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Photo of packed bookshelves

Emily VanBuren is a PhD student in history at Northwestern University. You can find her on Twitter at @emilydvb or at her blog, dighistorienne.

Summer is just around the corner, and I’ve been drawing up a list of all the things I’d like to accomplish before next academic year. It’s a fine time to relax, to step back and reassess my existing workflow, and to reorganize. One of the projects I’m trying this summer? Cataloging my own library.

Do you ever spend too long looking for a book that you just know you already have? Have you ever accidentally purchased a book twice? Sadly, I can answer “yes” to both of these questions. One of my problems is that I can never remember if I own a particular book, or if I’ve just checked it out of the library frequently enough that I think it’s a permanent fixture in my personal collection. I also often struggle to remember if I own a book in hard copy or Kindle form. And one of my least favorite feelings is when I know that I’ve loaned a book to a friend or colleague, but I’m unable to remember which person borrowed it or when.

So, inspired by fellow GradHacker Justin Dunnavant’s post on using Goodreads to organize his library, I’ve decided that it’s time to reorganize my own collection of books. My requirements: must be an iOS-friendly app, must be less than $5, and must allow me to track borrowing. Here are a few of the contenders I’ve been considering, for any of you who might be interested in doing the same:

1.     libib: This app allows you to organize your books (plus movies, music, etc.) via tags. I like the built-in annotation features (which could allow you to make notes about borrowing), and the basically limitless size (up to 100,000 items). This app also includes tools for measuring how much you’ve read, as well as the options to review items in your library and to make those reviews public. [Free. Web, iOS, or Android.]

2.     iBookshelf: I like this app because with its built-in borrowing status for every item, it lends itself well to tracking the current location/guardian of each book. I also appreciate the barcode scanning feature for easy use, and the fact that this app automatically calls up available info on each book by the ISBN you enter.  [$1.99. iPhone or iPad.]

3.     Libri: This is a very basic cataloging app, which allows you to input simple information about each item (author, title, publisher, year, ISBN, simple annotation). Its features are pretty limited, but that’s what makes it so easy to learn. I haven’t yet figured out a trick for tracking book lending in this app. [$1.99. iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch.]

4.     My Library: This one strikes me as being very similar to iBookshelf. You can input information via barcode scanning or ISBN, and it allows you to catalog all kinds of media (not just books). It also has built-in features for tracking borrowing/loans, allows you to rate items, features streamlined backup options, and can handle up to about 8,000 items at a time. [$3.99. iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch.]

5.     Book CrawlerI started looking at this tool because it boasted its status as the highest-rated book database app in iTunes. Again, this is another app that allows input via ISBN or barcode scanning, and it automatically generates associated information (including basics like title and author, but also Goodreads reviews) for each item. I also appreciate that this app is specifically designed to export to Dropbox for easy backup. [$1.99. iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, & Mac desktop.]

6.     Home Library: This app not only allows you to catalogue and track the loan status for each item in your library, but it also allows you to send “polite reminders to friends who haven’t returned your books.” It also accommodates wishlists. I like that this one allows you to easily track the books that you’ve checked out from the library, and that it sends you reminders before they’re due (farewell, late fees). [From $2.99. iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android, and Mac OS X.]

7.     iCollect Books Pro: Key features in this app include barcode scanning or manual UPC/ISBN entry, automatic cover art and bibliographic information (via Google spidering), genre sorting, tracking loans and borrowing, wishlists, and preorder cataloging. [$2.99. iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch.]

I haven’t decided which app I’ll choose just yet (though I’m leaning toward Home Library), but comparing their features side-by-side has been helpful in thinking about what exactly I need this tool to do.

How do you keep track of all of the items in your home library? Have you tried any of these apps?

[Image by Flickr user szczel used under creative commons licensing.]

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