Tellico and Readerware… Linux based book cataloguing software

September 6, 2006 at 11:09 am 10 comments

One of my reader’s recently requested my comments on two linux applications that are used for book cataloguing. The two applications in question are Tellico and Readerware. In fairness, I have only looked extensively at one of these programs, but I will certainly be willing to chat a bit about each of them and at some stage I will look more extensively at Readerware to balance out any comments that I make now.

Let’s start out with Tellico. The first thing to keep in mind about this application is that it is really a labour of love, and as such is non-commercial. That said, Linux as a whole is quite similar, so this does not mean that you’re getting a second rate program just because it doesn’t cost you anything. Tellico is not just a book cataloguing application, it is useful for organising any particular collection that you might want to catalogue. By default, fields and views are already defined for collections of books, bibliographic entries, videos, music, video games, comic books, coins, stamps, trading cards, wines, and file catalogues. So its pretty extensive out of the box, however unlike many other applications built for this purpose, Tellico allows you to create your own fields and forms and reports. Which can be pretty useful if a default view doesn’t match your requirements.

On the whole, Tellico is well documented and pretty easy to use. The book entry forms allow you to store an image of the front cover, but if you want to include further images, its easy enough to add a field, thereby modifying the form layout. Tellico also allows you to access and download data about your books from external data sources, such as Amazon or the Library of Congress. For modern book collectors, this can help your cataloguing massively, and is a real time saver. From a rare book collector’s point of view, this feature is less useful. Nonetheless, you are able to add your own data sources in Tellico’s settings, so if you know of a library source that provides z39.50 access (such as COPAC) or SRU access, you might find that you can extend Tellico to cover more of the rare book world than you expect.

Another top feature worth mentioning about Tellico is that it supports a huge range of import and export options. That said, the CSV export does not allow you to custom tailor which fields are exported and in which order. Nonetheless, if you’re a fully-fledged coding guru, Tellico is open-source and you could merrily modify the import/export code to fit your needs. In fact, I’m 100% sure that any extra development work would be welcomed by the whole open source community.

So, I’ve raved on about Tellico for a while now, but what about the real downsides? If this stuff is free, why isn’t everybody using it? To begin with, and most pertinently, Tellico only runs on Linux and is a KDE application, which means that it requires the KDE library files to run. This isn’t that much of a problem, but I don’t really know that many rare book fiends that are also Linux geeks. So use of Tellico, at least in the rare book world, is limited to an exceedingly small user base. Another big downside to it is that ultimately as an application it is of little use to booksellers. While fantastic for the average collector, it is non-relational in the sense that ultimately it is a really fancy frontend to a single flat database table. You can’t store related information like supplier information, or invoicing data etc. Unless for each book you create a massive set of fields and accept that your application is a bit of a hack from a sales point of view. Finally, Tellico only runs on a single system as a standalone application. In an organisation, you will not be able to work on Tellico data concurrently with other users. So, if you’re a collector and you have a leaning to Linux, then Tellico is a great tool to keep track of your collection. If you’re a bookseller, its just not going to cut the mustard.

So what about ReaderWare? Readerware is quite a step up from Tellico. To begin with its a commercial application, which means that it has a bit of financial weight behind its development cycle. It also means that from a commercial point of view, it has made a lot of sense to port it to nearly every other Operating System out there. Which means that you can run it on Linux, MacOS, Windows and even on your Palm Pilot! Readerware also runs a server version, which allows you to use it on a wider scale across an organisation. This means that you can have a whole bunch of client computers accessing the same information.

Readerware includes many of the features present in Tellico, such as the AutoCatalog feature, which allows you to download cataloguing data from external data sources such as Amazon. It also facilitates bar-code scanning to automatically look up the book’s ISBN number for auto-cataloguing. From a modern bookseller or librarian’s perspective these sorts of tools are pretty radical. But in addition to these obvious features, some clever extras flesh it out to stand way ahead of its competition. For instance, it includes an integrated shopping cart, so that online orders automatically get added to your database, and it can automatically generate HTML reports to publish your catalogues online.

On the whole, ReaderWare looks pretty cool, and I’m keen to download it and give it a whirl. However, there are a number of concerns from my position. Firstly, the application seems to be extensively developed with libraries in mind. While that’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t seem to cater that much for the bookseller. There are great features for tracking loaned books, and the like, but whether you can have a database of suppliers and clients and invoices and all of the stuff that you need to run a bookshop is another matter entirely. I suspect that you’re likely to end up having to create a whole bunch of extra fields in your book database to handle this, and in the end you will have as much of a hack as you would with Tellico.

If you’re a collector working on your own, ReaderWare is probably overkill for what you need. That said, for $40 its a bargain when you think about what it offers. From a librarian’s perspective (and I don’t know a helluva lot about running libraries) it looks pretty impressive. Working in the rare bookdealer environment, neither of these two options make the grade. I’m still hunting for a true multiplatform application that meets all of the requirements of a bookdealer. The closest I have come so far is RarusLibri, which does run multiplatform and is built for booksellers, but runs standalone. And right next to it is Bookseller, built on Filemaker, which unfortunately doesn’t run on Linux but allows a workgroup to concurrently work on the data stored within.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Norm Clerman  |  September 6, 2006 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for the comments.

    Norm

    Reply
  • 2. Ankur  |  October 17, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    I made a Book cataloguing software as part of my project … just take a look @ my weblog its the 3rd/5th post

    Reply
  • 3. Brennan  |  December 1, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    linux vs.windows webhosting.???
    I wondered which should be used for dynamics sites using flash css javascript forms etc.
    I was looking at this companies corporate plan and would like to have the option to set up several seperate websites for different customers
    assigning each an allotment of space with seperate access by them and allowing me access is this site suitable for my needs or is it as it seems just too good to be true???

    Reply
  • 4. rarebookblog  |  December 5, 2006 at 11:23 am

    By now it should be pretty obvious that I’m a huge Linux fan, so I would recommend going with Linux webhosting. But to be honest, it shouldn’t matter which platform you host off of in order to provide content using flash, CSS and javascript, as all of these technologies are Client-specific. They are more dependent on the software installed on your visitors’ computers. That said, if you are thinking along the lines of dynamic content, you’re probably going to end up looking at some scripting language in order to generate your content. If this is the case, you might look at ASP or PHP or Perl or Python and a host of other languages. ASP is Windows only generally, while most of the other languages are better hosted on Linux platforms.
    I prefer developing for the web in PHP. Its ubiquitous and there is so much documentation out there, that you can generally find examples for nearly anything you want to code. In the end, it comes down to what you’re familiar with and what you want to achieve.
    With regard to your corporate plan, it doesn’t seem “too good to be true”. Virtual hosting is common, and setting up quotas and stuff is fairly trivial. If you’re capable of administering a server, you could do all of this yourself and get yourself a dedicated server for pretty cheap. I think ServerBeach can provide a dedicated box for around $99 a month. If you’re not an admin, you can generally get a hosting provider to handle this stuff for you, but you’ll pay a premium for it.
    Good luck.

    Reply
  • 5. Alex  |  April 23, 2007 at 6:37 am

    Thank You

    Reply
  • 6. nicola  |  May 10, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    I own a bookstore, and I’d like to use a open source (free or not) well supported/developed software. linux/windows makes no difference (I mainly use ubuntu)

    any ideas ?

    nicola

    Reply
  • 7. rare pennies  |  December 5, 2007 at 12:36 am

    i prefer windows

    Reply
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