Using Zotero as a Personal Library Catalog

Note: Not actualy my books image credit to Kristin Brenemen

My wife and I have a lot of books, tons of books. So many books that I am sometimes surprised to find books I didn’t even know we had. Over the years I have tried to organize them in ways that make sense to me. This approach has failed utterly and completely. I have now resolved to organize our library using the Library of Congress Classification system and I think I have the technology to make this relatively easy.

Below are the four steps I see to making this work. I have done some experiments and I am pretty confident that this will work. I intend to make detailed posts about each stage. So if anyone out their is as big a book dork I should leave detailed enough instructions for you to follow along.

How am I going to do this?

First I need to capture the bibliographic information for our books from the Library of Congress catalog into my Zotero collection. Since I already have about 100 of our books in my collection this should be relatively easy.

Then I need to export the Names and Call Numbers of all those books from Zotero. I should be able by hacking a simple custom bibliographic style. With any luck it won’t take long.

After that I will take that tab delimited file and use a mail merge to print the title’s and call numbers of my books onto address labels that I picked up at Target.

Why would I want to do this?

You might be thinking, why are you using Zotero for this? If all I wanted to do was organize my books by their LCCN’s I could just look them up and paste the call numbers into a Word document.

While this would be a way to go, doing this inside Zotero gives me the added benefit of having a really amazing iTunes like interface to find my books. I am also excited to see what the weighted tag cloud of all the subject headings for my books looks like.

One might also ask why not use something like Delicious library or Librarything? First, I’m cheap. Both of these services cost money where Zotero is free. Furthermore the various programs created to organize one’s local collections of books are set up do do just that and only that. There are some big plans for Zotero to do a whole lot more and I think it will be neat to have my entire collection of books in my Zotero library as those new features role out.

Edit: I meant to say LC clasification system, not LCSH.

9 Replies to “Using Zotero as a Personal Library Catalog”

  1. You probably meant LC Classification instead of LCSH right?

    Since you are in the area, the next time you are at LC you might be interested in popping in and looking at the Jefferson Library Exhibit which shows how Thomas Jefferson's personal library was arranged.

    He used a modified version of Francis Bacon's classification which was how LC's collection was arranged prior to 1897, when the Jefferson building opened its doors.

  2. Thanks Ed, thanks for the correction re LC Classification vs LCSH. I'll edit the post. I have been meaning to check out the Jefferson Library Exhibit.

  3. Great idea, Trevor, and great post. Something else that might be useful to, especially if you wanted to make your collection public (and possibly let some of use borrow those books) is Scriblio. If there's a way to port the data from your Zotero collection into Scriblio, you'd be all set.

  4. I do want to make it public and I have thought about playing with Scribilo to this end. I will probably just need to shoehorn one of Zotero's export formats into something that Scribilo could read.

    Aside from library catalog stuff, the easiest thing to do is dump the whole list into one of the services that auto populates data based on ISBNs. Librarything does this, but once you go over 200 books you need to pay them. If memory serves me right Goodreads does the same thing without a cap on records.

    In the big picture Zotero 2.0 will cover this sharing piece, but once I have my catalog digitized I will probably try to stick it in a bunch of these services to see which provide the coolest feature sets.

  5. My wife and I have our personal library ordered by colour. Gives you a whole new view of your book collection, including unlikely alliances. And it looks nice!

    But yeah, using Zotero to organize your personal library is pretty cool.

  6. @Mark: one of my coworkers does exactly the same thing. He and his wife claim that when they want a book they generally can remember its color, even if they can’t remember its name.

  7. I have a large library already loaded into Zotero. What’s the easiest way to look up all of the Library of Congress numbers and add that to the call number field in Zotero?

  8. Hi Trevor
    Came across your post while looking how to set up my personal library. I have lots of books and still buying. I need a list that will tell me what I have and so avoid duplication.
    I shall check the sources you cite but I do not understand your abbreviations here in the UK!
    All tips on the subject much appreciated

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