If you would walk into my office, the first thing you might notice is that I have a lot of books. Commentaries, theology books, and Bibles are to the right of my desk. Above my computer I have books on church ministry, missions, and world religions. Scattered throughout the shelves are all my youth ministry books – divided into youth culture, books for youth pastors (i.e. anything written by Doug Fields), books for students, curriculum, and skits/games.
Like most people, I have my ministry library arranged in such a way that I can find a specific book quickly. But what happens if I am not in my office? Could I recall if I have a specific book? Could you?
In college, while I searched for a way to catalog my ministry library, I discovered LibraryThing. LibraryThing is an online database that catalogs your physical library. You can add books easily to your library just by entering in the title or ISBN. Once your books are in your catalog, you can tag, categorize, review and rate books. You can also access your catalog from their website and from the mobile-enhanced site.
LibraryThing is free for the first 200 books. If you have a larger library, membership costs $10 a year or $25 for a lifetime membership (which is well worth it).
Tips for Using LibraryThing
- Catalog your entire ministry library. In order to use LibraryThing as a complete catalog of your ministry library, you need to keep it current. This means update LibraryThing immediately after a new book purchase. I keep all new books front and center on my desk until I enter them into LibraryThing – only after it is in my catalog will I put them on a bookshelf.
- Use tags. Tags are helpful to quickly navigate your catalog. Use tags to separate fiction and nonfiction, commentaries, and specific areas of ministry. I also use tags to keep track of which books I have read. Helpful hint: tags are case sensitive (e.g. “Christianity” and “christianity” are two separate tags).
- Connect with others. LibraryThing is more than just a library database; it is a collection of book lovers. The developers at LibraryThing have done a great job of baking in very helpful social features to the website. Every book has it’s own page, complete with an aggregate of reviews and ratings. LibraryThing provides book recommendations based on the books in your collection. You can also connect with other LibraryThing users, especially those that share similar books. This has proven to be very useful to me: I can see a similar collection to mine and then see what books I don’t have yet. My LibraryThing name is NJVroom; be sure to connect with me so we can compare libraries.
LibraryThing is a great way to get a grip on your physical ministry library. By having an online database of your books – along with mobile access to that info – you can actually know whether you have a book or not. LibraryThing’s social connections, book recommendations, and reviews are great additions. While I’d love to see a more robust mobile presence (best case: iOS app; worst case: a more colorful mobile site), it does not take away from this powerful cataloging tool.