Justin Dunnavant is a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of Florida. You can find him on Twitter at @archfieldnotes or at his blog AfricanaArch.

As a graduate student you’ll have plenty of books to read; some you’ll buy, others you’ll borrow. I personally enjoy spending countless hours mining used bookstores for new titles. But over the years I’ve fallen victim to the “I-don’t-have-this-book” syndrome, only to return home later and find it tucked away in the corner somewhere. With so many books, I had to develop a method to keep track of all of them.

I have tried Endnote and other reference managers in the past but found the process of searching online and importing metadata to be cumbersome. More recently, I’ve been particularly keen on Delicious Library because of its ability to scan barcodes and intuitively sync with amazon.com and other services for pricing and reading reviews. However, I couldn’t justify spending $25 on a grad student budget.

This summer I came across a free alternative that has actually been around for quite some time now: Goodreads. With a smartphone and a free Goodreads.com account you can easily collect the bibliographic information for all of your books, group them into categories, read and update reviews, and keep track of what you still need to read. Best of all, the whole collection syncs wirelessly over the internet!

While many people use Goodreads to read reviews or share suggestions with friends, it turns out it’s actually great for cataloging as well. In 2011, Goodreads released their iOS and Android app with the ability to scan barcodes and input references with your phone’s camera, revolutionizing the way we can use the software. With a few simple steps you can start cataloging your library in no time.

gh -goodreads1

First you need to sign-up for a free online account and download the phone app. The interface for both the website and application are simple and easy to use.

Once you have downloaded the phone app, you can begin scanning the books in your library. The barcode scanner recognizes most books, although you will need to input your older books that don’t have barcodes manually.  In addition to barcode scanning, users can also import titles from spreadsheets, .txt files, and any website that includes ISBNs – such as your amazon.com wishlist.

After scanning your books, you can catalog them into different “bookshelves.” The default bookshelves include “read,” “currently-reading,” and “to-read” but you are free to make your own as well. The application also supports batch shelving so you can scan multiple books and “shelve” them all at once.

screenshot of goodreads bookshelf

Goodreads encourages you to rate your selections and provides you with an average rating so you can see how others have assessed the book. I have found the reviews to be more personal and in-depth than most online bookstore reviews. After rating 20 books, Goodreads will even start recommending readings to you.

For those interested in social media, you can attach a Goodreads widget to your blog or website displaying your latest books and follow your friends’ literary adventures through facebook and twitter. You can also create and join groups of users with similar literary interests. A search of your favorite authors reveals their books as well as memorable quotes and groups of users interested in the same writers.

In addition to these great features, Goodreads can also locate duplicate references and keep statistics on the number of books (and pages) you’ve read. While the program is great, it does have one major drawback: I haven’t found a way to export my Goodreads library directly into a reference manager program yet – but there may be a work around for that in the near future.

I’m still in the process of cataloging my entire library, but I’m continually finding new uses for the website. Last year GradHacker Andrea Zellner wrote a short piece on how she uses the service to keep track of her summer reading list. And for those of you who have trouble keeping track of your library loans more specifically, our friends at ProfHacker recently reviewed Library Elf as a viable option.

How do you keep track of your personal library?

[Images captured by Justin Dunnavant]


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