Search your bookshelf with a $65 barcode scanner

(Okay, if TechCrunch wrote about my video then I should probably at least do a blog post too.)

Last year I suggested potential Summer of Code projects and one of my favorite suggestions was “How about a good open-source program to manage your book library? Something like the Delicious Library program, but that works with Linux?” In the blog comments, Colin Colehour left an excellent comment: “Matt, Can’t you use Google Books to keep track of your book library at home? You can add books that you own to the ‘my library’ list and then export that as an xml file and they have RSS feeds.”

The suggestion was so obvious that I smacked my head. Why install software at all when a website will store the data for you? The only problem was how to tell Google which books I own. Well, there’s a neat hack for this too: Amazon carries the Adesso NuScan 1000 bar code scanner for $65.44 with free shipping. I’m sure you can get barcode scanners for cheaper (anyone remember the CueCat scanner that was free?), but the Adesso had good reviews.

With that, adding your books to Google’s My Library feature is simplicity itself–the Google Books team has tweaked the workflow so that you can barcode scan and add lots of books very quickly. Here’s the video to demonstrate:

Why would you record which books you own in the first place? The immediate reason is that you can run full-text searches against the books in your library. That’s right: just by scanning bar codes, you can search over the text of books you own. Down the road, I can easily imagine other uses. Wouldn’t it be great if you could upload your list of books to Amazon, and it would automatically suggest other books you should read? Or avoid suggesting books that you already own? Josh Lowensohn mentions another great reason to do this: it creates a record for insurance purposes.

Once you have your book list, there are social networks for book lovers such as Goodreads and LibraryThing. And please note: this isn’t the only way to scan your books. Delicious Library 2 is $40 commercial software for the Mac that can use your Mac’s built-in webcam.

Special thanks to Michael ‘Wysz’ Wyszomierski for recording and producing this video. I love that he showed the computer’s screen and showed an “action shot” of scanning the books.

48 Responses to Search your bookshelf with a $65 barcode scanner (Leave a comment)

  1. How about a reply about the nofollow saga first, please? =]

  2. Now all I have to do is buy new copies of most of my books so that I have versions that contain a barcode.

  3. Very cool Matt, couldn’t the G1 phone do a good job of this too with the built in scanning capabilities?

  4. We need an iPhone app for that!

    Something that allows us to scan bar codes, build a list of books, and then export that list for use wherever we want. That would be cool. I’d pay money for that.

    I don’t need yet another device in my life (and it makes me happy when I can use existing devices to do new things).

  5. It’s a good idea, but now I need to be able to import the file up to Google as I’ve already scanned everything into Delicious Library.

  6. wel now some one needs to to do an OCR program for the iphone to scan books that are to old to have a barcode and just have a printed ISBN

  7. Swansonager, there’s a nice barcode library for Android, so you could definitely write an app. What would be even more fun is to write an app where the Android phone (when tethered via USB) would act like a keyboard/barcode scanner. Hold the bar code up to the camera, and then the G1 could “type” via USB whatever the barcode is. Truthfully though, I’m not sure if an Android app could do that. It would need to look like a keyboard when you plug in the USB cord instead of the hard drive that it looks like by default.

    Rachel, I think DL can export text or XML. If the ISBN is exported too, you could extract the ISBNs and paste them into Google Books in large batches.

  8. I am using a Mac OSX app called “Delisious Library” It has a really nice interface and its not only for books. Everything can be added from Amazon (and other sources) by searching through name and author and ISBN.

  9. > “Wouldn’t it be great if you could upload your list of books to Amazon, and it would automatically suggest other books you should read?” -> Your Account -> Your Collection -> Add Titles

    Lets you type ’em in, upload a file of ISBNs, or scan ’em with your webcam. For sure it’ll influence your recommendations. I don’t know offhand if it gives you any special access to the scans. Amazon’s iPhone app doesn’t seem to help any with this.

  10. As an avid book reader, book seller and teacher of book selling, I can see all kinds of uses for this technology! Thanks, Matt!

    P.S. I have that exact same scanner and have probably scanned over 10,000 books with and it’s still working great. I love it.

  11. When I woke up this morning I had not idea I was going to buy a Bar Code Scanner, little surprises…. This is a crazy cool feature. But who are the team of elves employed at Google to actually scan all those thousands of orignal books, sheesh, you can give Santa’s troop a run for their money

  12. It’d be nice if My Library allowed one to setup a private library.

  13. Well done, this has been a feature I have been waiting for a while.

    Actually, it was my feedback to the Google Book team last August (14th August). I wanted the possibility to use a bardcode reader to add books to the “my library”, have recommendations on other books based on my books and on libraries with books similar to mine (like Amazon); furthermore, I wanted the possibility to have communities based on the common interests. Apparently many people wanted same feautures.

    Well done!

  14. I think i hve 2 buy new copies of my

    Its a good i guess v want something that allows us to scan bar codes, build a list of books, and then export that list for use wherever we want.

    Think dear it would be a gr8 idea n will work too..

  15. Jason Nazar, it is pretty fun. 🙂 Diego, agreed.

  16. Hi Matt,

    Our Book Collector is another solution for cataloging books by scanning ISBN barcodes (for Windows and Mac):

    We have a companion iPhone app for browsing your book collection on your iPhone or iPod Touch:

  17. When I read the Google Books blog on this, I expected to learn that I could use the barcode scanner tool on my Android G1 to get this done, rather than needing an actual stand alone barcode scanner. What are your thoughts on this, is there a way to get it done with our phones?

  18. Think it will still work with a cuecat? I still have one lying around somewhere.

  19. For older books or hardcovers that no longer have the barcode, it would be cool if you could take a photograph of a page of a book, and then Google using OCR could match it up with the text in its library.

    What would be even cooler is if you could just take a picture of a bookshelf and Google could use OCR (and even color matching?) to tell what books you have based on the information on the spines of the books.

  20. Shelfari ( lets you set up a virtual book shelf-It is owned by Amazon

  21. Ahh.. that’s a great call Matt, I wonder if there is something you could do as far as pairing the G1 with a Bluetooth and passing it through to your laptop that way? Hmmmmmm

  22. Great call on the barcode reader – I have a collection of books that is either excessive or obsessive depending on your point of view. I have wanted to enter them into a system of some sort but always balk at the thought of manually entering every book I have accumulated along the way.

    If there were such a thing as Google Vinyl, all of my dorky dreams would come true. Having all my books and all my records online?? I would never again go through the horror of finding a first edition in mint condition and wondering whether I already own it in mint…..

  23. Of course there’s an app for that (for iPhone and Android) :
    It works by taking a photo of the cover of books, DVDs, CDs, etc
    It gave amazingly good results in my tests.

  24. Would be nice if we could prove ownership and then be able to search and read through the entire text online at Google Books.

  25. +1 to the private library idea.

    An alternative is to permit the choice of a book being public or private, much as lets you mark ‘do not share’ for individual bookmarks.

  26. Local public libraries could make great use of similar functionality, even including book availability.

  27. Pretty cool. Do you know of an S60 app for that Matt?

  28. Pretty useful …but google hasn’t scanned in every book. So if I add Gladwells ‘Outliers’ to my library I still can’t search that book. Am I right?

  29. Really pretty 🙂
    I think it’s possible using Nokia barcode reader.

  30. If you looking for an Android app check out ScanPaste. I put this together a few days ago exactly for the purpose of scanning and importing book barcodes into Google Books 🙂

  31. I like Andy’s idea. That would be great to be able to login, search for a specific title and see if they have it ‘in stock’.

  32. Now that’s pretty cool. At first, I thought I could just do a search on Google, but then again, I don’t always get it. There are times I want to quote a book and I just simply can’t remember what page. This would mainly be the reason why I’d need this scanner for. I’ll definitely have to get a hold of this thing soon.

  33. This is really neat. Now I just want to get my hands on the new Google Wave application.

  34. Great idea. I wish I had this a couple of years ago when I ran a online bookstore through Amazon. It would have helped with the inventory nightmare.

  35. Grace Alexander

    Completely evil here, and I apologize for that – but isn’t there some sort of liability here if simply scaning the bar code can bring up the text for you? What’s to stop people from scaning barcodes at all their friends’ houses – or even better yet, waltzing into a book store and discretely zapping all the codes of the books they’ve been wanting?

    Just saying…. 😛

  36. COOOOOOL tip. Thank you Matt.

  37. Fantastic post. This is going to revolutionize our company’s library. I do, however, have one question:

    Does anyone have recommendations for adding books to My Library that do not have ISBN numbers?

    Several of the titles are older educational workbooks that don’t have ISBN #s. Thanks!

  38. This is great! We’re creating a small library for a college prep school in Santa Cruz, and are using a bar code scanner to get all of our books online through Google Books. The entire school will be able to search our library, and we can export the titles to make check-out cards.

    BUT after 90 minutes of scanning and checking, we’re getting throttled because they think we’re using automated queries.

    Can you help?


  39. “The aim of Google Books is to help you discover books and learn where to buy or borrow them, not read them online from start to finish.”

    It would be super awesome if we could log onto Amazon, Abebooks, ebay, etc and have them send you folks a list of books that we’ve purchased from them. If we can prove that we’ve purchased the books then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have full access to those books in our Google Books library. Well…unless we resold them or gave them away…which people would be more inclined to do…which would violate copyright.

    So it’s possible to practically prove that we’ve purchased a book (at least from major online book stores), but impossible to practically prove that we currently own that book. Darn it. I rarely reread novels but it would be really helpful for reference books that I frequently need to reference.

  40. This is awesome ! I can search the text of book I want in my private library just by scanning bar codes? Thanks for the pos Matt!

  41. This would be a great app to create a record of a cd or dvd collection. Just scan in the bardcode, create the list and sent to a pc via email.. or even better, a record keeping wesite.

  42. I was curious to know if this scanning feature would give me the current value of books in my library. I have a few books in my library that i would like to sell and some of which I am sure they have a high value but I would look like to be able to scan them and be able to find the value on of them if possible. Is this possible to do?

  43. You can check out my Android app, , which accomplishes some of what the comments here are asking.

  44. Re: Scanning on Android phones, what if you use the BarcodeScanner app (Barcode Scanner v3.4) – use the bulk scanning method (in Settings menu), then export/e-mail yourself the history list (History > Send History) and then import that list into whatever software you’re using? It would be nice to have a “library” app on the phone, too. 🙂

  45. Does the “my library” function at Google still store a users book list. I own two or three thousand books and need the capability to scan the ISBN numbers and have the information stored in an accessible database. I found you post on Google search but could not find the function on Google books.

  46. Now scanning can be done by smart phones so there is any need to by bar code scanner. The features of this product is very useful because we can now determine easily which book we have read or which book to suggest our friends.

  47. Getting books onto the shelves in “My Library” is pretty easy. However, ratings are pretty clumsy. To rate, you have to click on “Review” and save it. Then to see the rating, you have to click on “Edit review”. That’s crazy. If I want to see all my 5-star books .. well, I can’t. Or at least I don’t see it.

  48. How do you do this with your webcam.