Friday, October 16, 2009

Our Home Library: Part One, The Catalogue

This is a peek at what I have been doing this week during naps.

Our home library of children's books was careening out of control. The boys each had two baskets of books in their room that were so full Me Too couldn't get things in and out of them. This was despite a recent examination and rotation of the books in their room. Also, every closet in the house had a small stack of books in it that I purchased "for the future" or "for the holidays" or "for the homeschool." I bought stacks of books at rummage sales this summer for 10 cents or 25 cents a piece. It's a great deal...if you remember you have them.

I have decided that the boys needed fewer books in their room, rotated more frequently. This is going to have to be re-examined all the time because it breaks my heart to take a book out of their room if I think they like it. Usually just when I think I'm ready to take a book out of rotation one of them goes on a kick where they request that book twice-a day, seven days in a row. I also decided to use the basket of books in our family room for a place to highlight particular books rather than for general storage.

No matter what, I decided a major book-reorganization project was in order. The most serious homeschool library I have ever seen is this one over at Preschoolers and Peace. It's great. If we continue to homeschool I know this is where I am headed.

The first step was to get the books into a database. Kendra uses Readerware. It looks like a really nice program but I chose instead to go with LibraryThing. LibraryThing was free for the first 200 books so I was pretty sure I was going to like it before I bought it (Readerware has a free trial you can use first, just to be fair). LibraryThing stores your book collection "in the cloud." Readerware was just one more piece of software I was going to have to load, keep updated, and re-install when my computer crashes. And then where would my book collection be? Also, very cool, LibraryThing collections can be made public.

Check it out, there is a new widget in my right-hand column. The rotating pictures show you what we are currently reading. Clicking on the link in the text above the widget takes you to my book collection. You can make this private if you have something to hide. So, go ahead, browse our children's library! MOM! Pay attention! You can now go into our book collection and see if we have something before you buy it! How cool is that!

Little scanners, just like they use at a store, are available from the LibraryThing website for $15. I will eventually get a wireless one. It would be incredibly fast to upload all of your books if you had one of those because it would be just like registering for wedding presents. Because all of our books were all over the house already and needed to be shelved, it wasn't a big deal to just bring them into the living room and type a couple of keywords in. The keywords brought up all of the possible books I could be looking for with a cover shot of the book from Amazon. Just click on the book and it is added to your library. One of the things I can do now is scan cover shots of all of our books, 50 at a time, to help choose what to set out at any given time! It took 2-3 hours for me to enter them all in, and I added tags for every book while I did it.

Our home library is now catalogued just like at the real library. I can search my collection for books about dinosaurs, farms, or anything else. I typed in "Halloween" and came up with a list of all of our Halloween books and set them out in the then-empty basket in the family room. (Mom, that's another feature you might like. Next year you can see our list of Halloween books and double check you are not getting one they already have.)

You can choose for yourself what information about your library you want displayed at any given time. It sets that as your "style" and you can change it at any time. For now, I wanted title, author, tags, subjects, and the Dewey decimal number. You can choose other categorization systems instead if you want, such as Library of Congress, you can display them all if you want, or change systems with the click of the mouse at any time. I plan on sticking Dewey labels on my books, so I chose that for now.

Entering a book brings up all of this information automatically. Once I chose to display them, I found a list of all possible "subjects" a book has been tagged with. That means you don't have to enter those in. If you look up "Curious George and the Dinosaur" it has the subjects "monkeys," "dinosaurs," and "museums" already entered. However, you can also enter in your own "tags." I did this for every book because I hadn't found the pre-loaded subjects yet. These will be handy because if something will be useful in our continent boxes someday I tagged it with the appropriate continent. I also added tags for Montessori subject areas or other Montessori words like "grace and courtesy." Another handy one was concepts I knew the book addressed, like "responsibility" or "lying." If I really want to drive a point home with the boys I can even search my database by moral issue now!

I'm not being paid by LibraryThing by the way, I'm just passing on information.

LibraryThing also does "social networking." You can have it bring you to the libraries of people who own many of the same books you do to see what else they have that you might like. You can contact people reading the same things as you are. It also generates automatic lists of other things you might like based on what you own. It is possible to keep your list private, or only share it with particular people, so don't be afraid of it for privacy reasons.

I had read that Readerware let you catalog audio and video materials (if you bought the $80 version) and that LibraryThing didn't. That turned out to not be true, I checked and we can enter audio and video the same way.

The next step will be to put Dewey Decimal labels on everything. I have ordered label protectors from Demco. Sticky labels don't really stick to most books. The label protectors really stick them on there so they don't all peel off. I remembered reading about what a horrendous time My Montessori Journey had with that. She posted here about cutting oodles of little pieces of contact paper to stick them all back on. Yuck. I also really have my eye on the Demco Plexiglas shelf labels like Kendra used, but that would be getting ahead of myself.

I am going to use the Dewey system to label because that is what the boys will use at our local library. I am personally more familiar with Library of Congress. Also, My Montessori Journey's dot system is too complicated for me. It might have been okay if it was possible to stick to one dot per book but the double-dot system is more complicated than I want to get.

It is a problem shelving your books by category when most of them fall into the "Easy fiction" category and her system gets around that problem. However, here fiction will be stored by author's name and non-fiction by number. The whole point of the database is that I can search for books by subject there. The boys are too young for that anyway. By the time the are old enough to search for their own books, the books will no longer all be in the "E" category anyway. You can read some advice from a media specialist on organizing classroom libraries here, and see some very helpful pictures here.

I think this system will work well with our shelving set-up. I have a ton of shelves in the schoolroom, but they are dangerously full. It is also a problem that the boys will choose to sit and read books in there if children's books are stored in there rather than use the other materials. Because they have a ton of books available to them at all other times, I would prefer that they didn't use that time for reading (being read to). If we were in there for six hours, it would be different. Remember, it is also very cold in there so I don't want to spend six hours in there either. I think it will work to store the non-fiction books in the school room, and fiction in bins elsewhere. There will still be baskets of books in their rooms, I just hope that the will have enough room in them to be usable. I want Me Too to be able to not only get the books out, but be able to put them back instead of stacking them in a pile on the floor.

I'll post again as I continue on with the project.

Speaking of projects, don't forget to add your posts to the "Ultimate Montessori HomemadeMaterials Collaboration" (Evenspor from Walk Beside Me used that title, and I like it!).


  1. A very cool gadget! I used it tonight to check on two books I had bought the boys for Christmas.


  2. Wow, that sounds like an amazing project, and lots of fun. Do you use the public libraries as well? I actually try quite hard to limit the amount of books I buy for the kids, and then we make great use of our public library system. I love the idea of Dewey-ing the books too though ... in our dream house we will have huge bookshelves! For now though, in our little postage stamp home, I can just dream ;)

  3. Gypsy,

    Yes, we LOVE the library. I am there every week for sure. I am a crazy fast reader myself and go through a pile every week. Me Too is following in my footsteps and likes to sit with me and read over 20 books in a sitting.

    My catalogue of the just the boys books turned up "only" 225. I thought that was pretty good considering My Montessori Journey turned up 443 and another mom I know with kids my kids age doubled that. (Of course MMJ is a classroom teacher and I would expect her to have a LOT).

    I used to be a college professor, so I understandably have a big collection for myself in my field (not catalogued). I'm also a big re-reader, so I own books that I particularly like to read again and again. Most books I own for myself have been read at least 10 times each, some 60 times each. My husband doesn't like to re-read so he has practically none. 2? 6? 8?

    As for the boys' 225..we own a lot of little kids books for a couple of reasons. One, I felt books for kids under five take a lot of abuse and I wanted to own a good amount so we didn't ruin the libraries books and when they were babies they weren't putting totally gross copies of Goodnight Moon. The lift the flap books that are such a big hit a certain age are usually ruined from the library, and our library's touch-and-feel books usually are pretty gross.

    Two, at these ages they are such ritual re-readers I thought there needs to be a lot available.

    Finally, I have a friend who is a fancy-schmancy reading specialist and she told me once that she had read in a study that there was a correlation simply between the number of books owned and a child's future reading ability. She said it oddly could be isolated from how much time the parents spent reading to the kid, other activities, etc., It was truly a correlation between the books owned and reading ability. This "fact" (I have no idea where to find that study,I took her word for it) was apparently all that was needed to feed my inability to say "no" to a good deal on a book.

    Good news is, as I said, most were gifts, or 10-20 cent rummage finds.

    I think your mindset is a lot healthier, I just wanted to clue you in to the excuses for my madness!

  4. Oh no excuses needed, my 'healthy' mindset is really only fuelled by a lack of storage space. I had to do huge cull of my books when baby number 2 came long ... and I still have a lot. Despite my clutter-free intentions I think my kids (and my oldest isn't 3 yet) would have about 60 books so I can see that growing out of control if I am not careful! Like you I prefer to keep teething babies away from library books ... gross! I'm very interested in your comment about owning books and literacy skills. Looking forward to hearing more about your project!

  5. I wondering if you are still loving using lIbray THing? I need to look at some way of sorting and organising my collection.

    Do you knwo if you can add other non book items? I'd love to catalogue my manipulatives as well.