Commonplace Books

I do a lot of highlighting and jotting notes as I read, and while I would love to flip through them regularly to see some of the more important things I have noted, realistically I can’t see that happening with any regularity.

I have tried a few different methods to record notes. While I use Evernote for a lot of record keeping and writing, I am still very much a paper-and-pencil type of person when it comes to jotting down notes. I have always found the physical act of writing things down the best way to retain information. So when I decided I needed to not only highly and take notes in the margins, but to also transcribe significant points, I needed to set up a commonplace book.

A Google search for “commonplace book” will result in a slew of examples. It can almost seem overwhelming how to get started.

While I considered using a 3-ring binder or an Arc notebook so I could keep notes from the same books together, I ultimately decided I wanted a hard cover bound book. I set up my notebook the same way my lab notebooks were set up when I was still working as a scientist. After picking a journal (I opted for a jumbo journal that cost $5…), I made sure to set it up completely before recording my first entry.

I set up a Table of Contents section at the front, with each line already labeled with page numbers. Following the Table of Contents, I numbered 300 pages, making sure however to leave pages in the back out of my numbered count to serve as an Index. Each page in the Index is labeled with a letter – while entries on each Index pages will not be in alphabetical order, at least each page will be organized by letter.

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Here are a couple of things I am doing to make sure my commonplace book serves its purpose as a repository for quotes, inspirations, contemplations and questions:

I have worked out a “system” for my highlighting and note taking so that I can skim through after I finish a chapter and transcribe the important points. I keep a pencil pouch on hand when I am reading, with a full set of highlighters. Each color represents something – a point that I want to put into action in my own life, a word or term that I need to look up to further understand, an author or book reference to follow up on, and one color is used to highlight points that are especially significant or important in some way and that I want to transcribe to my commonplace book.

I have made sure to have my book organized and set up for optimal use before I put any writings into it. My Table of Contents, page numbers, and Index pages are all ready to go.

For each page’s entry, I put the title of the book and a short description of what that page’s particular notes are about at the top of each page. This also is written in the Table of Contents.

I don’t wait too long to transcribe! It’s too easy to lose track of what I intended to record in my notebook. A short session a couple times a week is sufficient to keep on top of my note taking.

These are some commonplace book resources that I have read and found interesting.

Self Made Scholar

Thought Catalog

The Atlantic

I hope this encourages others to consider keeping a commonplace book as well!

Building a Book Crawler personal library using Goodreads

I LOVE using Goodreads to track our reading, both for myself and the books we read in our homeschool. But a recent online discussion got me thinking about tracking my actual personal library in a catalog app. I had never considered doing this before but the more I considered it, the more I realized what a great idea it was! Being able to look through an inventory of our home library to see what we already owned (digital or print) is helpful for so many reasons.

It provides a master list for future book shopping. Knowing what we have and what we don’t can help prevent buying duplicates. This is also helpful if there are missing books in a series.

Over the past few years, we have had to make the hard decision to keep many, if not most, of our fiction books packed away. We just have too many books, even though we pared down our collection to only the ones we “really” wanted to keep. Having a library inventory provides us with a means to keep track of which books are currently out (and where) and which are currently boxed (along with box number and location).

This doesn’t happen often, but if someone borrows a book, I can keep track of who has what book, and how long it’s been “checked out.”

So… After some online discussion and a little searching, I decided to take the plunge and try Book Crawler.

I have invested a lot of time in Goodreads, keeping track of my personal reading, as well as the books we read for our homeschool (Curious about how we use Goodreads for our homeschool booklog? Check it out here). I plan to continue using Goodreads for tracking our reading, posting reviews, etc. Thankfully, Goodreads integrates really well with Book Crawler!

There are a fair amount of books that I have logged into Goodreads that I actually own, so rather than have to go through and enter these books individually into Book Crawler, I used Goodreads to import them. Here’s how I did it.

1. In Goodreads, I created a new bookshelf called Books I Own.

2. Under My Books -> Bookshelves, I select All – this pulls up all the books I have entered into Goodreads.

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3. If you scroll down, you can set how many books to display to Infinite Scroll. This is a personal preference, but for this task I find it helpful to have all books displayed on one screen rather than separate pages. As you get to the bottom of the screen, more titles will load.
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4. At the top of the list, you can then choose to Batch Edit. This makes your entire book list appear with check boxes to the left.
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5. After scrolling through the entire book list and checking the books I actually own, I then select the Books I Own shelf from the drop down menu. Then I click Add Books To This Shelf. Boom. Done.

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6. On my tablet, I open up Book Crawler. I click on Community, located along the right side of the screen.
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7. At the top of the screen there is an upload icon (a box with an up arrow). When you touch that, it pulls up a small profile menu. You can sign in with your Goodreads account info here. Under Goodreads, there is an Account Transfer option. This gives you an option to upload (from Book Crawler to Goodreads) or download (from Goodreads to Book Crawler).

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8. Selecting Download will display a scrollable list of all your Goodreads bookshelves.

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9. I simply scroll down and select my Books I Own shelf, which appears as books-i-own, and then tap the upload icon (the square with the arrow) to the right of the word Goodreads. A Downloading status bar appears in the lefthand corner as titles are downloaded.
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10.  After books are downloaded you can view your Books, and select various options, adding to Collections, adding Tags, etc.

So this is a great way, if you use Goodreads, to build up your Book Crawler library. Here are two more reasons I love having the two integrated.

1. I can import books from Amazon! Goodreads can link to my Amazon account and I can directly import all the books I have purchased, whether they are print or digital, into Goodreads. I can also select all the shelves I want them in at the point I add them, including my Books I Own shelf, so it’s one easy step.

2. I can scan books into Goodreads using my iphone and the Scan option in the Goodreads app. This tool alone will make adding cataloging my personal library SO EASY!

Building a Book Log using Goodreads

We do a lot of reading in our homeschool – for our Five in a Row curriculum, to go along with our Science and Story of the World curricula, and just for fun. While we pick out plenty of fun reads for Read Aloud, I do try to pick out some Early Reader books for Kyri to strengthen her reading skills.

When I first started homeschooling late last summer, I had printed out Book Log pages for our portfolio. About three-quarters into the first page (and only a couple of weeks in) I realized that this system was not going to work for us. We read too many books.

I want to be able to track our books, but I for sure don’t have the time or patience to log books by hand. I realized that early on. Around the time we started homeschooling, I stumbled on Goodreads after it was mentioned on a forum I frequent.

I started my profile, and started building my bookshelves. I have several shelves for my personal reading, but I did start a Children’s Bookshelf. This is where I started to list books we were reading for our homeschool studies as well as for leisure. I realized that rather than struggle to keep up with a paper log, I could just use Goodreads to track what was being read for our homeschool portfolio.

Books can be shelved on multiple bookshelves so I recently went through and made even more specific shelves.Here is a list of the bookshelves we currently have for our Book Log:

Children’s – this is our general catch-all bookshelf. All of our children’s books are entered here. Then, I add to the more specific shelves for better organization and easy reference.

Children’s – Science

Children’s – Nature

Children’s – Math

Children’s – Literature

Children’s – World Cultures

Children’s – History

Children’s – Poetry

Children – Vegan

Children – Christian

Children – Independent Reading

Children’s – To Read**

** This “To Read” shelf is for books I may have come across on homeschool forums or conversations with other parents, or from Listopia. These books are ones I am interested in reading at some later date. These books don’t get added to the other Children’s Bookshelves until we’ve actually read them.

Each book entry has a Date Entered (automatically inputed when you enter a book), and you can also enter Date Read if you like. I tend to sit down and add a list of books at once, rather than as we go, so I don’t really use the Date Read option. I think as I assign (or expect) more Independent Reading for Kyri I will track her progress using the Date Read option.

Adding books you and your children read to a single bookshelf or multiple category bookshelves is the simplest way to use Goodreads as a Book Log for your homeschool.

There are other options that may be helpful to you as well.

I am a “print and file” kind of gal, and so at the end of the school year, I want a paper copy of our book log to put into our Portfolio binder. The easiest way I have found to do this is to export your booklist to a .csv file and open in Excel. This exports your entire book collection into .csv format to be opened and edited in Excel. So far I have not found a way to export a single bookshelf, so I have to manually go to the Excel file and Delete the rows of non- Children’s book. There is also a lot of information exported (ISBN for example) that I don’t really need to include so I get rid of those columns as well. I tidy it up a bit and then its ready to print. Prepping the book log for printing is the only time-consuming step, so if you don’t care about having a printed copy, then this is totally unnecessary.

One thing that I really like with Goodreads is the mobile app for smartphones, found in your phone’s App Store. I can actually scan the barcode from books we have read (or that I want to add to our To Read shelf) and it pulls up all the information for that book and lets me shelve it where I want. The only complaint I have about the book scanning, and this is more a complaint toward my library, is  that a lot of the books from the library have the barcode covered. I totally get that they need to cover it since they use a different barcode to track it in their systems, but still it is tedious. I either have to awkwardly pull back the dustjacket to make the barcode able to scan, or (imagine the horror) have to actually manually type the name into Goodreads to look the book up. Beyond the small inconvenience I experience with some library books, however, this mobile app has been so helpful!

Another thing I have found to be very helpful is Listopia. The idea is simple. If you are interested in Children’s books about Science and Nature, you can check out Listopia on Goodreads. Chances are, there is already a list (or five) about the topic for which you are looking for book selections. You can read through the lists and add books to your To Read shelf. If you can’t find a list, start your own. You add a bunch of books, and then it is out there for other people to see. They can add their book selections to this list. It grows and grows and acts as a great book list for others. You can direct to Listopia from the main navigation bar, under the Explore drop-down menu. When you are at the main Listopia page, you can Browse By Tag (there are over 300 listed for “Children”) or you can search for Lists. For example, I can search for lists using “Children Science” and several lists that include Science and Science Fiction for Children come up. I can then explore these lists to find book suggestions.

One more feature that I really like – you can add a Goodreads widget to your website. Here at The Vegan Bee I have my Goodreads widget showing what is on my “Read” bookshelf. But over at Kyriandra’s Big Day, I only show the Childrens bookshelf. If you blog about your homeschooling, this might be something you would be interested in.

A couple of features of Goodreads that may be helpful, for your Book Log or for your own book shelves, are Amazon Bookmarklet and the Reviews. The Amazon Bookmarklet is available from the Widgets page, and is simply added to your Favorites toolbar. When you come across a book on Amazon, you can click on Add to Goodreads in your Favorites toolbar and a small window opens up from Goodreads, letting you add to a bookshelf (read, currently reading, or to read). Another great resource are the reviews for books. Usually if you look for a book on Goodreads, reader reviews are included in the search results. You can easily add reviews for the books on your bookshelves. These reviews can then be published to your blog. There is also an option for Private Notes, if you want to add notes about a particular book relevant to you but that does not need to be viewed by others.

I know there are other booklist websites available, but I have really enjoyed using Goodreads, and have found it so easy to use. It is very helpful in keeping track of our books for our homeschooling. If you are looking for an easy way to maintain a Book Log for your homeschool, this is definitely worth checking out.

Access all of your bookshelves from My Books on the top navigation bar. All individual bookshelves are then listed on the left. Date Added is automatic based on when you added to bookshelf, but you can edit the Date Read if you choose to keep up with this.
The Toolbar, shown below your bookshelves on your My Books page, contain options like Import/Export, for importing book lists from other sites, and exporting your bookshelves to .csv format to read in Excel. You can also check out Widgets if you are intersted in installing any Goodread widgets on your own website. The Amazon Bookmarklet can be accessed from the Widget page.
There are several widgets available to install on your website. Note – not all are compatible with WordPress, but these are clearly marked. You edit the options and then copy the code for the widget to your own website. So easy!
As you can see, there is a lot of information in the .csv export file. All your books will be shown, so remove the ones you don’t want to include in your Book Log (delete rows). Remove all the extra information for each book (delete columns), adjust your print areas, and with a little tweaking to get it sized how you like, you are ready to print.