbook, given its lightness and portability, but cuecats with linux seems a bridge too far. Googling suggests that using the Cuecat with linux is finger in the ear at best, so I think it’s going to be autumn evenings sat on the floor with the Asus netbook typing in ISBN’s by hand …

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