Ask the grumpies: Systems to catalogue books? Thoughts on endnote vs. librarything?

Lisa asks:

I was going to ask you and your readers [ed:  emphasis added] for recommendations on book catalogue systems, but then I saw your Library Thing icon and I read your very positive thoughts on that. I also see a brief reference to Endnote, so assume that you use Endnote for research.

Can you share your thoughts on the two different systems? I want to start a book catalogue for non-fiction books and texts, mainly based on my reading list so I have a central system for compiling book information (eg reviews, quotes, recommendations, “to buy”, “to borrow”, summaries, quotes etc etc). If I was to go into academic research (a possibility in a few years time), it is likely that I would use endnote for “real” research. At the moment I need something to manage my non-fiction reading list and “hobby research” which currently is a hodgepodge of messy notes, lists and links. I want to invest my time into a good catalogue system, but unsure if Library Thing is sufficient, or if I should take it a step further and look at Endnote. I can get a discount version of Endnote through my uni alumni, so cost is not a deciding factor. My preference is always just to use one system, but I am unsure if I am trying to force one system to do two different things (ie use Endnote as a book catalogue system, or use Library Thing for storing notes and quotes etc).

Can you compare Library Thing and Endnote? How you use each of them? How much cross-over is there? Would there be any scenario where you would recommend just using Endnote, ie for someone starting out with their book catalogue and notation systems? At what point do you prefer to segregate your work research and personal research systems?

also interested in your reader’s thoughts … particularly any librarians out there (I am in a regional area, otherwise I would be hassling the librarians in the city about this)

Also just out of curiosity, does anyone know what systems Journalists use for this sort of thing? I am not planning to become a journalist, but I am wondering if what I want to do is similar to what some journalists might do to keep track of their source information and ideas etc.

(I am not going to catalogue fiction books and I assume that Library Thing would be the best product for that scenario).

#1 says:
We’re glad you asked! To take the last question first, we have no idea what journalists do, but maybe someone in the comments will!

Other thoughts:

I think you might want two solutions for this.

For fiction and non-fiction books that I have for my own use, I love LibraryThing. Their cataloging setup works for me and I like its display options. The books I have for ‘professional’ purposes are in there too, although in my field we don’t use books so much as articles. You could have separate collections under one account if you want to separate things. The site is specialized for books and does not have an easy way to output citations or include page numbers. You can export a list of your library but that’s about it. No uploading files, although you can put some pictures in your account if you want to show them to people. It’s good for books in that it’s got ways you can put on your own tags and sort collections. You can put in up to 200 books for free before paying for an account. The lifetime membership I bought in 2003 is the best $25 I ever spent.

For articles, book chapters, web pages, etc., I use Zotero. I used to use EndNote but Zotero is free and open-source. You should choose one or the other, as it’s not easy to exchange libraries back and forth between them. These days I’m loving how Zotero lets me work across multiple computers and have access to my library everywhere both through a webpage and through a downloadable (free) program that sits on the local hard drive and integrates with word processing software for doing citations and bibliographies. Zotero, or anything like it, will reformat your paper and works cited for various formats required by publications with just a few clicks (e.g., Chicago style, APA, MLA). You can upload PDFs of your articles and Zotero will suck in the info you need for cataloging, such as date, title, DOI, etc. Then those PDFs (and your library) are accessible anywhere you can see a webpage. There’s a limited amount of free storage, but buying more isn’t expensive, and the amount they give you is totally fine for most purposes.

You could also do everything in Zotero if you wanted, although it doesn’t have pretty cover displays for books the way LibraryThing does. It’s certainly better to put books in Zotero than it is to put other media in LibraryThing, because Zotero is built with more flexibility as far as media type and cataloging it all correctly. You can put interviews, talks, government documents, films, etc. in there, and you can also use tagging and notes. Zotero doesn’t do quite as well as LT in managing, editing, and arranging collections of books, but it’s better for everything else and better for citations.

Does that help?

#2 says:  I use Endnote because it is free through my work, no other reason.  The best thing about librarything in my opinion is that you can buy a cuecat and scan in the barcodes of the physical books into library thing and it pulls everything up. With endnote/refworks/zotero, you have to look up the book in your library system or possibly some other way (maybe googlescholar will pull down cites, I don’t know) or else manually input the data. Endnote is lovely for making lists of works cited in any format that you need, which is the main reason I use it. I have zero crossover between the two systems– librarything is solely for my home library, endnote is solely for my research. But I mostly deal with articles and only the occasional book or book chapter for my work work.  If I were only allowed the use of one, I would go with endnote and just not catalog my fiction.


Ask the Grumpies: Where to donate

bogart asks:

I’d like to give some $$$ (well, realistically, some $) to one or more campaign organizations (really organizations supporting campaigns, if you see what I mean — not candidates’, and probably not the Democrat’s, but something like Indivisible or Flippable that is working strategically nationwide to effect change by electing the good ones). Any you would recommend?


Nationwide movements that are looking strategically (in addition to the afore-mentioned Flippable):

Swingleft, Indivisible

Help marginalized people vote:

Voteriders, Let America Vote


There’s also a lot to be said for looking locally– depending on where you are, your dollars might make a difference in a local election, and local elections determine gerrymandering.

I’ve been trying to do a political action every weekday.  Since I am phone-less (phone free?) for about a week, that means I’ll be giving money places.  For example, today I did a bulk buy order for campaign pins that I’m going to give to a student activist I know to pass out.  Any suggestions you have in the comments have a good chance of receiving my money this week or next!  (Also, can you guys call about Kavanaugh or another important issue since I’m out of commission for a few days?)

What organizations does Grumpy Nation suggest?

Ask the grumpies: Changing opinions

Leah asks:

Is there any major personal opinion where you’re taken a big swing? For example, as a child, I was really anti-abortion until I learned why people might chose to have an abortion.

Ooh, ooh, I can answer this one for #2! Did you know that she used to be REALLY into Ayn Rand?  I wasn’t.  But she TOTALLY was.  I was all, you should totally write a scholarship application for that weird author you like who writes the long onanistic books (actually I didn’t say onanistic because I didn’t know that word yet, but I did probably use the hand motion…).  But she didn’t.  Like most people not in congress, she outgrew it.

I used to believe that people could be fixed and change.  I used to believe that evil didn’t exist. I used to believe more realistic villains thought they were doing the right thing, but were just confused on that, and the truly evil-seeming ones all had some sort of rare psychopathy.  Those beliefs have been firmly shaken these past couple years and now I realize all those “unrealistic” super-villains were actually warning us about what could be.  What now is.

Here’s #2’s actual answer:
I have ambivalence about the death penalty.  Generally, I am against it.  It’s irreversable, expensive, and racist the way it’s currently done.  It doesn’t deter crime.  It ties up the court with endless appeals.  It’s carried out in dumb and dehumanizing ways.  But there are some people . . .

Ask the grumpies: How do you steer a conversation away from complaining?

Debbie M asks:

how do you steer conversation away from complaining? I like a good rant as much as the next person, and sadly I also complain as much as the next person. But I don’t like that.

Some negative things absolutely need to be discussed and handled, and some problems need venting. But I don’t want those to be the ONLY topics of conversation for hours on end. Think: complaining about work problems in a very repetitive way. Probably shouting, “You already told me that three times!” is not ideal.

Just three?  You’re lucky!

Not so long ago (before someone switched jobs) I may have asked #2 a “hypothetical” question similar to this one.  She suggested kitten pictures, but I kind of wonder if that’s just rewarding the problem.  (She also got the hint though… especially when my immediate reaction the next time was to send kitten pictures.)

#2:  My favorite topic-changer is to talk about kittens.  No matter what the conversation is about, just start talking about how kittens are great, they are so fluffy and pouncy and cute and they hop and they purr…

Ask the grumpies: Favorite piece of furniture and why

Leah asks:

What is your favorite piece of furniture and why?

#1 and #2 at the same time ready 1, 2, 3:  THE BED!

Here’s why:

Ask the grumpies: Why don’t you speculate?

Jjiraffe asks:

What do you think about cyber currency/bitcoin? Are you investing? Why or why not?

Short answer:  I think it’s a speculative bubble and I’m not into either gambling or effort.  I’m not into gambling because I’m risk averse.  I’m not into effort in terms of stock picking of any kind because I’d rather keep my time and match the market (plus on average people who try to pick individual stocks on average do worse than people who just match the market).  So there’s a lot of things I could do that I don’t– I don’t try to time the market, I don’t try to pick the next hot thing, I don’t try to tax harvest, I don’t set up my portfolio in order to sell losers for tax purposes.  I’m only just now starting to think about which kinds of investments should go in tax-advantaged vs. taxable funds.  I don’t get any joy from gambling and I don’t think I’d get enough additional happiness from being a big winner (given the probability of winning) to justify the additional sadness from losing money which I would inevitably do because I tend to buy and hold until there’s nothing left to hold just because dealing with taxes is such a pain.  Set and forget is ideal for me.

So… I think cyber currency is not a long-term investment, it’s more gambling than investing.  I’m not a gambler, so I’m not “investing”.  What other people do with their money is their business.  Some people will win big and lots of people will lose their shirts.  I don’t need to be in either category.

There’s a lot more stuff across the internets on bitcoin and why it’s not a great idea to invest.  (And lots of stuff from people caught up in the hype.)  Here’s Mr. Money Mustache on the topic.  He has an excellent economic and cyber analysis of it– it really isn’t a good currency.  He also has some good links on his post if you want to read more about the details.

Ask the grumpies: An Ethical Life Question (family divorce drama)

Sister-in-Law asks:

My brother in law and his ex are going through an icky divorce in state X. She took the kids and fled to state Y then filed a restraining order against him. She did this in my father in law’s spare car (so, technically stolen, but my BIL’s lawyer advised them not to report the car stolen/get it back until after the divorce is final because she has to get to court hearings). He got temporary emergency custody, but then a judge here in Y split the custody 50/50 until they can have a hearing in state X. He had them for a week in state X, then she brought them back up to state Y to stay with a friend. She got kicked out of that house and dumped the kids on her mom for the rest of the week. As far as I know, she is homeless, but she hasn’t contacted me.

They have a custody hearing soon. Afterwards . . . should I stay 100% out of this? Or should I contact her and suggest she go to a women’s shelter to get on her feet?

I think my BIL should have custody. She’s always been a bit of a hot mess, and this is just the last straw. He’s a great dad (attentive, loving, engaged) whereas she doesn’t do a lot with them as far as I can see. Every time we’ve hung out as a family (including multiple week long vacations), other people do the majority of caring for her kids. I do a lot of crafts and activities with them. She wants to, but she’s had a rough life (raised in poverty, learned helplessness, etc) and doesn’t know well how to take care of herself much less the kids.

So . . . I’m nervous that if I suggest something it will lead to her getting custody. But I also feel bad for her and want to see her somewhere safe.

Is it worth mentioning that I think she’s with her boyfriend? He lost custody of his kids due to his drug use, and I think he has a bench warrant for missing a court appearance due to drug use. His kids live with his mom.

What do I do?


#1 says: This is a question for a real advice columnist. That sounds really hard for everyone involved.

It probably doesn’t matter if you reach out to her with your women’s shelter suggestion or not. She will most likely not take your advice if you reach out. So if it makes you feel better, reach out with your suggestion. If it seems like too much effort, don’t.

#2 says: Stay entirely out of anything legal, or who’s where in what situation. That’s not for you.

What *is* for you is to reach out to BIL’s wife, if you have a good relationship with her. Say something like “I heard you’re having a rough time. If you need some help, please let me know what I can do for you and the kids. I’d be happy to take them for an afternoon if you need a break [if this is true], or just listen if you want to talk.” That’s about it. You can offer to help, but her business is her own.

Obligatory plug for reading Captain Awkward, who often answers questions similar to this.

Who has better advice for Sister-in-Law?