Personal booklists, from print to virtual

To track or not to track, that is the question! How we keep track of the books we’ve read and the reasons behind each method could be a topic of study for an anthropologist, which I’m not. But I am an inquisitive librarian, so I recently decided to ask friends and colleagues about their book tracking methods.

Responses from 19 adults revealed 8 different methods for keeping track (or not keeping track) of books. Some of those polled use multiple tools, one for the books they want to read and another for the books they have already completed. Here are the results:

  • 6 have profiles on Goodreads
  • 5 don’t keep track at all
  • 5 use PPL’s social catalog, BiblioCommons
  • 4 have compiled spreadsheets in Google Docs or MS Excel
  • 4 use printed notebooks or index cards
  • 1 creates a list in MS Word
  • 1 is a member of Shelfari
  • 1 keeps track using LibraryThing

Goodreads is an online catalog where you can maintain book lists with customized virtual shelves, as well as, get ideas from others, read reviews, see what your friends are reading and find read alikes. Some of us use Goodreads as a reader’s advisory tool to help library customers determine their next reads. One colleague has found the “to read” shelf to be one of the best features of Goodreads. Another appreciates having a customized shelf for titles she didn’t finish. She’s named this shelf “unfinished meh meh books”. On Goodreads, it’s easy to rate books and sort them. Some of us use Goodreads as a social tool, getting updates on what others are reading through Twitter or Facebook. Some keep their info completely private.

Surprisingly, there are almost as many readers who do not keep track of their books, other than memory, which admittedly, is not always a perfect system for recalling titles or authors.  Five people in my informal survey are unencumbered by the physical or virtual list. One respondent clarified her reasoning with, “Every so often I decide that I will keep a list and then life happens.”  I get it.  It’s sometimes hard to keep the lists up-to-date. In the past when my lists were kept in a pocket-sized notebook, I’d find that I was way behind in listing the books I’ve read. Now when I log into Goodreads, I sometimes find that my “currently reading” list is still two or three books behind what I’ve read. But since the books still remain in my “to read” list, with a click, they are easily moved onto my “completed” shelf. 

As my poll revealed, paper lists are still popular, mostly in notebook form.  One person responded that he maintains index cards, cataloged by author. Each book read by a particular author is then listed with the year read and a star if the book was particularly good.  He has maintained this method for over a decade.  A colleague also maintains a paper list in notebooks that go back to 1985 with about 100 books cataloged per year. Books are added as they are finished, in chronological order.  The back of the notebooks are used to keep track of unfinished books. Initially, though, as books are in the “to read” category, they may be on scraps of paper, grocery store receipts, napkins or even her hand!

Like the websites dedicated to cataloging books, Google Docs offers accessibility from virtually anywhere. Three people indicated they use this method with one in particular taking his cataloging seriously.  He maintains separate lists by year and includes movies (great idea!) in a separate section.  The lists are shared with a small number of friends.  Occasionally annotations are added but books are not given a ranking such as a star or letter grade because to this reader, it seems to be “arbitrarily quantitative” with the belief that “responses to books should be at least in whole words, if not whole sentences, not mere letters”. Another reader uses Excel to track her books with keywords so she can search easier.

BiblioCommons is used by several people to track their recently returned books and to get ideas for their “to read” lists.  Shelves to organize “for later”, “in progress” and “completed” are convenient, especially when you are a frequent library customer. Some use BiblioCommons in conjunction with another method. Two people indicated they use BiblioCommons for their “to read” lists and then easily transfer them to be put on hold at the library. 

Four people indicated they are part of a book discussion group. Interestingly, each book club maintains book lists uniquely. One keeps a list on Goodreads, one prints a list with the current year’s selections, one has a secretary who maintains the list, and one group has created a private group on Facebook where books are chosen, dates for meetings are selected and tidbits about the books are shared. The meetings are face-to-face but all other communication is conveniently done through the Facebook group.

A colleague has her father’s handwritten booklists which have become a treasure to her since his passing. The history of his years of reading lists created by hand, are priceless. As we move away from pen and paper to virtual, we gain organization and convenience but lose something too. 

How do you keep track of your reading lists? Join the conversation!

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