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my experience with delicious library

Last weekend, I got an iSight. I didn’t actually need one for anything, but I was curious and I had a little spot bonus money to burn. So, while I have yet to use it for its main purpose, video chatting, I have tried it for a different purpose: Delicious Library. This app has a neat trick of turning your iSight (or other webcam, really) into a barcode reader. This was so fascinating to me, that I bought Delicious Library just to play with this feature. That and tracking my books, CDs, video games, and DVDs seemed like a decent idea anyway.

Never mind that I only own about 200 books and can pretty much remember what and where they all are. Never mind that I only have a about 150 CDs (pathetically low!), and my video game and DVD collections are even smaller. Also pay no attention to the fact that I rarely lend any of these materials to anyone (or, at least, I do so infrequently enough that I can generally remember what I’ve lent).

So, while my use of Delicious Library is essentially and advanced form of procrastination, I did want to check it out to see if my parents would get any use out of it. See, they, at least, have quite a lot of books, and a certain subset of them are frequently lent. And I’m always looking for news ways for them to get use out of their Macs.

First, getting the barcode reading to work: this requires (unsurprisingly) adequate ambient light. And it requires a bit of fiddling with the item to be scanned. Sometimes, scanning works right away, sometimes it is a maddeningly tricky.

Second, scanning DVDs and games was generally pretty successful. One game I had (Halo 2, limited edition) had no barcode, and one game didn’t come up (Katamari Damacy).

However, scanning books was a different story. Most of my cookbooks scanned and loaded successfully, but when I moved to the bulk of my collection, paperback fiction, the success rate dropped dramatically. I think maybe 3 of 160 books scanned and were recognized. Of course, Delicious Library allows you to enter books by ISBN, which is much more reliable.

Delicious Library is using amazon.com’s web services to do all of its searching, and I find it curious how brittle an identifier the UPC is, as compared to ISBN. My unresearched theory is that UPCs tend to identify a particular printing of a book, where the ISBN refers to a book in all of its forms. (This may be a reflection on how amazon uses these numbers rather than what the standards themselves say). So, if your book isn’t very recent, or is an edition not sold by amazon, then the UPC is unlikely to work.

I still like Delicious Library (even if its use to me isn’t that profound), but I would recommend that if you are primarily going to index books, you might not want to bother with the barcode reading.

Update: The barcode reading works perfectly with books that you just got from Amazon. I was looking at my parent’s book collection noticing that a number of them are old enough to not have ISBN numbers (or any real identifier beyond title and author), so I expect that those will be fun to enter into Delicious Library.

Update to the Update: The barcode reading isn’t perfect, even with books you just got from Amazon. I had just bought 4 books, and the 4th book came later. When I scanned this book, Delicious Library first came up with nothing, then, on a subsequent try, came up with a different book!

Written on Oct 30, 2005.

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