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June 30, 2002

Barcoding Books

Today I learned a lot about setting up a database of books. We need that for the JCS warehouse of textbooks as well as Dori's library at the learning center. Although Ted has a brigade of teenagers ready to start inventorying several thousand textbooks next week, I knew that typing in all those titles and publishers would be a crushing chore. So I jumped to Google looking for ISBN and lookup.

First thing I learned is that a few people are using ISBN lookup as a way to learn how to use SOAP to develop web services. http://www.lazarev.com/SOAP/isbn.asp, for example, will give you back the title and author when you type the ISBN into a form.

I also learned about the structure of ISBNs. The last digit (the 9 in 0-14-008948-9, for instance) is a check to make sure the rest of it is valid. One FAQ page by a German said that ISBN is on the way out, to be superceded by EAN in which the E stands for European. You can turn an ISBN into an EAN by putting 978 in front of it and changing the check digit.

I struck gold a short time later when I found Readerware, a simple data base for books. What makes it unique is that you can type in an ISBN and the software will go to Amazon, Borders, the Library of Congress and elsewhere and find what it can to fill in all the fields. It even looks for thumbnail pictures of the covers!

barcodeEven cooler, you can use a bar code reader with it. To test it out, I grabbed a bunch of books from the shelves in our den. I was amazed to see how many we have that predate the ISBN era (around 1968) but for those that had it, the software worked like a champ. We could scan in a dozen bar codes in a minute or so and then turn it loose looking for data. Two minutes later, the fields were full and we could create web page reports complete with cover images.

This is going to save a lot of man/woman-hours. And the software costs only $50! It's written in Java and runs on OSX as well as Windows.

Finding this and figuring it out made this a productive day. I've redeemed myself for these last few lazy days.