Is cataloging your home library worth it?

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Every few years I get a wild hair to document exactly how many books I own. (Spoiler alert: lots!) I’m charmed by impeccably organized shelves (yes, even the color coded ones), by personalized bookplates and meticulous handwritten lending records, and most of all, by home library catalogs that boil down all my books to one neatly alphabetized list.

It’s unsurprising, then, that I’ve tried many, many times to create a comprehensive library catalog of my own. I’ve used LibraryThing (meh), Goodreads (another meh–it’s more social network than catalog), and even Google Sheets and Excel to do it, but I always give up.

I’m a perfectionist who owns, at minimum, several hundred precious books. Cataloging them is a lot of work! Knowing how many books I have? Great. Avoiding duplicates? Double-great. Being able to look over titles and authors at a glance so I can easily come up with blog post ideas? Best of all. But even those benefits can’t quite get me over the hump of actually doing it.

Despite all that, I’m trying again. I’m using Libib.com because it’s got a clean interface and it’s free (up to about 10,000 books, that is); I’m bundling the task into spring cleaning, motivating myself by imagining old books sold back to the bookstore and new books purchased with the store credit.

Will it be worth it in the sense that cataloging my library will save me at least as much time and effort as I put into doing it? Probably not. But cataloging has always been about more than efficiency for me. It’s about the smell of old books and the realization that it’s impossible to finish everything we start.

I know I’ll never, ever read or re-read all the books on my shelves. (After all, I’m always adding more.) In a weird way, there’s something comforting about remembering that. A catalog–even a half-finished one–lets me roll around in the idea that even though I might never re-read, say, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine again, it’s always there just in case. I can scroll through a list of titles and authors and think happy thoughts about all the lazy afternoons I plan to spend stuffing my face with words.

Is home cataloging worth it? Not exactly. Will I do it? I’ll try. It keeps me humble.


Have you ever tried cataloging your books? Did you succeed? Worth it? Waste of time? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

I’m not sponsored by any of the cataloging websites and software I mentioned in this post. Opinions are all mine.