Track Your Books Digitally With The Bookcase

There’s an innate struggle when you’re a collector of anything to not appear like a crazy person. I know a gentleman who collects bicycles. He has eighteen in his garage at last count. I collect films and am slowly getting into the world of book collection. That being said, it’s difficult to explain to somebody that I purchased somewhere north of 200 Blu-rays in 2010 without getting funny glances (I have slowed down considerably, so I appear normal now).

Beyond the societal implications of our neuroses as collectors, cataloguing our possessions becomes something of a hobby. One friend and fellow film collector keeps four Excel spreadsheets of what he owns, each documenting different aspects of his collection. That’s a level of precision I think most collectors aspire to be; a certain craziness that few people other than those with the itch want to scratch. For movie collectors, there are a lot of apps that offer this functionality on iPhone, and few do it well. Book collectors have many options, but the only real choice they have is The Bookcase.

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Wooden Shelves Going Digital

Collectors often spend a long time working on the presentation of their collections. Nobody collects mountains of books and then stuffs them in boxes. The pride that collectors take in acquiring the perfect display case is the same pride they take when they look for the perfect digital collection tracker. Visually, the app needs to work. Speaking from experience, most of the collection apps on the App Store really stink. They look hideous and they’re barely functional.

Welcome to your digital bookcase.

Welcome to your digital bookcase.

Bookcase is different. You can tell right away that the visual elements of the app were really important to the developers. It has a similar colour scheme to Reeder (which is one of my favourite iOS apps) and even Cover Flow for books, which is simply ingenious. It’s as easy to use as Cover Flow for music. I don’t know how practical it is, but it is attractive and it’s nice to present a collection that way instead of just in a list format — particularly for people who have larger collections.

Slowly adding the small "collection" of books I have at my apartment.

Slowly adding the small “collection” of books I have at my apartment.

I don’t have that many books at my apartment, so I only put the ones I’m currently reading into the app at the moment. The scanner didn’t work the first time I tried it. I had the lights off, so my iPhone’s flash turned on when I activated the feature. I turned on the lights at that moment, out of habit, and the flash made it impossible to capture the barcode in normal lighting. After I realized my mistake, the barcode scanner worked exactly as advertised.

There’s also a manual entry field in case you can’t find a particular book in the app’s database. I have a fiftieth anniversary copy The Lord of the Rings that I can’t find anywhere in the app (and it doesn’t have a barcode to scan). I could add the book manually, but I don’t want to — in fact, I’m dreading it. The manual entry fields are this app’s biggest interface shortcomings.

Design Flaws

If I want to manually add a book to my library or loan it out, I have to fill out a long list. It’s a pain. There are too many variables for some collectors, who may just want to know the most basic details. So why doesn’t the interface reflect this? I’m forced to go through this extensive list of blanks and fill them in instead of going through three quick screens and entering the name of the book, the author and publisher. If I want to loan out a book, I should be able to select one from my list (with search function available), choose a person from my contacts or just punch in a name, and that’s it. I shouldn’t be forced to enter in information that might not be relevant. If I own a book, do I really need to mark its publication year if I organize only by author and title? If I’m loaning a book, do I really need a due date with a friend or family member I trust? I just want to be able to maintain my inventory without being a pest.

This screen quickly started to get more and more terrifying.

This screen quickly started to get more and more terrifying.

The bottom line is that it comes down to being able to see what I have and what I don’t have, and simply add or take away from those lists as quickly as possible. I don’t manage a real library or bookstore; the ultimate details aren’t necessarily important to me. I own The Terminator on Blu-ray, but its release date isn’t crucial to me. What is important is the director and title. And if I loan it to my father, I certainly won’t tell him to make sure it’s back to me within two weeks. I use the same methodology for books.

Currently, I’ve loaned a good friend of mine my copy of The Hobbit for a scholarly report she’s writing on British literature in the early twentieth century. I do not expect it back by any date until she is ready to return it. I do not know when that date will be, nor do I particularly care. The app does not allow for that sort of trusted friendship, though.

The interface, despite my problems with it, is often well thought out.

The interface, despite my problems with it, is often well thought out.

I know this may seem like a major fuss over a minor quibble, but at the end of the day, what it comes down to with app design is that it respect my time as a user. I should be in and out of any utility app as quick as possible, with as little time spent on the unimportant details. The manual fields, where many “hardcore” collectors are certain to spend a lot of time, are going to be too time-consuming. I’d be far more interested in recommending Bookcase for every serious book collector if some of its most basic functions were performed more quickly.

That being said, it’s not that it does a bad job at these functions. It’s just that it takes too long. All this information is good to have on hand, and it’s nice to know all these things and great to document them, and the app handles that well. I just don’t think it’s entirely necessary.

When they say you'll track every bit of your book collection, they mean it. I even have one collection for books in my apartment and one for books in boxes at my parents' house.

When they say you’ll track every bit of your book collection, they mean it. I even have one collection for books in my apartment and one for books in boxes at my parents’ house.

One final complaint: Adding an item to my wish list adds it to my library, throwing the numbers off. This seems to be a really common error that most digital collections make, and I don’t understand why. If I want to own a copy of the latest Tom Clancy book, it shouldn’t be included in the count of titles that I do own.

My Final Thoughts and Recommendation

It pains me to be so critical sometimes. I really like Bookcase, and I can recommend it to many book collectors who want to track their collection digitally. There are more options in the app for serious collectors than I can shake a stick at, let alone devote time to in a review. I have some serious complaints about it and think that it takes too long to maintain a collection and update it on occasion, but I have yet to encounter a digital collection tracker that doesn’t take too long to navigate. They’re universally painful. The Bookcase makes collecting books more enjoyable than any other app I’ve tried and looks gorgeous to boot despite its flaws. Recommended.


Summary

The Bookcase might be the best way to digitally manage your physical book library on an iPhone, but it still suffers from taking too long to accomplish some essential tasks.

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