I’ve always wanted to catalog our library. I heard about LibraryThing a while back, but didn’t pursue it.

Last month we brought a stack of books back from China, as always. And I forgot what drove me to buy a CueCat from LibraryThing, but yes, I finally decided to do it.

I regretted as soon as I got the PayPal confirmation email. Why did I buy a bar code scanner when I can just type in the ISBN?

It turns out as one of the better mistakes I’ve made lately. There’s only one issue here: efficiency.

We have far more Chinese books than English ones, and I immediately found that LibraryThing can’t find any Chinese book from its few alleged Chinese sources. Then I remembered Douban.

Douban is a lot more of a social network than a library as LibraryThing, as you can’t even sort your books. But it does a pretty good job of finding Chinese books, so I happily entered about a dozen ISBNs manually.

Then I realized how efficient CueCat is with LibraryThing. Ignore the time to take a book from the shelf and put it back, it takes less than a second to get a book into LibraryThing after I mastered the scan speed, whereas it takes at least 15-20 seconds for Douban: type 10 digits (my laptop doesn’t have a num pad), enter, click “Reading”, “Want to Read”, or “Have Read”, pick tags.

Granted, I need to tag books in LibraryThing later, but that can be done in a batch.

So after a few more Chinese books I couldn’t stand it any more. I found a site with JavaScript to decode CueCat string, but it’s still a hassle to copy-n-paste the ISBN into Douban. Then I found Douban has API (python, php, and Java), and thought I could write a simple web app to decode CueCat, search Douban, and add the book.

It would probably take a web programmer less than 15 minutes to do it, but I was too lazy and too dumb. Instead I found a Java app that decodes and launches a browser, and Douban has a search URL like http://www.douban.com/book/isbn. Now it takes about 5 seconds. Good enough.

After I finish scanning all the books, hopefully I can gather some courage to write something with Douban’s API to better display the books.

For now, here are our English books, and here are our Chinese books.

Don’t even think of borrowing them.