Organizing a library: Addendum

tss-baseball.jpgYesterday morning I realized my post on organizing a library was incomplete. I answered Noah’s question about books, but without explaining the bigger picture of my organizational method I left out key pieces. So today I hope to complete the puzzle.

When I initially set out to organize my library, I was thinking only of printed books. And because I was only thinking of printed books, I invested in an electronic book organization software called Booxter (Mac only). Loved it! I hooked up my webcam and the webcam read the barcode off most books, automatically retrieving the book information from Amazon. It was fun. I scanned about 10 books per minute. All my books were added into the database and I felt all organized.

But then reality hit.

First, I realized I have 3,000 original Puritan and Reformed electronic books on my computer. How do I organize those on Booxter? Then I realized I had a massive mp3 sermon collection on my hard drive, and I had no idea what content I actually possessed. Then I came across great quotes on blogs and websites. How do I catalogue them? And what about my file folders of magazine clippings? And what about my personal sermon notes? And what about favorite quotes? I realized printed books comprised less than half of my library!

Which is why I eventually scrapped Booxter and returned to the Microsoft Excel database (explained last time).

Although it seems a bit archaic, in a customized database I can equally categorize books, chapters of books, single quotes from books, magazine articles, blog posts, websites, mp3 audio sermons, DVDs, personal sermon notes, online videos and any other form of media.

Here’s what I mean.

Using the same format I proposed in the last post, I will to add to my database.

1. Blog posts or websites

Spreadsheets allow me to hyperlink text to the web or an electronic file on my computer. Sometimes I forget the rich quotes I posted in the TSS archives! I never want to forget the quote by John Piper on “What is sin?” But I don’t want to print this quote out and stuff it into some forgettable file folder. Here are two examples of how I index blog posts in my database:

  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > rebellion towards God > John Piper > TSS post 2/19/07 [hyperlinked]
  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > woven into heart > David Powlison > TSS post 6/25/07 [hyperlinked]

2. Audio and video

Audio sermons and videos, either on your hard drive or on the Web, are easily organized, too. Even your DVD collection will fit. Let me give you some examples:

  • Biographical > 18th century > Jonathan Edwards > John Piper > online video [hyperlinked]
  • Christian life > Perseverance > Don’t waste your life > John Piper > mp3 on HD
  • Parenting > Cross Centered > overview > C.J. Mahaney > mp3 on HD
  • Theology > Calvinism > overview > R.C. Sproul > What is Reformed Theology? DVD series

3. Personal sermon notes

I take a lot of sermon notes because I sit under excellent biblical preaching! I write in a Moleskin notebook I fill annually. Once the notebook is stuffed, I write in my own page numbers so I can index. As of today I’m over half done with volume three. Here are my recent sermon notes …

  • Theology > Nature of God > Sovereignty > Rick Gamache > 7/1/07 sermon, MS 3:75-76
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Bound by love > Rick Gamache > 7/8/07 sermon, MS 3:77-78
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Humility > Rick Gamache > 7/15/07 sermon, MS 3:79-80
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Confession > Mark Alderton > 7/22/07 sermon, MS 3:85-86
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Correction > Mark Alderton > 7/29/07 sermon, MS 3:87-88
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Speech that gives grace > Rick Gamache > 8/19/07 sermon, MS 3:95-96
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Maintaining unity of > Rick Gamache > 8/26/07 sermon, MS 3:97-98

Putting it all together

So let’s assemble the entire database from today and last time:

  • Biographical > 18th century > Jonathan Edwards > John Piper > online video [hyperlink]
  • Biographical > 19th century > Robert Murray M’Cheyne > Iain Murray > The Banner of Truth Magazine: Issues 1-16 (pages)
  • Christian life > Evangelism > [undefined] > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Bound by love > Rick Gamache > 7/8/07 sermon, MS 3:77-78
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Humility > Rick Gamache > 7/15/07 sermon, MS 3:79-80
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Confession > Mark Alderton > 7/22/07 sermon, MS 3:85-86
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Correction > Mark Alderton > 7/29/07 sermon, MS 3:87-88
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Speech that gives grace > Rick Gamache > 8/19/07 sermon, MS 3:95-96
  • Christian life > Fellowship > Maintaining unity of > Rick Gamache > 8/26/07 sermon, MS 3:97-98
  • Christian life > Perseverance > Don’t waste your life > John Piper > mp3 on HD
  • Christian life > Prayer > call to diligence > J.I. Packer > Growing in Christ (pages)
  • Ecclesiology > Outreach > Evangelism > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > rebellion towards God > John Piper > TSS post 2/19/07 [hyperlink]
  • Hamartiology > What is sin? > woven into heart > David Powlison > TSS post 6/25/07 [hyperlink]
  • Parenting > Cross Centered > overview > C.J. Mahaney > mp3 on HD
  • Soteriology > Union with Christ > [undefined] > J.I. Packer > Growing in Christ (pages)
  • Theology > Calvinism > Defense of > Iain Murray > The Banner of Truth Magazine: Issues 1-16 (pages)
  • Theology > Calvinism > overview > R.C. Sproul > What is Reformed Theology DVD series
  • Theology > Nature of God > Sovereignty > Rick Gamache > 7/1/07 sermon, MS 3:75-76
  • Theology > Nature of God > Sovereignty > J.I. Packer > Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (pages)

As you can see, my system provides great flexibility to organize any type of media as specifically as you prefer, a limitation of Booxter and Library Thing.

All these categories are customizable. Change and modify as needed and then simply sort the data alphabetically (Excel does this with one click of a button).

Added benefits

There are three great benefits to creating your own categories on a spreadsheet (besides an organized library).

1. Mental organization. In essence you are forced to organize your thoughts systematically. If you have trouble seeing the big picture (as I do) a list of categories will help you organize your thoughts systematically.

2. Prioritizing the small. Small bits of information and precious short quotes are easily forgotten between all the books in your library shelves. In my system it doesn’t matter how wide the spine is, because it places importance not on the size of the work, but its value to you.

3. Strengths/weaknesses. Being forced to categorize all your media will reveal your interests and strengths but also your library’s weaknesses that should be more thoroughly studied.

LibraryThing

I get a lot of questions about LibraryThing, an online book organizing system. I guess this is a good place for some thoughts…

Part of my occupation is online marketing and I can spot online money-making techniques fairly quickly. I noticed LibraryThing is affiliated with Amazon and makes commissions on all Amazon purchases through LT links. This is why book recommendations and Amazon are both prominent themes of the website. LT is essentially a brilliant marketing tool that uses your public library information to unite readers with similar interests to convince them to buy books through Amazon and make an affiliate profit though these sales (on top of payment for LT services).

I’m not against LibraryThing and see great social benefits to using it. But please remember they can use your library to sell similar books to readers of similar interests. I cannot find where this is disclosed on the website.

Please, always consider buying from a reformed bookseller (like Monergism Books) to support them in their valuable ministry.

Does this post help clarify my organizational system? Let me know and thanks for reading TSS!

————–

UPDATE: Augustine’s Confessions is a personal favorite (Vintage Spiritual Classics edition). Augustine covers several diverse topics and gives great examples of various life situations. To help give you a better understanding of the value of indexing quotes and ideas, I post a pdf edition of my personal notes. The index is old and detailed and my system has since changed in some ways but it illustrates the important freedom needed to categorize single books in various categories and point to specific pages/chapters. See for yourself and download my personal index.

12 thoughts on “Organizing a library: Addendum

  1. Another big “thank you” Tony for being such a help for us disorganized preacher types – of which I’m chief.

    Gratefully,

    Ben

  2. I never thought about the marketing aspect of Library Thing, but it doesn’t really bother me — let them make some money off it if they can.

    I don’t look at my “recommendations.” I’m using it to start my electronic catalog. Once I finally scan in all my books, I’ll export it to Excel and start the laborious task of putting in all my electronic books. And if through my library someone’s recommended a good book, that’s cool too.

  3. Hi. I saw your post on Google Blog search. I thought I’d put in a word of response:

    1. To be perfectly frank, Amazon affiliate revenues are a drop in the bucket for us. It takes a very large number before 5-10% of that number is also a large number. We employ seven people, four of them engineers. Do the math on that one. It’s copier-paper money.

    2. Although we keep the affiliate revenues when you buy on the site itself, our widgets allow you to enter your own affilaite codes.

    3. The privacy terms specifically say that we can sell aggregate and anonymized data, and the blog mentions a number of times we in fact have. Most importantly, we have a project called “LibraryThing for Libraries” that puts member-based recommendations and tags into traditional library catalogs.

    4. LibraryThing lists a number of other booksellers and libraries, most of which we have no affiliate relationships with. (Contrast that with our compeitor, Shelfari, owned by Amazon and who only link to Amazon.) And we allow allow you to add and to list any number of other bookstores and libraries. Doing so add its to your options and makes it available to others. So, if you want to add Monergism Books, it only takes a single effort.

    Yes, I enjoy puns and, hey, if it’s any consolation, your filthy lucre is going to a startup founded by an ex-student who reads Koine Greek. ;)

    Tim

  4. Thanks Tim for the clarifications and thank you for your work on LT. The biblio-social element of LT is noteworthy. … Here’s my math: Let’s say each registered LT user buys one $15 book from Amazon each year. At only 5-percent Amazon commission that’s nearly $200,000 income. Now that’s a lot of copier-paper! ;-) Once again I tip the bottle your way and echo the men of Guinness: “Brilliant!”

    ChrisB — Here is one suggestion that comes to mind. I would encourage you to start with your top 10 favorite topical books and index each section or chapter into the database. Avoid the temptation to simply drag book titles because you own them but make sure what is indexed is only the most important books/chapter/quotations you own.

    Blessings Tim and ChrisB! Tony

  5. Tony,
    Thanks for the posts on your system. Obviously you think it is worth it. But what are we looking at in terms of time commitment? How long do you spend updating your system?

  6. Hello Joe! Opposed to systems where you equally input each book, this system favors indexing material you find helpful and want to remember for future use. The time commitment depends upon whether you are reading great books! … Personally I have made it a habit to index books when I complete a book. I write topics and page numbers in the back cover I later index. … Well indexed material makes it easy to find things in the bustle of sermon prep. The time a pastor uses indexing is easily made up for in efficiency. I personally spend about an hour every two weeks updating mine. Blessings! Tony

  7. For those who are willing to spend the extra time to input each record individually, Microsoft Works Database allows an easy and flexible method of starting off with a simple format and then adding fields as you discover the need for them.

    With this MS Works you can select all records with a certain word to appear (e.g. “Carson” anywhere in any record), or all records with that word in a certain field (e.g. “book” in the format field [assuming you have created such a field], or “sin” in a subject field). You can also produce various lists according to your needs (e.g. “Sermons in all formats”).

    The variety of reports available from a database is the big advantage over a spreadsheet such as Excel. If you already know MS Access, use that if you want the database advantage; but the MS Works database is simple and almost intuitive in contrast to the complexity of Access. What is especially nice is that with Works, you can easily improve your format choices as time goes along and as you discover by use what will better meet your needs.

  8. Tony,

    I know I’m commenting on an old post here, but just found your blog after finishing Lit! recently and have this question. Could you share your list of primary topics/categories? I’m struggling to have a list that is not hopelessly complex but still is detailed enough to be functional.

    Thank you!
    Yance

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