Tracking Your Books and Library Online

GoodReads versus LibraryThing versus Shelfari

Back in 2008, I started looking at ways to catalog my household’s book collection: Books and Knowledge Management. LibraryThing was the winner. That decision was largely driven by their ability to manually enter books. Back in 2008 GoodReads and Shelfari libraries were limited to books listed on

Since then, I have happily been using Library Thing. I have entered over 1,200 books in my LibraryThing catalog. About 300 of those books are more than 50 years old, meaning they are not available on

It’s been about two years so I decided to take another look at my options. LibraryThing has been good to me, so I am hesitant to move. I suspected that there would be a great deal of time trying to recreate my catalog on another site.

Import and Export

All three have the ability to import and export books. So I exported the lists to Shelfari and GoodReads. I ended up with 1082 in Shelfari after manually adding 100 or so books. Shelfari made me go through a painful process of adding books by matching covers, with only 20 books per page. I gave up a third of the way through. I did not manually enter any books in Goodreads and ended up with 967 books.


Back in 2008, Shelfari had the best visuals of the three. Unfortunately, it looks like time stopped for Shelfari. I did not notice any change in its visuals. The site  shows the book covers sitting on a wood grain bookshelf.

LibraryThing is the least attractive of the three. But it seems to have forgone good visuals for a user interface full of information. I found it the easiest to use, but I had the most familiarity with it.

GoodReads has the best looking user interface of the three.

Tags, Shelves and Collections

One of the keys is how the sites allow you to organize the books. For me, I have two basic pieces of data. The first is the reading status: read it or planning to read it. The second is whether I own it or not. Essentially I want to track the books I’ve read and the books I own in one place.

LibraryThing uses “collections” that work well for my basic data. The collections are not exclusive, so books can be in multiple collections. My collections are currently reading, publisher provided, reviewed, read but unowned, and to read. The LibraryThing also allows for extensive use of tags.

Goodreads allows many “shelves.” I set up currently reading, to-read, borrowed, and publisher provided. For some reason, your ownership status for a book is separate from the shelves. There is no separate tagging.

Shelfari limits your “shelves” to reading status, own, favorite and wish list. Instead, they allow lots of tagging.

Mobile Views

All three have a stripped down mobile view of their sites. Of the three, GoodReads has the most functionality squeezed onto the small iPhone screen, yet it still very readable.


All three sites about their active network of users sharing information about books.  I had very few connections on the sites. Lots of connections on one of the sites would be a good reason to selection that site.

Integration with Other Applications

Goodreads has a nice tie into Twitter and Facebook allowing you update you books status to those sites. I really like this feature.

LibraryThing and Shelfari both have Facebook applications but they are far behind GoodReads.


All three sites allow you to use widgets to show part of your collection.

LibraryThing had the most widgets and an ability to customize those widgets.


All three sites are free.

LibraryThing requires you to buy a membership if you want to keep more than 25o books in your catalog. I bought the $25 lifetime membership.

GoodReads and Shelfari both display advertisements.

What’s Next?

Going forward for the next months, I am going to use all three site and try to replicate the information. (although, I’m not going to spend much time going back to clean up my catalogs in GoodReads or Shelfari.) The stack of books next to my nightstand has gotten nearly as tall as my kids. So I have an itch to  cram in a bunch of book reading this year to clear out my backlog.

I will publish a follow-up in a few months and let you know which site won the competition.

In the meantime, if you are using any of the sites let me know your thoughts and connect with me.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Doug. I checked back into LibraryThing a few months back when I realized that I was actually reading more again. I really want help tracking the list of books I’ve read and the suggestions I’ve gotten. Tags seem to work at the bare minimum, but they don’t help me with the more nuanced questions of when I read things or when they were suggested. For that, I probably need a database (I really like Smartlist ToGo for than on my Palm way back when). Now I’ve dumped stuff into a spreadsheet.

    1. Jack –

      For tracking lots of information, I think LibraryThing is the best of the three.

      There is a comments field to keep notes. There are also date fields for when the book was added to the database, when you acquired it, when you started reading it and when you finished reading it.

      Take a look at the use of collections as a way to help organize beyond tags. They act as filters.

      Also, you can create five customized views of your collections. Try the A,B,C,D,and E buttons at the top. Click on the “gear” icon to customize each of those five views.

      I actually use a Delicious tag for suggestions. ( I don’t add books to LibraryThing until I have it hand. The Delicious tag has the date automatically. I usually tag the review of the book or the article that got me interested.

  2. I saw all those pieces and pondered Evernote and Delicious too, but none of them seemed to do what I really wanted to do. Or maybe I want to do several things that really isn’t compatible in one place. Namely: suggestions I’ve received (who, why, comments, etc) + books I’ve read (when, comments).

    The tags in LibraryThing started by topic tags, and I found the read / not read tagging to be rather clumsy, and this was just last fall.

  3. Very good advice. I am now using LibraryThing and I can’t thank you enough

  4. Good article! I was just exploring the different sites and debating because of having friends using each network. One thing I will say, the ads on Goodreads don’t bother me. Mostly because I have actually found some good deals or new authors through them. As long as they stay book ads, I won’t mind them. Thanks again for the post!

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