All My Books is a database designed to help people organize home libraries. We’ve been wanting to do this for years– decades even– but the task seemed too daunting. With the built-in aids of this software, we’ve begun to catalog our books.
Actually, I’m quite adept at building databases, and had fully expected that I’d build my own when we decided to really take on this project. I downloaded the trial version of All My Books primarily to see what features and fields it had, for ideas as to how to build my own. But there was one feature that pushed me over the edge into buying this software, and that is the automatic look-up feature.
Features of All My Books:
With either the title, author or ISBN you can have the software search Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powells (in English, and some variants in German, Russian, Dutch, and French). If matches are found, you can double click to feed that information directly into the database. This will bring in Title, Author, Publisher, ISBN, Edition Year, Binding, Page Numbers, and Dimensions. Sometimes you will also get a Synopsis and a picture of the cover.
All fields are optional except the title- you must at least have that to enter a book.
There are four main pages: General, Additional, Metadata, Custom Fields
General: Title, Author, Editor, Translator, ISBN, Rating (5 stars in half star increments), Synopsis, and Categories, Check boxes for Unread and Wish List.
Additional: Binding, Series, Publisher, Language, Pages, Volume, Dimensions, Circulation, LoC number, Dewey Decimal number, Contents and Comments
Metadata: Book number (your personal accession number- can be assigned automatically, or you can do this manually), Date added (automatic), Location (you put in your own places, eg. Office West Wall), Local path (if it’s an e-book on your computer), URL (to an on-line page such as Amazon), Price, File size (I suppose for an ebook).
Custom Fields: You can add anything you want here, either text fields, or check boxes.
You can track who you have loaned books to. We don’t loan books much, but I’m using it to note if one of us has a certain book pulled out from where it belongs. Who it’s loaned to shows up in red on the display page.
It’s extra-easy to find a book by a word in the title, with a search box always present in the interface. There is also a window for searches on other fields. One minor hassle is that if you want to search a custom field you have to match the entire field exactly.
You can choose to show a list of titles in a sidebar. This can be ordered in several ways for convenience. You can also group books several ways. For example, if I’ve listed “Perry Mason” in the Series field on those books, and I group by Series, I’ll get all entries in this field with the number of titles under each. I can expand that list to see what’s there. I can show only the books in one particular category. It will also display a shelf of covers, but I find this unmanageable with a lot of books.
The display page has all the info that you have entered for each book. It’s organized neatly, and is pretty easy to find things.
You can password protect the database if you wish (although it’s easy to override this).
Data can be imported from or exported to other databases, or exported to an Excel file.
How Do I Like All My Books?
We’ve now got over 500 books entered in the system. (We estimate that we own over 7000, so we’ll be at this for a while!) This has given me a good idea of what is good about this, and what isn’t. Overall, I’m happy. I thought that I would not be able to customize this enough for our eclectic collection, but that has not been the case. There are some fields that I wish could be moved around, and a few things that are clunky, but the ability to pull in data without having to fill in every field is huge.
Sometimes a different edition is pulled in than the one I own, but then I can just edit the parts that aren’t right. We own a lot of old books, which may or may not have ISBNs. However, probably 70% of the books I’ve entered have been found in Amazon; it checks other sellers as well as new books.
There are some categories entered to get you started, but you have complete freedom to add your own, as broad or detailed as you need to fit your own collection. For example, we have a lot of history books, so I’ve added multiple categories with history. We own very few books on car racing (maybe 2) so that is just one big catch-all category for us. You might be just the opposite.
The category structure asks for one primary category for a book, but you can also include it in as many sub-categories as you want. So I might put a book about the French & Indian War under the primary category of History, but then also in a category of certain dates, and also Native Americans.
Multiple authors are accepted, even long lists. So a book of short stories can have all the authors listed. I entered one huge volume, and it took all the names. I was very impressed.
You can delete the cover picture if the program pulls in a different edition than the one you own. You can also add your own picture if you want. We haven’t gotten into this yet, but might bother for a few special books.
Binding Type comes with some standard entries, but you can add things such as Stapled Pamphlet, Comb Binding, etc... to cover any possibility. I can see my article file eventually being added to this database with Stapled Pages as a binding type.
You can also add extra images if you want to document particular illustrations or photos associated with the book.
The fact that the data can be exported means that if I ever do decide to build my own database, I won’t have to duplicate all this work, but can just migrate the data.
Things that I Don’t Like about All My Books:
I want the Illustrator to be on the General Page with other major contributors. I’ve added it as a custom field, so that’s ok, but I’d just rather it be on the first page of data.
You need to have a good idea of your category organization before you start or you’ll need to do a lot of backtracking. This is because you can’t edit a category name, you can only add a new one and delete the old one, thus forcing you to re-catagorize all books that you had put under the former heading. See Tips for Using All My Books.
I wish there were a way to duplicate an entire entry when we have multiple copies of the same book. The condition and location of the books could be different, but everything else might be the same. For example hubby and I each have a copy of a particular bird-watching guide.
If you make a mistake in a field entry in a custom field you can’t get rid of it. For example if a custom field is Illustrator, and you enter Edward Gory instead of Edward Gorey, you are stuck with it. You can enter the correct spelling, of course, but the wrong one will always be there too.
It alphabetizes with A, An and The, so if you don’t like that you have to manually move those articles to the end of the title.
The Publisher Field is not a drop-down box, so there is no way to check for standardization. For example Dobbs Mead; Dobbs, Mead; and Dobbs, Mead Company are really all the same thing, but they are probably now all entered in the database.
Overall Opinion of All My Books:
As much as I would have enjoyed building a database for this project, the fact that this software is highly customizable, and allows you to gather info on a lot of the books you probably own, make it worth the very reasonable price. I’m really fussy about this kind of organization, and the fact that I’ve found it acceptable would be high praise, if you know me! If I were entering every field of data by hand, we wouldn’t be anywhere near having 500 books done yet.
I have written Tips for Using All My Books as a separate article. Those will address some of the ways you can overcome some of the program’s shortfalls.
A free one-month trial of All My Books is available for download, so you have plenty of time to see if it will work for you before purchasing.