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Books: Searchable, free, earth-friendly, and extremely organized

Posted on February 15, 2008 by ari

I read a lot and am always keeping lists of books I want to read. After cutting and pasting into text documents for years it occurred to me there must be a better way to do this; sure enough, there is. I tried LibraryThing (not free after 300 books!) and Google’s My Library (lousy interactivity and no way to add notes). Then I actually typed “track books want read” into Google and Ask Metafilter came to the rescue.

Folks seemed to really like Goodreads, and now I know why. It’s free and very interactive, and offers fields for notes/reviews and recommendations. It also automatically offers you “read” and “to-read” bookshelves, with the capability to add as many other shelves as you like – useful if you want to offer lists of recommended titles on particular topics.
In the process of all of this catalog-perusal, I realized something that I guess should have been obvious if it wasn’t. I’ve long been annoyed by not being able to hit Command-F (“Find file…”) in the real world. I mean really, wouldn’t this make life a lot easier? With books it’s particularly infuriating – unless I take copious notes and write in my books like crazy, I know the likelihood of my actually being able to find a quote or idea in the future is pretty slim. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to search your shelves for “nonviolence,” say, and find all references, across genres?

Well, at first I thought it was silly to input books you already have into a catalog tool like this, but now I get it. It’s surprisingly easy and quick to get them in there, and then, you can search your shelves. This is where Google is supposed to be better, allowing you to actually search within books – but for me, the interactivity of GoodReads outweighs the usefulness of that feature. In any case, I’m now able to hit Command-F and then find the result on my shelf, and however imperfect the system is, it’s made our library more useful.

A major issue I have with all of these sites is that they usually offer purchasing links, and those links all send you to giant corporations who send new books through the mail. My ideal book is a used one my neighbor hands me – no new printing and paper, no shipping materials or freight fuel and pollution, no participation in global capitalism. Unfortunately none of these sites allow you to customize the book purchase links that come up while people are looking at your catalog, so the best I could do was put a list in my profile. Here it is, if you too like to get books but want to do it in an earth-friendly way:

  • FreeCycle – facilitates swapping free used stuff in your local area
  • PaperBackSwap – book/DVD swapping community
  • BookCrossing – used books sent/left and tracked, sort of a worldwide booksharing system
  • Better World Books – Carbon-offset shipping, profits support literacy programs worldwide
  • Alibris – used books, for sale
  • Abe Books – used books, for sale

UPDATE, 2.6.12: More book swap sites are listed here.

Related posts:

  1. 7 books scored at dollar-a-bag day at the Friends of the Library Book Sale
  2. Some good books: DIY media labs and culture, environmental sci fi, the origins of aggression, and tantric buddhism
  3. Some really good books for activists
  4. Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World
  5. Really Really Free Market this Friday


2 Responses to “Books: Searchable, free, earth-friendly, and extremely organized”

  1. Otis
    February 15th, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

    Thanks for using Goodreads! We actually just launched the ability to customize the purchase links. Go to any book, click ‘more…’, then ‘edit’, and enjoy!
    Otis (Goodreads guy)

  2. johanna
    February 15th, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

    There’s also Bookmooch, which works pretty similarly to Paperback Swap, but is international in scope. Also, the way they handle wishlists, & also deadbeat swappers, etc. is different from PBS–I have to say I kinda prefer Bookmooch, tho’ I use both. Bookmooch also has charities there that you can donate points to, like groups that send books to prisoners.

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