I’ve found that as my book collection grows and as I lend out books to friends, I’ve needed a system to catalog and keep up with my books. Over the years I’ve tried several different methods…none of which worked to my satisfaction. But I’ve finally found one that works perfectly.


Most everyone who is a book lover or reader is familiar with Goodreads and probably has an account. But not very many people are aware of how you can use this reading social system to its fullest potential. Here are some tips on how you can take your Goodreads account and turn it into your home library database.

Goodreads has a bookshelf system where you can create your own lists to categorize the books you’ve added. There are four default bookshelves: All, Read, Currently Reading, and To Read. But you can add your own, as many as you want. To get started with your library database, you’ll want to make a bookshelf for this purpose. I have three actually. Newsome Library, EBook Library, and Checked Out. More on the Checked Out bookshelf in a moment.

To create your library, simply add all the books you own and place them into your library bookshelf. You may have lots of books in your Read shelf or your To Read shelf that you don’t own. That’s fine. Goodreads can keep up with it all. Just tag them all appropriately. And if you own it…it goes in your library bookshelf. I’ve made a separate bookshelf for the eBooks I own, so that I don’t look in my library and think I actually have a ink and paper copy when I don’t. I’ve decided to keep those two libraries separate.

To setup your library so that people can check out books from you, first create a new shelf called Checked Out. You’ll need to customize this a little. When you’re looking at a specific bookshelf, you should see a “shelf settings” link at the top. Click this. Check as many things as you want for your bookshelves, but for your Checked Out shelf make sure you have Notes checked. This will put an empty Notes column next to every book that is placed in the Checked Out shelf. Click the [edit] link under Notes by the book and enter in the name of the person you loaned the book to. Now when you go to your Check Out shelf, you can quickly see all the books you’ve loaned out and who has them.

Have a smartphone? Add the Goodreads app. You can do all of this from your phone. Plus there’s a barcode scanner so you can quickly scan your books and add them to your library database.

When you loan a book, scan it and it’ll pull the book up. Or if you’re on your computer, just look for it in your library shelf. Add it to the Checked Out shelf, put the name of the person in Notes, and you’re done. When the book is returned, just take it off the Checked Out shelf and delete the name out of Notes.

So why should you use Goodreads as your database system instead of other homebased systems or home library apps? Because Goodreads does more than just catalog your library. It’s social too. Your friends can browse your library and see your reviews of books you own. And if your friend uses the same system, then you can browse their library too. Plus you get the added benefit of all the other social aspects, such as discussion groups and recommendations. Not to mention the cool feature of being able to keep up with books you’ve read, even if you don’t own them. Goodreads handles all of your book cataloging needs effortlessly. It is designed to be a community of book lovers. You won’t get any of that from a self-contained library program or app.

There. Now you have something to do this weekend. You know…that something to do that’s a little bit nerdy and a little bit fun in order to procrastinate that other thing you don’t really want to do. You can setup your home library in Goodreads instead.

Incidentally, this custom way of setting up and using Goodreads came about at the suggestion of a Goodreads representative. I emailed them about how I could use Goodreads for my home library. She said there currently wasn’t a native way for doing book check-outs, but suggested I use a designated shelf setup and the notes function. She also said she’d send the library functionality idea to their development team. Nothing’s come down the pipe-line yet, but it might soon, making it even easier to use Goodreads as your home library database system.


Goodreads App for Android
Goodreads App for iPhone

6 Responses

  1. You just made this nerd very happy! Can’t wait to unpack all of my books into my new study and catalog them all!

  2. I love Goodreads, but I tend to “forget” it’s there. I read books and never mark them in any way. Then I end up going in and having to rate/review a slew of them at once.

    The shelf for loaned out books would likely help me a lot. But I’d forget to go log it! 😛

    (Between you and me, I’ve gotten to where I only loan books to one person, because she’s the only one who remembers to give them back without me emailing reminders. I am patient, but when months go by… This is one benefit of ebooks. If I loan one to someone, it is automatically returned in two weeks. Undamaged, too.)

  3. Thanks Oliver for writing this down!
    I am currently looking for a simple service to catalog, display the catalog and check-out books for a volunteer’s organization smallish library (~600 items).

    Have you by any chance come across alternatives to your clever Goodreads solution?


      1. Thanks for the recommendation, Maria. Libib is a cool app, but I don’t see how to keep track of loans. Any insights on this?
        Thanks a bunch!

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