Cataloguing software keeps collections neat

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      In Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel High Fidelity, the protagonist, Rob Fleming, turns to reorganizing his vast record collection after his long-term girlfriend breaks up with him. He explains, “I often do this at periods of emotional stress. There are some people who would find this a pretty dull way to spend an evening, but I’m not one of them. This is my life, and it’s nice to be able to wade in it, immerse your arms in it, touch it.”

      The same year that High Fidelity was released as a movie starring John Cusack, Dutch computer programmer Alwin Hoogerdijk’s own music collection reached a point where he needed a system for organizing his CDs. “By the time he had finished the program and had entered all his CDs into the program, the Internet was starting slowly,” Sytske Hermans, Hoogerdijk’s wife, told the Georgia Straight in a telephone interview from her office in Amsterdam. “So he offered the Music Collector program, then called Keep It Compact, just as a shareware program on-line.”

      Soon Hoogerdijk was earning more from sales of the full version of the software than he was from his programming day job. He quit his job, and built the company, which today offers cataloguing software that helps people keep track of their books, comics, movies, CDs, MP3s, digital photos, and video games.

      “The second product was Movie Collector, and slowly they created five other applications,” said Hermans, who is the office manager and spokesperson for Collectorz. “Nowadays, we sell seven Windows tools, three applications for the Mac, and we also sell iPhone applications. And we just started on an on-line browser tool, so there’s no need to download anything. You can catalogue your collection in your browser.”

      Users of Collectorz software (standard editions are US$29.95) enter the title or creator of their books, CDs, and DVDs or use a barcode scanner to add items to their catalogue, which is stored on-line. The software uses that information to pull in cover images and other data. You can also use the software to keep track of the items you’ve lent out to friends.

      This sort of cataloguing software isn’t exactly a bestseller, but it’s useful for people whose media libraries are growing and those who have trouble remembering who they lent the latest issue of Powers to.

      One of the most respected programs in this category is Delicious Library (US$40), which has won awards from Apple and Macworld magazine. The Mac-only software allows users to add books, DVDs, and other items to their catalogue by holding the barcode up to their computer’s built-in iSight Webcam. Delicious Library scans the barcode, sources the item’s information on, and adds it to a virtual shelf.

      Richard Smith, a professor in the school of communication at Simon Fraser University, was an early adopter of Delicious Library and is now using the latest version of the software. In a telephone interview with the Straight, he explained that, like most professors he knows, he has a lot of books. Smith estimates that his collection numbers in the hundreds.

      The biggest hurdle is the initial cataloguing of an already substantial media library. “I did a few and then a few more,” Smith said of how he approached the task. “I did a bunch at my office, and over Christmas holidays I did a bunch at home. I still don’t have all my books catalogued.”

      It’s not for everyone. Smith showed Delicious Library to his brother: “I thought [he] would be all over this because he likes doing that kind of thing, but he’s just too busy ultimately. He has two little kids, and the idea of cataloguing his books or his CDs just sounds like a good idea but he never gets around to it.”

      Despite the fact that he owns books from a number of small publishers and university presses, Smith found that Delicious Library was able to pull up information about most of his titles, aside from a few old ones.

      Brie Grey-Noble knows how helpful software can be for organizing collections. She worked as a librarian at the Vancouver Public Library for nine years, and is currently a consultant for an international organization based in Switzerland. As for what software feature is key, Grey-Noble told the Straight by phone from Geneva, “The search function is the one that I use most frequently.”

      She isn’t quite as diligent about keeping track of her own media collection, however. “I’ve signed up for LibraryThing, but I have been really lazy about using it,” Grey-Noble said. “My boyfriend has been much better about organizing our belongings and has created Excel spreadsheets for things like DVDs and records.”

      One day, she hopes to become better at this. “Eventually, I would like to have all my books organized in some sort of catalogue or with LibraryThing. But then, I’m a huge nerdy geek, so maybe that’s not completely normal.”