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Using Android smartphone to mass import books into LT.

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Edited: May 14, 2011, 2:29am Top

My wife needed a system to catalog her middle-school English classroom's collection of books, and I stumbled upon LibraryThing. Great site, loved the functionality, but wasn't looking forward to the data entry. Even creating a csv file and using the import functions on LT, typing in all those ISBN numbers wasn't going to be fun.

I had thought about using a barcode scanner, but didn't want to fork over the money for one. I had a rare brainstorm, and hit upon the idea of using my Android smartphone's free Barcode scanner app (by ZXing Team) to scan them in. What makes this app great is that it has a "bulk scan" mode. As a test at home, I just scanned and imported into LT 79 books from my personal bookshelves in about 15 minutes. Don't know if anyone else has tried this but I thought I might pass on how I did it. This has worked on my Android phone, I have no idea if Apple iPhones have a similar app.

1. Download and install the Barcode Scanner from the Android market, the free one by the Zxing Team.

2. In the settings on the app, scroll down and select "bulk scan mode". This allows you to scan and store barcodes into the app's history file without stopping between scans. On my phone (Samsung Acclaim), I get to the settings by pressing the menu button on the phone and selecting "Settings" from the choices presented.
3. Scan book ISBN barcodes. The app will alert you when its successfully scanned a barcode, then you can go to another book. I found out that with my particular phone camera, it worked better when I was scanning in a well-lit area.

4. When you're done scanning, use the app's menu and select "History". You can see the list of ISBN numbers you just scanned. Scroll down to the bottom of the list and select "Send History". It will prompt you for options, depending on what other apps you have on your phone. Mine gave me the option to email it, or use my Dropbox. However you send it, you'll soon receive a .csv file with the results of the barcode scan.

5. I opened up the .csv file using Excel; the barcode numbers were in the first column. I had to format the column as a number with no decimals in Excel, it was displaying them as scientific notation at first. I just then highlighted all the cells containing my numbers, and used the right-click menu to copy them to my clipboard. I suppose you could use another program to open the .csv file and copy the numbers, Excel just happened to be the easy choice. There's several other columns of data including date/time, UPC code format, etc. there, ignore them.

6. Then I just went to LibraryThing's "Add Books" tab and clicked on the "Import Books" link, and pasted the list of ISBN numbers into "Paste Text" box and then clicked the "Grab" button. That's it. A few minutes later, LT was done looking up my books and they were entered into my library.

What was looking to be a very laborious job for my wife will now take at the most an hour to get done. There's sure to be some manual corrections and entering of books without barcodes, but the bulk of the work can be done by the barcode scanner app.

Hope this helps other LT users out there.

May 14, 2011, 3:51pm Top

On the iPhone there's an app called Red Laser which can allow you to scan the barcodes from a stack of books, email the list to yourself. You can upload this attachment (list of ISBNs) to LT in the bulk upload page and set some collections and tags for the list (grouping the books you scan is good here) and import into your LT collection. For generally recent books this is a quick way to get a bunch of them listed.


Edited: Aug 9, 2011, 10:32pm Top

Oh my god, egarvue! That was so easy! Thank you a million times for posting this. I just wish I had seen this advice looooooong before I manually typed the ISBNs of over 150 books. I mistakenly thought I needed a special app to scan so many and it was so slow and clunky on my smartphone. What would have taken me another hour or so to scan happened in less than 10 minutes. Thank you thank you thank you.

Aug 9, 2011, 11:25pm Top

Geez, I manually typed the ISBNs of 2000+ books (3000 total, some were too old for ISBNs so I typed the title). I have lived to tell the tale.

Edited: Aug 23, 2011, 8:55am Top

Thanks egarvue, saved me lots of typing. I had two problems using Barcode scanner though: 1) it's relatively slow to scan (on a HTC Hero), sometimes needing lots of jiggling of camera/book (good light does help). 2) The "clear history" button is right next to the "send history" button. And it clears with no confirmation dialog - can you guess what I did? :) That is a big no-no for me (and it's shocking UI design) so I looked for an alternative.

After trying a few I've settled on QuickMark Lite*. It's amazingly quick compared to Barcode Scanner (on my Hero at least) - in most cases scanning the ISBN almost as quick as you can move the camera over it- and it has a decent interface that does not let me delete all of my data by accident!. It outputs as delimited text so you can just C&P into the LT import box. Good stuff.

*Note: to export in QM Lite you need to pay 99c to upgrade. If for whatever reason you want a free solution you can install 'Continue Barcode Reader'. This uses whatever barcode reader you have installed to scan and it then grabs the ISBNs to plain text. When you are done you can email the text file (so no messing in Excel). HOWEVER! This also has the 'delete all' button next to the 'send' button with no confirmation (who designs these things?) It's also a tad more clunky as it is scraping data from another program. But when using Quick Mark Lite's scan engine this was still much faster and effective than Barcode Scanner for me.

Sep 5, 2011, 8:35pm Top

I don't have a smartphone, but I just today programmed a barcode scanner (only $30) to begin scanning my ISBNs. Believe me forking over $30 was MUCH easier than figuring out the programming from what they laughingly call a User's Manual! :)

Sep 6, 2011, 2:10am Top

Yeah. I got a CueCat from LT - that was $15 plus the work of neutering it - and have been using it to enter a great many of my books. It's less independent than either a full barcode scanner or a phone - just the scanner, which outputs to a computer through a USB plug - but it's also much simpler.

Do you really have an independent (doesn't have to be plugged into a computer all the time) bar code scanner for $30? What kind? I'm tempted...

Sep 6, 2011, 11:52am Top

...plus the work of neutering it (#7)

Wait, you mean Cuecats breed? And how do you know you didn't have it spayed instead?


Sep 6, 2011, 1:05pm Top

plbbbbbbttt... ;)
I like calling it neutering rather than declawing. Personal preference.

Sep 7, 2011, 2:16am Top

jjmcgaffey~ The barcode scanner I got does plug into the computer - which is where I am if I'm on LT anyway. :) http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003VR6L48

It is very similar to what we use at the library, and the library is where I thought 'gee, can I just scan in my ISBNs?' and tried it out. And besides, this one is available in black therefore blending in with my other computer accessories!

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