How To Catalog Books in a Home Library

How To Catalog Books in a Home Library

Since we’re all aware of the many benefits reading has for our body, mind, and soul, it’s only natural to try and surround ourselves with books. While now, in the digital age, we’ve come a long way from the way our parents or even grandparents kept their books, it’s always important to have physical books handy. 

More often than not, we tend to ignore the fact that without properly organizing them, we end up not knowing exactly what our collection contains. That’s why a common question among readers of all ages is how to catalog books.

Well, keeping your home library organized can be done in several ways and we will try to help you find the best way to catalog books. But first, let’s clarify a couple of things, starting with…

What Does Cataloging Books Mean?

Cataloging your books means making a precise list of all the books you own, using their title and author to identify them, and then adding information such as edition, publication date, date of purchase, and perhaps even the place in your house where each particular book is located. 

Cataloging your books basically means making an inventory of all your books, and having this information into a document. This inventory can be either handwritten into a notebook or made using computer software or mobile applications. 

Why Is It Important to Catalog Your Books?

Do you know the difference between a hoarder and a collector? The latter is proudly organizing the collection (regardless of its contents), keeps it tidy, and always knows what’s where, while the former simply gathers elements for the collection and more often than not, has no idea what items and how many items the collection holds.

While this is a general rule and doesn’t imply that any person who doesn’t have the book collection cataloged is a hoarder, the same principle applies to some extent.

Here are a couple of the main reasons why you should keep your home library cataloged and organized:

1. To Have a Clear Idea of What Books Are in Your Library

Many of us may think that our memory is good enough to remember all the books we possess and the important details about them. Realistically speaking, however, it’s probably safe to assume that most of us have a lot of books strewn around the house about which we have completely forgotten.

It’s easy to see how that can be a problem. Not knowing what books we own is such a waste, especially if we haven’t even read them. One of the main reasons why having a precise inventory of the contents of your home library is important is to know what books your collection is missing.

Similarly, making a reading list can be a lot easier for those of us who keep our libraries organized and a lot of other benefits originate from here.

2. To Make It Easier to Find All the Books in Your Library

We all know how frustrating it is to know for sure that we own something but not to be able to find it whenever we need to. And we’ve all been in the situation of wanting to read a book, to be certain that we own it and not to be able to find it.

Usually, that ends either with us reading something else, which sometimes leads to less enjoyable reading sessions, or with us buying the same book again, only to find our original copy days later. Seems pretty wasteful right?

Luckily, this can easily be avoided. Keeping a good inventory of our books is a great solution for never having duplicates in our collection, and going the extra mile and adding the location of each novel in the book catalog is well worth it.

3. To Always Know What Books You Lent or Borrowed

Leaving money aside, books, just like CDs and movie DVDs back in the day, are among the most lent and borrowed items in our household. And it makes sense, especially for books that are usually only read once.

Since most of us lend and borrow books to and from our friends and families, we usually tend to trust that they will be returned, without giving that a second thought. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. You or whoever you borrowed a book from or lent a book to can easily forget about it, leaving one of you with one or more items missing from the collection.

Learning how to catalog your books and actually do it is a great solution for this. Whether you’re borrowing or lending, actually making a note of the exchange will make it a lot easier for you to make the return or to ask for your book back in order to maintain the integrity of your library.

4. To Make Sure You Don’t Receive as Gifts Books You Already Own

Let’s face it, when it comes to gifts, books are usually the go-to idea whenever nothing else comes to mind. And the same goes for your friends and family when the receiver of the gift is you, especially if they know you are an avid reader.

While the intentions of anyone making you a gift are obviously good, not everyone knows what books you already own and which ones you have on your wishlist.

Having your books cataloged can be of great help if you don’t want to risk receiving duplicates as gifts, especially if you share your catalog with your friends and family or if you have a written wish list of books.

5. To Be Prepared for Worst-Case Scenarios

Sometimes, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. While disasters are not generally something that we can prevent or influence in terms of the final outcome, the one thing we can actually do is to be prepared.

With that in mind, even though nobody expects to lose a book collection to a fire, a flood, or another type of disaster, many people do, unfortunately. And no, book cataloging won’t magically save your books.

By having a complete list of the books you own, you give yourself a good starting point if you are ever faced with the tragic situation of having to replace everything. A book catalog can be the first stepping stone on your journey of rebuilding your book collection in case you somehow lose it tragically.

6. To Learn More About Your Reading Habits

The books in your personal library tell a story. They represent you and your journey as a reader. In time, your preferences change, and your personal library changes with you. By keeping track of all the books you own through the years, you can catch a glimpse of your personal evolution as a reader.

Especially if you keep your books organized according to different criteria like author name, genre, subgenre, and others, you can use your book catalog to figure out some pretty interesting things about your reading habits and preferences.

Do you own more books written by women than men? Are there any genres that stand out in your book collection? Do you seem to prefer books from a certain period in history? All these things can help you figure out who you are as a reader. 

7. To Better Preserve Your Book Collection

If you are a book collector, you know that some titles in your personal library need more attention than others. When you add books to your personal catalog, you should make sure to also add some details about the state they are in, especially if you have some rather unique items or particularly expensive ones.

That way, you can simply analyze your book catalog to figure out when you should take a closer look at your more valuable titles to decide whether they should be repaired or even replaced. While this is generally something that is only worth doing if you take great pride in your collection, it is still good practice regardless of your level as a collector or book enthusiast.

8. To Better Use Your Own Collection for Research

Yes, I know. Research nowadays is mostly done online, but is that really the best way to get it done? While some may argue that everything can be easily found online, the truth is that sometimes going back to basics and doing old-school research in physical books is the better way.

If you want to use your personal book collection as the base for your research, having all your books neatly organized in a catalog can be of great help. You just have to look over the titles in your catalog and decide which ones are necessary for your research session.

How to Catalog Books in a Home Library?

Now that we have established what cataloging your books means and why it is important, let’s see how you can actually do this efficiently. There are several ways you can catalog your books and we tried them all throughout the years. 

1. The Analog Method of Cataloging Your Books

Also known as the pen and paper method, this old-school way of keeping an inventory of your books has both advantages and disadvantages. It is up to you to decide whether it’s the right choice for you.

Let’s see what this means. Well, it’s as straightforward as it gets. The analog method simply implies having a list of all your books written on paper. 

Usually, the most important information your inventory should have is the following:

  • An assigned number, starting with 1, so you know what your total book count is
  • Book name
  • Author
  • Physical location (for example top shelf in the bedroom)
  • Edition (optional)
  • Genre (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Publishing year (optional)

While this pen and paper way of cataloging your books comes with the great advantage of being completely independent of any kind of technology, there are some drawbacks as well.

Losing it shouldn’t really be a worry for you, since you will most likely always keep it at home, and the data from the inventory is very unlikely to ever get erased. On the other hand, any adjustments other than simple additions, are going to be harder to make. If you sell any of your books or simply move them from their initial location while reorganizing the library, changing all the details in the analog inventory is going to be tricky and likely messy.

2. The Digital Method of Cataloging Your Books

If you decide that simply having a notebook with all the relevant information about your library is not good enough, welcome to the digital age!

There are several ways you can make use of modern technology in order to catalog your books.

As the name suggests, this method involves creating your list of books using your computer. You can do this offline using any text editing software like Notepad, Microsoft Word, or Excel or online using Google Docs or Google Sheets.

The main advantage of the offline method of cataloging books is the fact that it makes it really easy for you to make additions and adjustments. The biggest flaw, on the other hand, is the fact that your inventory is stored locally and your hard drive can break and you may lose access to your list of books.

Having several copies saved on different devices may be a solution, but that also means that you would need to update each one separately every time you want to add or modify a title in your collection.

Going online and using Google Docs or Google Sheets requires pretty much the same level of effort as using Microsoft Word or Excel, the difference being that the documents you create are stored online, in the Cloud.

Since Internet access is no longer an issue nowadays, we believe that having your book inventory on an online platform is much better than the offline version. The main benefit is that you can access the documents holding your inventory from any device and from anywhere. On top of this, you don’t need to worry about ever losing your documents (as long as you remember your password).

3. Using an App – The Best Way to Catalog Your Books

Last but definitely not least, using a dedicated app to hold your book inventory is clearly the best way of cataloging your books. We all know that if you can think of something, there’s probably already an app out there for that something.

The same is true for reading and cataloging books. There are several apps that can help with this and their main advantage is the convenience of using them.

Having a dedicated app on your mobile device for cataloging your books is a great way of keeping things organized. First off, because you always have your mobile device near you and you can simply edit your inventory or make additions to it with a couple of taps.

Secondly, your inventory is not stored on your device, which means that you will have access to your book collection from anywhere and even if you change devices.

On top of this, the apps have predefined fields you can just fill out with the required information about each individual book, so you won’t need to think of the details you need to write down about each novel and you won’t need to create the fields yourself, as you would in Excel or Google Docs.

Many of these apps offer neat features such as scanning the book barcode and introducing additional information about the book. Some even allow you to mention whether you’ve read the book yet or not.

What Is the Best App to Catalog Your Books?

If you are a frequent smartphone user for your daily activities, you may wonder which is the best app for cataloging books. 

While some apps are really appreciated by their users, our own research found that most of them lack certain features. Whether it’s the fact that some are only available on Android while others are only on iOS or the fact that they are not user-friendly or even the lack of additional features on top of cataloging books, most apps have left us wishing for more.

If you’re really serious about your reading, I suggest you try Basmo, the reader-friendly app that was custom-made for readers, which aims to improve their reading experience and help motivate them to remain faithful to their reading targets. It works just as well on iOS and Android and is the best choice for readers of any level.

How Basmo Can Help?

Basmo allows users to make book collections and keep track of what books they’ve read.

Check out this simple 3-step process to see how easy it is to catalog books with Basmo:

  1. Go to the My Books tab on your Basmo home screen.
  2. Scroll down to Book Collections and tap View all collections.
  3. Tap + Create book collection to add a new collection.
  4. You can name it anything you want and start adding books to it.

That’s it! Rinse and repeat for every new list you want to create. Of course, you can always move books between lists, add or delete new books to an existing list, and so on.

Also, with Basmo,  you can easily organize your books — for instance, books read in 2021 and books finished in 2021. 

You can add books to the Finished list in two ways:

  1. Tap on any book in any collection. Tap the 3 dot icon from the right top corner. Tap Mark as Finished and the book will be automatically added to your Finished list.
  2. From the home screen in your Basmo app, go to Book Collections and tap Finished. Then, use the + sign at the top right-hand corner of your screen to add any book to this list.

Plus, you can also set start and finish dates for each book you read and the app will generate stats of your reading progress. 

It also allows users to set reading goals, daily reminders, and also helps them keep track of how much they read, enabling them to estimate their reading speed.

Give Your Reading Experience
An Extra Boost With Basmo

Track the books you read, monitor the time you spend reading and keep notes on your reading habits and how it makes you feel. You can set yourself targets for the time you spend reading and you can get notified whenever you’re behind on your reading time. 

Download on the App Store
Get it on Google Play

Our Step-By-Step Guide to Cataloging Books

Whether you decide to use a book catalog app with a barcode scanner, the classic pen-and-paper method, or an excel file, you will need a good plan to get things done properly. While we cannot provide you with the right motivation or the proper mindset, what we can do is give you the most complete step-by-step guide to guide you through the process. 

1. Decide Why You’re Cataloging Your Book Collection

Your ultimate goal can help you decide what the best way to catalog your books is for you. Depending on what you are looking to achieve, how often you add books to your collection, and how your home library is organized, you can choose different techniques, tools, and methods for your book catalog.

2. Decide What System You Are Going to Use

Depending on the size of your collection and how well-organized you want it to be, you can choose a specific way to organize your catalog. From the classic alphabetical order, and genre separation all the way to the complex Dewey decimal system, there is quite a lot for you to explore before you find the right way to organize your library.

3. Choose the Right Tools

Whether you’re using a physical catalog, the pen-and-paper method, a book cataloging app with a barcode scanner, or a simple Excel spreadsheet, you need to make sure that your tool is right for the job and truly helps you achieve your organizational goals.

4. Gather Data About Your Books and Write It Down

Regardless of the tool you decide to use and the methodology that suits your needs, the most important aspect you need to pay attention to when cataloging your books is how much data about each book you enter.

Whether you decide to organize your home library by author, genre, or title, it is very important to take your time and add some other information about the book in your catalog as well. Take each book individually and jot down its release date, how many pages it has, what it is about, and any other information that seems relevant to you.

5. Keep Things up to Date

Perhaps the most overlooked characteristic of the process of cataloging your books is that it is an ongoing endeavor. You will need to constantly add information about the new books you purchase, add details about the old ones if you lend them to friends or simply get them restored when they begin to fall apart. 

Cataloging your books is a process that never ends, and that is what makes it beautiful.


While reading is an amazing hobby, keeping track of what books you own, where you keep them in the house and what you managed to read already could turn out to be a challenge if you don’t take a serious and organized approach. 

Having a clear inventory of your books is incredibly important, especially if you take your reading seriously. Luckily, there are many ways for this process to be completed without too much hassle.

If you’re thinking of getting an app to help you catalog your books, we suggest you try Basmo. It offers a lot more than just that and it can help you take your reading to the next level.

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