Library Thing bookpage for “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” (click to enlarge/close)

How to Have a Library Three-Way (or: "Multiple Account Fun")

So, you think you want to get involved with these on-​​line book social networking sites, but aren’t sure which is for you? Why bother choosing when “all of the above” is possible? Why not register an account on,, and as well?

There are a number of sites on the web for keeping track of your library of books, no matter what form those books may be. It’s entirely possible to use them as ways of discovering authors and titles you’ve not heard of before; even as a way of promoting works that you love or have actually written yourself. For a run-​​down on the reasons why you would want to bother, head over to this post on the “No Spin PR” site. After explaining the “why” of it, she starts specifically dealing with what offers the Author in the way of effective, non-​​pushy promotion methods, information which is worth looking at, as well as checking back later for the other sites’ options.

Three Sites, One Common Approach

According to Ruth Seeley of No Spin PR, the best procedure to follow involves an alphabetical approach to these three most popular options: Goodreads, Library Thing, and Shelfari. Personally, I started at Library Thing; then added Goodreads about three years later; then finally ended up also doing things on Shelfari, albeit solely as a publishing entity. For those of you interested in the specific Atomic Fez information on those first two sites, then either click the little corresponding doo-​​dads in the right-​​hand column or go here for the “Atomic Fez Publishing Discussion Group” on Goodreads, or here for the “Library Thing for Publishers” page.

Now, back to the practicalities of the matter: how do you do all this back-​​and-​​forth-​​ing without going through the complete process three times in its entirety? Certainly, many of us are obsessed with the books we own, but typing them all into the computer once is probably enough; thrice is nigh-​​on frustrating. The solution is simple: exportation of data-​​tables, followed by importation of the same.

Many of you might read the above statement and understand it about as much as if I had instead stated: “εξαγωγή των πινάκων δεδομένων, που ακολουθείται από την εισαγωγή του ίδιου”. Trust me, it’s far easier than it might seem to you at the moment.

First, Get Those Books Into a Database.

PHOTO: Tomkinsc at the English language Wikipedia {GFDL (}, from Wikimedia Commons

If you want to do things as quickly as possible, then you might actually want to spend a tiny amount of money on one of these ultra-​​cute bar-​​code scanners in the picture on the left called “CueCat”. It might seem a bit weird to want a device to scan the little bar-​​code on the back of all your books, but if you’re determined to get all of your titles into the database to reflect your entire library, and you’ve got oodles of books, then ask yourself this simple question: do I have enough time and/​or patience to type in every single ISBN or title of every single book I own?

Yes, think about that for a moment. You might not actually want to have every single title listed on-​​line, but if you leave any out, then there’s a chance that your taste won’t match-​​up as well with someone else’s who matches your own, thus you’re missing the possibility of reading books you’ll enjoy but haven’t yet heard of. Granted, perhaps there’s some things you would rather keep to yourself? Fair enough, really; not everyone is open-​​minded.

There’s a number of options the people at Library Thing and the other two sites provide for you to add to the details you enter for your copy of each book, depending on what you remember or want to bother about:

  • date you acquired it
  • date you started /​ finished reading it
  • a rating for the book, using a 5-​​point scale (no half-​​marks permitted)
  • if the cover graphic doesn’t match the one on the front of your copy, you can replace that either with your own, from one provided by other members, or a different one from Amazon’s data-​​base of images.
  • categories can be assigned to the title
    • “have read”
    • “own”
    • “to be read”
    • you can also assign your own to suit your needs
  • if you have a “Book Crossing” number assigned, then you can add that as well; the books don’t have to be in your possession anymore
Library Thing bookpage for “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” (click to enlarge/close)
Library Thing bookpage for “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” (click to enlarge/​close)

However you do it, and to what extent of completeness you do so, you enter your library’s titles in the on-​​line data-​​base of – for the sake of example – Have a look at the image on the right, and you can see what sort of “tag” data can be added to just one book on Library Thing (and the other sites have similar functions).

Keep in mind, however, the amount of information and data on your “1st stop” which will survive the importation on other sites is a bit minimal. There may be a way of ensuring more than merely titles, authors, and ISBN, but it’s almost guaranteed that ratings, dates, and especially comments and reviews, will not. I’d recommend using one specific site for that sort of thing, and make it the primary site you use, should you even wish to bother recording such literary minutia.

Grand; all done. “Done and dusted”, if you will.

Export All of Your Book Information

On Goodreads, head to this page and select the second link on the right-​​hand side to “export your books > export to a CSV file”.

Simple enough, really.

In my experience, Shefari is an absolute pain in the ass to bring a library into, but this may be due to the number of “Limited Edition” and/​or “Small Press” titles in my collection*, and Shelfari is heavily tied to the databases where these ‘rarer volumes’ become nigh-​​on invisible, making it necessary to go through your newly-​​imported ‘Library’ and adjust things accordingly.

I would have suggested beginning with Library Thing, as they permit you to export in both the “Comma Separated Values Format” (CSV) as well as a “Tab-​​Delimited Text Format” (which they render as an XLS file), but Library Thing’s free accounts only permit a maximum of 200 titles at any given time. To record more that number requires either a ‘yearly membership’ ($10/​year) or a ‘lifetime’ one (one-​​time cost of $25). Actually, you can pay them whatever you want beyond that amount, but those are the lowest ones.

Import All of Your Book Information (or Some of it, Anyway)

Once you’ve got your Goodreads file, you need to import the file into the other sites. To do that, head to this page for Library Thing, and this page for Shelfari, and then follow the prompts there to up-​​load the corresponding file of book data. You might have to wait a bit as all of that information is processed. Obviously, the bigger the list of books in your collection, the longer it’s going to take for the information to be “parsed” as the tech-​​heads say. “Grocked” as the SF-​​fans would put it. “Processed” would be something a bureaucrat would describe it as. You can call it anything you want, and feel free to come up with your own description while you wait for that to complete.

After the site is finished, you’ll probably be told how many of your books have and haven’t been added – 800 of 1,000 – and you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s some “drop off” caused by you either having a typo in a title of a book, or perhaps a rare edition of a book, or even something so wildly popular and old that there are 18 different books with similar names or editions that you have to sort through a list of. Relax, and possibly decide to do this tomorrow, but do it. Accuracy is the best aid to the thing, because you can’t wave your copy of the book at the screen and expect it to suddenly be identifiable as a result.

After That, and Ongoing

The more poke around the sites and partake in discussions, comment on other people’s collections, and recommend books with cogent reasoning, the more you’ll benefit of the site you’ll realize. Additionally, if you’re an author, you’ll improve your reputation as being someone who isn’t a nit-​​wit, and whose works are worth the price and time of reading. WIN!

* Thusly, your mileage may vary, all statistics are approximate, void where prohibited, close cover before striking, obtain written permission before distribution, please refrain whilst train is at station platform.

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