How to Catalog a Book Collection

By Frank Thompson

There comes a time when a book collection becomes a library. When books are stacked in every room of the house and doubled up on your bookshelves, you may find that it becomes difficult to lay your hands on just the right one -- or to even remember whether you have a particular book in your possession. You don't have to have a degree in library sciences to catalog your own collection. You just have to have the time to spend on it. And you can be as detailed -- or as perfunctory -- as you like. After all, it's your collection.

Putting Your Books in Order

Organize your library. Your catalog will be much more useful to you if it not only identifies and describes the books in your collection but also tells you how to find a book quickly and easily. Organizing your books beforehand will also make the cataloguing process much simpler. In doing this, you can take a cue from your public library: put all fiction in one section, science books in another, philosophy books in another, photography books in another, and so on. Unless your library runs into the thousands of volumes, this should be sufficient shelf organization. But if you do have a massive collection it might help to assign each category of books with a letter -- "F" for fiction, for example.

Identify each book. In its simplest form, your catalog should consist of the book's title, the author, the publisher and the location on your shelves. If you are unsure of how to format, check out the bibliography in one of your books and use it as a model. If you are a true book collector who is always on the lookout for new books or who occasionally sells or trades volumes, you will also want the catalog entry to contain other items -- condition, dust jacket, edition, special features, such as illustrations or photographic plates etc. A print-out of this catalog will come in handy when you're out browsing for books, since you can easily see if a certain book in your library needs an upgrade in quality.

Write or input the data. For some people, this job will be tackled most efficiently with note cards. You can write all the pertinent information on the card and then stick the card in the book. When that stage of the cataloguing is completed you can then go back and gather all the cards, put them in their proper categories, and alphabetize them. An alternative would be to use a legal pad. The disadvantage here is that the alphabetization process is much more cumbersome and inexact. Others wouldn't think of doing this job without a computer. Obviously a laptop would be most convenient, since you can carry it around your collection, making notes on the spot. If you only have a desktop, then take one shelf-load of books to your desk at a time, catalog them and then replace them, making a note that they have been catalogued. You will almost certainly want to save your catalog on your computer anyway and typing the information directly into it will save a step. And once your catalog is there, making updates is merely the matter of a few keystrokes.

Check professional sources. For most average collectors, Step 3 will be sufficient. There are, however, computer programs that make the process as streamlined as possible. An Internet search for "Book Catalog Software" will introduce you to several programs to consider.

Be thorough. There is no such thing as too much information in a personal library catalog. You know what elements of your precious books are important to you, so don't skimp to try and save time. The process of assembling a catalog of your personal library is methodical and time consuming. But once it's completed, you'll have a world of priceless information at your fingertips.

About the Author

Frank Thompson is the author of nearly 40 books and over a thousand articles, reviews and interviews. He was worked steadily in television since 1992.