Library management software

I've always had a things for books, and photography has only increased my love of books. When it comes to photography, I love a physical print. And when it comes to physical prints, I love a luscious coffee table book full of them. Combine that love with my lifelong addiction to other non-fiction books and I've ended up with a lot of books. How many books? I don't know. And thus my recent desire to catalog my book collection. It's especially bad when I go to a used bookstore or the book sale at the library and see a book I'm interested in and sometimes I honestly can't remember if I have that book or not. I used to have this problem with CDs all the time. I would find a good deal on a CD I like, get excited about it and buy it, bring it home and then find I already owned it. I solved that problem by getting an iPod, so I have a good portion of my music collection with me at the store. I don't buy duplicate CDs anymore!

I want something similar for managing my books (photographic and other) and I've started too look at the options.  The first obvious option is Delicious Library from Wil Shipley.   I was a huge Omni Software fan in the 90's and on the surface it looks like he's come up with something cool for managing libraries.

Here's my list of desires:

  1. Allows searching and sorting by title, author, keyword, etc.
  2. Exports inventory of books I own to something I can carry on my iPhone.  (pdf, etc.)
  3. Supports ordering by Dewey Decimal system as well as Library of Congress.  I'm getting to the point where I may actually start arranging my shelves by one of these systems.   I'm partial to LoC since it is not proprietary like the Dewey system and it catalogs (computer) science books better.

That's it for actual requirements.  But since this is 2011, most software is Internet aware so I'm open to some cool Internet-enabled features.  Also, there are a few other features I'd like to see, even though they're not deal-breaker requirements:

  1. "If you like that then you might like this" functionality.  Like Amazon suggestions.
  2. Some sort of functional iPhone/iPad client that lets me browse my collection on the go, without Internet connectivity.
  3. Grabbing metadata from the Internet is cool so I don't have to type everything in.

I have something to say about that Internet thing.   The main benefit I see in adding networking functionality is to help me discover new books.  I can already go to Amazon for any given title and see what other books people like so this software should do more.  I'm talking full-on social networking here, but anonymously if I choose.  Two points here:

  1. The algorithm for suggestions should get better the more books I enter.
  2. The algorithm should get better as I share my list with more friends.

The first point is huge.   As I mentioned, Amazon can already tell me what other books I might be interested in based on one single book. But this software knows more than that, so the suggestions should be better.  I'm thinking of a use case where it says "Everyone in your friend group who owns these 4 books also owns this one other book."  The smarter the software, the better the suggestions should get as it has access to more data.

So I've downloaded Delicious Library and I'm trying it out.   I've hit a few snags already (no Library of Congress numbers, haven't figured out the best way to export for my iPhone, can display a virtual bookshelf with covers but not with spines, half of the help entries seem broken, not sure if there will ever be another update) but I'm persevering.  My main problem is that all my books are in boxes right now which makes it hard to build up my library and really test it, but these are the snags I've identified already.

Do you use Delicious or any other competing software?  Let me know in the comments.   I'm especially interested in what other alternatives are out there.

My Blurb book has arrived

I just got my Yellowstone book from Blurb today and overall I'm impressed.  In this post I'll take a look at what worked and what didn't - partially for anyone thinking of making a photo book like this and partially for my own note-taking purposes. First of all, I love coffee table photography books!  I've got a small collection of them and I'm always looking for new ones.  I'm no "expert" or "connoisseur", but I know what I like.   I look at things like the colors, the finish, the construction, etc.   After the Vietnam trip I put together a book with Apple's Aperture software and printing service and was pretty happy with it.   The things I didn't like were the small size, the thinner paper, and the lack of "pop" in the images.

Blurb recently came out with a new premium paper which is supposed to be thicker, and also with a new 13" x 11" size.  I think prints and books should be big, so to me 13 x 11 is about right.   I could go bigger...

First Glitch:

I did my layout, imported everything into BookSmart, uploaded my book, and then I hit a hiccup at a most unexpected place: entering the shipping address.  No matter how I laid it out, their system would not accept the address of my daytime job as a valid shipping address.  This is a large publicly traded company with hundreds of employees and a real shipping department and everything, so it seems weird that their system wouldn't accept it.  After consulting with Blurb customer service they basically told me they couldn't fix it and to try a different address.  A better response would have been "Sorry for the technical trouble - We've manually entered the address into our system so you're good to go."

After picking a different shipping address, the book ships via FedEx and seems well protected and in good shape upon arrival:

Inside the box, the book itself is shrink-wrapped:

Let's look at the binding.  This was a 40 page book which is about the smallest coffee table book I've ever seen and the Blurb binding process barely accommidates it.  The binding would look a lot more normal if there were at least 80 pages in the book:

A big discussion item on the forums is how to lay out double truck images and how much of the image gets lost in the gutter.  The "lay" of the book is important too since the binding, paper weight, and page count all affect how the gutter behaves.

Printing Quality

The quality of the color and black and white images is good.  The dust jacket is ultra-glossy but the pages are pretty much matte.  The colors are just as I expected and the shadows didn't print too low at all.  I don't have anything to complain about with the printing of the photos.

The text, on the other hand, is another story.

There are two ways to layout pages for a Blurb book - by using one of the fixed templates in their proprietary BookSmart software or by using an external program like Adobe InDesign to layout the pages and then export the whole page as a full-bleed jpg image.  The page layouts in BookSmart are a bit limited so I chose to use InDesign to lay out the pages.

There's a lot of discussion on the Blurb forums about printing quality, especially with text.   As it turns out, there's a serious downside to laying out your book in an outside program: the text turns out pretty blurry.  As explained in a post about text quality on the Blurb forum from Mark Lentczner, here's what's happening:  When you put text in one of the text containers in a pre-made BookSmart template, the text gets rendered at around 800 dpi and looks very crisp.  When you have text rendered by InDesign at 300 dpi and then re-folded, spindled, and mutilated by the BookSmart software and then again by the printer.  The result is acceptable for large print (like 50pt.) but horrible for smaller stuff like 24, 12, etc., as seen here:


Overall, I'm pretty happy.  I like the photo printing and I like the size, especially for the price.  I can see ordering a few of these for friends and family but there's no way it would be suitable for commercial sale, due to the text printing issues.  So what would I like to see Blurb do?  Here's a list:

  • Find a way to fix this text printing issue Right now in order to print any small text at "bookstore quality", you HAVE to enter your text in a pre-made template in the BookSmart software.  Uploading files at 800 dpi would result in page images that are 7 times larger (and upload times 7 times larger), but if that's what it takes then that's what it takes.   Perhaps it might help if we could upload PDF files instead of rasterizing everything?
  • More sizes I like the larger 13 x 11" size, but why stop there? How about a 11 x 13" choice?  How about even larger?  I guess supply and demand...
  • Cover options We can choose a glossy dust jacket or a "cover wrap" option.  Why not both?  Why not a matte dust jacket?
  • Printed or colored end papers Right now the end papers are plain white paper.  Nothing wrong with that but it would be really nice to be able to print on those pages, like lots of my other coffee table books.
  • Better customer service Two things here - first of all, they could have handled the shipping address better.  Second, they could be much more informative in the forums.  There are lots of forum discussions where technical questions could easily be answered with an authoritative answer from a staff member but instead forum members waste lots of post speculating and arguing.

So again, I'm pretty happy overall.  Give Blurb a try and see how it works for you!

Book is done, and NPS map resources

My book of Yellowstone photos is done and printing! It's amazing to me how much work these things take.  After quickly throwing some images together I started a longer process of polishing it up, while teaching myself Adobe InDesign at the same time.   The official 0.9 version of the book has been uploaded to Blurb and ordered, and should arrive in time for Thanksgiving.  This is the first time I've used Blurb and I have no idea how it's going to turn out.  I've mentally prepared myself for it not turning out well so I'm fully expecting to have to adjust the colors and reprint it.

I like printing large so I went with their new premium paper and large format landscape size, which is 13 inches wide by 11 inches tall.  That means a double-truck spread is 26 inches wide!  (I included at least one full spread and a couple of 1.5 page spreads.)

While I was on Blurb's website I took a look at the books that other people have published and shared.  There are over 2,100 Fine Art books and 3,900 Travel books, so I'm not the first person ever to do this.  Oddly, I don't see any way to sort the books which means most of them will never be seen.

While researching some data for the book I went looking for a good map of the Yellowstone.  It turns out that there's a National Park Service office called Harper's Ferry Center, which is the map making division of the National Park Service.  They make a lot of their maps available for download in the original Adobe Illustrator format! These aren't just small, low-resolution maps - these are the actual files they print the park maps and brochures from!  Like all data created by the Federal Government, they are in the public domain.

Here are the eight different maps for Yellowstone that you can download.

Here are some notes about the maps which are also interesting.

I downloaded the full map for Yellowstone and then started hiding layers that just added clutter and ended up with a nice, clean graphic to use for the endpapers of the book.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Lead me not into temptation (especially bookstores)

A guy at work had a t-shirt that says "Lead me not into temptation" and then is smaller print below it says "(especially  bookstores)".  I need that shirt. I was wandering the streets of Palo Alto after dinner Friday night when headed into the Borders to see if they might happen to have any ultra-cheap, beautiful photography coffee books on deep discount.  :-)  A boy can dream, right?   Well imagine my surprise when I found Philippe Bourseiller's Call of the Desert for $12.95.

This is a really pretty, thick, large format coffee table book covering North Africa.  It's really pretty to look at but there aren't many words in it.  There are few stories about the pictures and the captions for the photos are all at the back of the book.  There are no page numbers which makes it difficult to find things.  Oh well - it's a pretty book.

For $12.95, I'll take it.  What else have you got?

Next up was a book about Ansel Adams by Lauris Morgan-Griffiths called Ansel Adams - Landscapes of the American West for $19.95.

This is a REALLY BIG BOOK, measuring 17 inches high by 14 inches wide.  There are a lot of double-truck images which work out to about 27" x 17".  This is a difficult book to read if you don't have a good way to support it!  The text is OK and there's enough background on each picture to give you a sense of why it's in the collection.

I've now spent a lot of time going through the various photography coffee table books I've got, gathering design ideas for the book on Yellowstone images I'd like to put together.  I've got more than enough source material - I just have to put it all together.