The Best FREE App to Quickly Catalog Your Personal Library without stress!


Yesterday, I needed to put some books away and our bookshelves were overstuffed and disorganized so I dropped all other non-essential tasks from my plans and committed to organizing our “library.”

I’ve been wanting to use an app to scan all the books we own and create a spreadsheet detailing what we have and where it’s located so this was the perfect opportunity do both.

When I set my mind to a task, it’s gotta happen THAT day. I don’t allow time for a huge learning curve, etc. The end product will be what it will be, but it will be done.

I googled “best app to catalog a  personal library” and read a few blogs.

I’m not stupid, but I am impatient. I tried several apps, only the free versions. Several had such great write-ups I was tempted to buy the “pro” version when the free version was lacking and I am so glad I didn’t.  They all had problems and I wasn’t able to quickly figure out how to scan the books.  None of them were as user-friendly as the bloggers described. My favorite app ended up being the one that’s not even marketed for cataloging libraries-Goodreads.

Goodreads is a free website for sharing book reviews and talking about books. A friend introduced me to Goodreads when I posted on Facebook about a book I loved.

I’m not an active participant at Goodreads but I’ve had an account since 2010 and have family and friends I follow. I can see what friends are reading and get ideas for what I might enjoy. I didn’t even know they had an app till yesterday.





The Downside to the Goodreads App


This app wasn’t designed for cataloging a Private Library

The app wasn’t developed specifically for cataloging a home library. It was designed to allow people to use the Goodreads website on their phone, review books at any time, quickly scan a book they see at a bookstore and add it to their wish list or “To Read” shelf, and socialize with other book-lovers.


It’s owned by Amazon

Goodreads is now owned by if that’s a downside for anyone. Here is a link to the Goodreads Privacy Policy.  If you have concerns, this isn’t your app.


There’s no option to keep your library completely private*

Books you add to your bookshelves are viewable by anyone who can see your profile. You control who can see your profile and the options are:

  • anyone (including search engines)
  • Goodreads members
  • just my friends

You don’t have the option to keep your bookshelves completely private. That’s not the point of their app; this is a social app. If you want a totally private personal library you either need to use another app or use the Goodreads app (with its easy scanning) to create a spreadsheet of all your books, then tell the site to “Remove all my books” (see the Import/Export page).*


It’s a battery hog

I don’t usually need to charge my phone during the day but after five straight hours of scanning, my battery was at 20%. Plan to recharge your phone during the process if you try to tackle a large collection in one sitting.



The Benefits of the Goodreads App


The Goodreads  App is FREE

Yes, ka-ching, ka-ching, you won’t be out any money for this app. After my frustration with other free apps, I was seriously considering dropping $15 for a well-supported Library app. I’m so glad I tried Goodreads first! It’s simple; it’s well-supported; and, it does what I need with almost no learning curve.


The Goodreads App is supported and updated regularly

Several of the library apps that bloggers were recommending a few years ago are now defunct. They’re no longer supported and available for purchase.

I can’t afford to invest my time cataloging our book collection only to have the app crash or disappear.

Amazon is here for the long haul and I suspect Goodreads is too, so they’ll probably continue to support and improve the Goodreads app.  (Export your library to a computer file for good measure.) Here’s a link to the Goodreads Help Topics, which are extremely valuable if you get confused and need a quick tutorial.


Android and iPhone

The Goodreads App is available for Android phones on Google Play and iOS devices at the iPhone store.


The easiest book scanning of any app I tried

The ease of book-scanning was my primary draw to Goodreads; the other benefits of the app were distant seconds. Goodreads is the only app I tried that instantly scanned books the way I expected it to, and even in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Most apps wanted me to scan the ISBN number on the back of a book cover. First of all, I have many books, and many of these are old books. I can’t find ISBN numbers on many of these books and I don’t currently have the time to type titles in, one by one. Secondly, even if I could find an ISBN number, I couldn’t figure out how to work within the app to scan and record my collection. Scanning was my only purpose for using a Library app and most of these weren’t user-friendly enough for me to quickly learn how to get the job done.

With the Goodreads app, you can scan the ISBN number on the back of a book cover if you have one. The quicker method, for me, was just to scan the front of the book and the app had some sort of cover-recognition technology (with little blue and white dots) and would pop up the title of my book and add it to my “Scanned” shelf.


This is a screenshot from the app on my phone as it scanned this book title (see the blue & white dots). Then the app displayed what it thought the book title was.


The book scanning is so responsive you actually have to be careful not to have other books in sight. I would have a stack of books and just be scanning the top book in the pile and then setting the book in a “scanned” pile and sometimes the app would see the book behind the top book in my pile and scan it first. I am still shocked how great this app is at recognizing book titles.

Seriously, these app developers created a very low barrier to entry for customers. There is almost no learning curve. This is my kind of app.

Books this app and others probably won’t find the title for:

  • Old Books – There are some books that are so old, they don’t have an ISBN number and  Goodreads doesn’t recognize the title. The app probably won’t recognize many of the types of books you’ll find on Internet Archive~books that are old and out of copyright. I doubt the other apps will either.
  • Self-published books with no ISBN number (like a family history, etc)
  • Cheap reproductions of classics that are created and resold as a giveaways
  • Some proprietary books, like Scholastic children’s books, both written and sold by Scholastic (books written by other authors but sold by Scholastic showed up on the app)
  • Old college textbooks that are outdated & out of print

Here’s my pile of books & pamphlets (out of 1000 I scanned) that I tried to scan but the app didn’t quickly grab the correct title. I’ll give the app a second go with each of these books when I’m feeling more patient and if it still can’t find the title, I’ll add it manually. Oh, bother, lol.


I’ll definitely have a few books I’ll have to manually enter. But I’ve already scanned over 800 book titles in 5 hours. Pause for a second, and consider that. Physically grabbing 800 books, one by one, and scanning each title into an app that recognizes the book and puts it in a database for you. The technology is fast and impressive.


You can view your library on the Goodreads website

You can only scan 100 books at a time. After 100 scans you need to “Shelve” the books and clear them off the “Scanned books” on the app. Goodreads warns that it can take some time to upload all this data and by book #600 or so, it did take a while for the site to make the transfer. I always went to my computer to check that the app had finished “shelving” my books so I knew I could safely delete the scans from the app. The app shows when it’s in the process of shelving, but I don’t know if, when you no longer see the word “shelving” next to a book, the book has truly been shelved. I always confirm on the website by searching for some of the books I just shelved and watching the “My Books” book count to confirm it has increased. Then I go back to the app and clear the Scanned books and start scanning another batch.



You can import and export spreadsheets with all your books

If you already have a spreadsheet with your book collection, Goodreads allows you to import the spreadsheet and create a collection or add it to your collection at Goodreads. The only required field for this import is an ISBN number.

If you have a collection at Goodreads, they allow you to export that collection. You just select the option to create a spreadsheet of all your books and they generate a .csv file (comma separated value file supported by all spreadsheet developers) you can download to your computer. They link to a sample CSV file on their site, but the actual file has many more columns.



To Summarize

The Goodreads App is free, it’s easy to use, it’s got incredible book title-recognition technology, and it’s supported by one of the biggest companies in the world. What’s not to love?

Again, this app wasn’t developed specifically for the purpose of organizing your personal library. But it works like a charm and it’s free, so why not use it that way?


“More than 35 million members have added more than 1 billion books to their shelves. No other app combines the power and depth of the Goodreads community with an enormous catalog of books and reviews.


• Get personalized recommendations and discover new books based on your tastes.
• Goodreads Choice Awards: vote for your favorite books of the year and see the winners!
• Participate in the Reading Challenge!
• Barcode scanner!
• Keep a want-to-read list.
• See book reviews and updates from your friends.
• Discover new books and explore popular book lists.
• Rate and review any book in our catalog of more than 12 million books.
• Share notes and progress updates as you read.
• Recommend books to friends.
• Join online book clubs and connect with other readers.
• View literary events near you.”


Best in your research and all your family history endeavors!


*If you decide you want a completely private home library app, you might consider using the Goodreads app to create your home library spreadsheet (if you find it scans books faster and more efficiently than other apps) and then remove all the books from Goodreads and upload the exported spreadsheet to another app.


Here’s an image you can pin for future reference.

The Best free app to catalog your home library



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