How to Find Someone Who Has the Book You Seek

Perhaps the full title of this article should be How to Find Someone Who Has the Book You Seek and Also Let Everyone Else Know About the Books You Own and Also Catalog Your Own Personal Library with Minimal Effort.

You can find dozens of programs that will help you catalog your personal book collection. Some of these will create a list that you can print or store on your own computer or store on your smartphone or even upload to the World Wide Web. Some products also keep track of the books you want to read (sometimes called a wish list) and will also keep track of books you have loaned out to others, including the date loaned. Some cataloging products will also track other media, such as CD and DVD disks, video games, and more. However, one online service does all that and lots more. You can access your information from a web browser on a desktop computer, a laptop computer, or even from a smartphone. The last feature is very useful when you are at a bookstore or flea market or genealogy conference and are wondering, “Do I already have that book?” Best of all, you can share your catalog with others and also see what others have in their collections. The service is available either free of charge or for very low fees.

The product I use is primarily a service for cataloging books, but it can also be used to catalog and track other media, including music and videos. You can sort, share, explore, import, and export data pertaining to your personal or even institutional library. You can track who has borrowed which book. You can see other users who have similar libraries to yours and browse books they have that you might be interested in. Perhaps best of all, you can find reviews of books on the system.

Of course, you can search your inventory at any time, whether seated at your desktop computer at home or by using your handheld cell phone when at a book fair or even at a garage sale.

With most library card catalog software, entering information about all the books you own can be tedious if you need to enter everything on the keyboard. Luckily, in today’s “online, all the time” environment, manual data entry is no longer necessary. The owners of this online service will even sell you a $17 barcode scanner that plugs into your computer’s USB port. (See

All newer books have a unique barcode printed in each although you probably won’t find this in a genealogy book printed in the 1890s. Simply load the appropriate software in your Macintosh or Windows computer, open the book to view the appropriate page, and hold the barcode scanner a few inches away from the barcode. The complete information about the book, including title, author, publisher, date published, and more will automatically be entered into your personal list of books in inventory.

LibraryThing is sometimes called “the world’s largest book club.” It is an online service for storing and sharing book catalogs and various types of book metadata. It is used by individuals, authors, libraries and publishers. LibraryThing helps you create a library-quality catalog of books: books you own, books you’ve read, books you’d like to read, books you’ve lent out … whatever grouping you’d like.

Tens of thousands of individuals and libraries catalog their books online with LibraryThing. As a result, they are all cataloging together. LibraryThing is much more than an online card catalog. While each entry includes the book title, author, publisher, date of publication, and other, traditional information, users are also encouraged to contribute tags, ratings, reviews for each book, and Common Knowledge (facts about a book or author, like character names and awards), as well as participate in member forums or join the Early Reviewers program. Everyone gets the benefit of everyone else’s work. LibraryThing connects people based on the books they share.

LibraryThing’s basic services are available free of charge, although payment of modest fees provides more services. You may enter up to 200 items for free, as many items as you like for $10 (per year) or $25 (life).

Searching for books is a fascinating experience. You may find others with interests similar to your own who live across town or across the globe. Searching is easy: enter some title words, the author, or an ISBN into the search box, and then click SEARCH.

Of course, you will want to add your books to the list for two purposes: (1.) this creates your own catalog that you can carry with you and search at any time and (2.) you can (optionally) make your collection visible to others.

The process for adding your books is simple and similar to the search method. If you have purchased the $17 barcode scanner, simply open the book cover and scan the barcode. However, if you do not yet have the barcode scanner, start entering a bit of information about the book, such as the ISBN number, some title words, or the author’s name. As soon as LibraryThing receives enough information to match a list of books, the list is displayed to you. You can click on the appropriate entry on the list, and all the remaining information will be entered for you. LibraryThing obtains its book data from and from hundreds of libraries around the world, including the Library of Congress.

If you are the first person to enter information about a particular book, you will need to manually enter all the appropriate information. This probably won’t happen on modern books since information about millions of books is already in LibraryThing’s database. However, older genealogy books or any books privately printed with a limited number of copies produced might not be pre-loaded in the system.

The information already contained in LibraryThing’s database is library-quality data about your books. Other library card catalog products may require you to manually enter every bit of information on the keyboard, a tedious process at best. In contrast, by entering a few letters of the book’s title or by entering the ISBN number, LibraryThing quickly returns a detailed description of the book, as well as social information from other LibraryThing users. You simply click SAVE to enter all that data about the book you own. Each book entry on LibraryThing shows you which members have the book and what they think about it – tags, reviews, and even links to conversations about the book. With more than 2.000,000 users and 50 million books in the system, you undoubtedly will find others with similar interests.

Once you enter data about your books, you are in charge of your library. Your catalog shows all the books you’ve entered into your collections. You can look at your catalog and its collections in either a customizable list or cover view. You can search your books, sort your books, create new collections, edit book reviews, and more. You can also print a copy of your catalog, write reviews, and apply tags. You can write about yourself and your library, or you can keep all your information completely private. You can list your favorite authors, bookstores and libraries, leave comments for other members, and see the interesting data about your books.

One of the more popular services of LibraryThing is called Talk. It is a discussion forum that is organized into Groups. You can search and join groups that cover books or topics you’re interested in, or you can make your own group (which can be public or private). You can read what others have to say and post messages. The Genealogy Group may be found at

In short, if you own a lot of books, or if you love books, you need LibraryThing! You can learn a lot more about LibraryThing if you start at

LibraryThing is a great service for individuals as well as for many libraries. For instance, does your local genealogy society have a library of a few hundred or even a few thousand books? If so, you may have found that card catalog software for libraries can be very expensive. Using LibraryThing’s services may be an attractive alternative. It is not only cost-effective, but use of LibraryThing eliminates all the headaches involved with installing software, making backups, installing occasional software updates, making the information available online, and more.

If you own a smartphone, you might want to take advantage of Library Anywhere, a free app for Android or iPhones that takes any library catalog on LibraryThing and makes it mobile, instantly. Library Anywhere provides the following for you and your patrons:

  • Search the catalog, place holds, see checked-out books, and more.
  • Showcase hours, branches, and events with a customizable homepage.
  • No installation process.
  • Comes with an “accessible version” that provides a fully Section 508-compliant version of your existing catalog.
  • LibraryThing for Libraries customers get integration of tags, reviews, recommendations, other editions.

Details about Library Anywhere may be found at

I was pleased with the simplicity of LibraryThing. It is easy to input information about my books and also easy to find other books, both in libraries and in private collections. Its integration with, the Library of Congress, and hundreds of other libraries reduces the tedium of data entry to point where it is now easy to catalog my books.

If you haven’t seen LibraryThing, do yourself a favor: check it out now at

I bet you will be impressed.


This sounds like a very handy program. Is there something similar for CDs and DVDs?


    —> Is there something similar for CDs and DVDs?

    Yes. LibraryThing does that also. As I wrote in the article, “The product I use is primarily a service for cataloging books, but it can also be used to catalog and track other media, including music and videos.”


I’ve been a member of LibraryThing and their Genealogy group for almost a decade. The site is constantly growing and is available in different languages. It’s a great way to find out about books and topics that you might not otherwise be aware of.


Amazon has Cuecat Scanners for $5 and change. Are they the same as identified in the article or have they been modified specifically for use by Library Thing?


    The markup helps LibraryThing, which has always been a barebones operation — especially compared with competitor Goodreads — in business.


What hutzpah: selling 17-year-old technology that flopped when it came out in the tech bust of 1999-2000. The company I worked for lost over $30 million on the Cue Cat with a cord – and there was a reason for that. Today we have a scanner in our pocket: it’s called a smartphone app. These folks charge $15 for an obsolete device that was given away free by the millions.


    Here is more information from
    “We’re giving away lifetime memberships to anyone who uses the app for the next month. Register for a new account using the LibraryThing App, or sign into the app with an existing account, and you’ll be automatically upgraded.”


    While I understand your cynicism, I — and any other librarian — will tell you that a CueCat is infinitely easier and faster to use when dealing with large collections. You can blaze through shelves with a dedicated scanner, while smartphone apps take forever.

    If you’re working with a small collection, say < 100 books, you don't need to invest in a scanner. If you have a considerable number of books to process, especially like at a genealogy society library, buy a CueCat from LibraryThing. The money goes to a really good small business that relies on those purchases to stay open.


    Joseph Matye that link does take you to the app info but it is 18 months old so re-posting the free bit comment is misleading.

    I did look at the as yet unreleased Android app but it wants access to my contacts!!! Why it would ever want that I don’t know and I refuse to use apps that want access to such data, a pity as I was going to check out LibarayThing.


Timely as I contemplate my collection’s destiny. Runs of journals and shelves of books which my children do not want. Twenty years or more of subscriptions and researching are available.


I may be dreaming on this, but does Library Thing also have a citation generator in the program? Those of us writing books sometimes struggle with citations when we have to use different formats for different purposes–MLA, APA, Chicago–and with major changes to MLA recently it just got more complicated. The online citation generators I have found seem to be unreliable.


Thank you! I’ve needed something like this and just didn’t discover Library Thing on my own. I’ve already entered some of my books in a remarkably fast time. So easy. I may get the scanner too, but the search system works very well.


I have tried to join the LibraryThing several times, It will not accept any pass word I have entered. I have tried many combinations of letters and numbers and it rejects them all. I even tried commas, and “,” as they said that was all I could use. Did not work.


    —> have tried to join the LibraryThing several times, It will not accept any pass word I have entered.

    Strange… LibraryThing has more than 2.000,000 users registered users. (I am one of those registered users.) The passwords obviously worked for them and also for me. What is different in your computer?


    Tried again. I was mistaking user name for password requirements. Evidently they do not allow spaces in the user name. What threw me was that the password lit up as incorrect, not the user name. Anyway I am now a member. Thanks, Dick.


My computer expert son says: Goodreads is far more polished than LibraryThing.


    Goodreads definitely has a friendlier interface, way more users, a great app, and more bells and whistles. (It had those advantages even before Amazon bought them out.) LibraryThing has its own distinctive features, especially TinyCat (a collection cataloguing tool for libraries), that attract a different audience.

    As a librarian, I would say that Goodreads is best for armchair readers, people who want to read/write book reviews, and people who want to log their reading. LibraryThing is best for large-scale collectors and small libraries that want to create searchable catalogues for others to consult, which is what Dick is talking about.

    Of course, you can easily export/import on both services, so you can (and should) do what most of us do — input your books on whichever service feels more intuitive to you, then import your data to the other.

    Think of it like building a tree on one site, then uploading that GEDCOM to another. Always fish in every pond available to you.

    Liked by 1 person

Bar code scanners are no longer necessary. I have been using Library Thing for years. I just downloaded the app to my iPhone. It has a bar code reader in the app. Just point the camera on your phone to the bar code on he book and all the informatoin is automatically entered. It is faster, easier and cheaper than using a bar code scanner.


What about Libib? ( It looks like it would handle home libraries, has a web/app interface, and unlimited entries… I have not tried it, but it looks interesting


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