Bringing order to Chaos Manor

Bringing order to Chaos Manor

My colleague Quentin is a terrific judge of software, so whenever he enthuses about a program I sit up and take notice. Last weekend he extolled an intriguing Mac application with the unlikely name of Delicious Library. What it does is very simple: it provides a slick way of cataloguing collections of books, records etc.

I held out until today, and then ran into the usual problem: I couldn’t locate a book I needed, despite knowing that I possessed it. I’ve been buying books all my life and now have an enormous collection. There are books everywhere in the house, some of them (I am ashamed to say) not shelved but standing in tottering piles round the place. The result is a terrific working library, but one that threatens to become unusable because I can never find stuff when I need it. Sometimes I have even bought a second copy of a book I know I have — somewhere — because the effort of looking for it is greater than the trouble of ordering another one from Amazon or going to the University Library.

This is daft. When Sue was around, she made great headway by filing everything in my study — regardless of content — alphabetically by author. But that still left everything else unfiled, and didn’t address my need to group books according to thematic categories. Sue always said that what we really needed was a decent catalogue. But we both blanched at the labour of creating one.

Anyway, today I decided to see if Quentin’s tip could help, and downloaded Delicious Library. Two hours later, I had catalogued 200 books. It is indeed a beautiful piece of software. It works by harnessing my iSight camera as a barcode scanner. The process goes like this: 1. Scan barcode to extract ISBN. 2. Connect to Amazon using the Amazon API to retrieve bibliographic data, including thumbnail of cover if available. 3. Enter record in database. That’s it!

The interface used to display and access the contents of one’s library owes a lot to iTunes. Books can be displayed by covers (as if they were on display in a shop) or as a sortable list. You can create ‘shelves’ which are analogous to playlists in iTunes. The great thing is that any book can go on multiple virtual shelves (absolutely vital if you’re someone like me who has an untidy mind and lots of overlapping interests). It’s lovely to use. There are some small glitches — I can’t move books to shelves in list view, for example. But overall, it lives up to its name — Delicious. Best $40 I’ve spent in a while. Oh — and it’s not available to Microsofties.