Organizing & Cataloging Your Personal Film Library

I love to organize. Few things give me greater joy than keeping my collections of books, films and vintage magazines in perfect order. Some may call it obsessive, but there are advantages to organizing, not the least of which is the ease of finding specific titles once everything is in its place.

The first time I gave order to my film collection, I did it the old school way: by creating a pen-and-paper catalog on index cards, and by alphabetizing my DVDs on-shelf by title.

But times have changed, and with our hands increasingly glued to our smart phones and laptops, there are a heck of a lot of options out there for digital cataloging of your personal collections. Today I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a few different 21st-century tools that are useful in keeping track of your personal film library.

The Spreadsheet and the Access Database
Pros:
You control how much or how little information is included; All information is organized in easy-to-read columns; Can be stored in a cloud for easy access from multiple devices
Cons:
Creating the spreadsheet can be time-consuming if your collection is large

Example of an Access database for books (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Example of an Access database for books with fields for title, author, physical format, new/used, genre and publication year. Databases in Access can be queried to find, for instance, how many films you own from a certain director or year. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

One step forward in time from the pen-and-paper catalog, a spreadsheet can be a great way to keep track of your collection. Since spreadsheets are completely customizable and you are the creator, you can add as much or as little information as you’d like about the items in your collection. A simple sheet of title, year and director would be of use to anyone with even a small DVD library, while some collectors may also want to track DVD editions, their own star-rating of the film, the film’s leads, the production company, the run-time, the genre, and so on. Make it as simple or as complex as you please!

Since you are the from-scratch creator of the spreadsheet, entering all of that data can be a bit time consuming, especially if your collection is very large. However, if none of the other tools listed here give the level of detail that you’d like to include in your catalog, a spreadsheet may be the way to go. A data entry form and connected database can be created in MS Access if you would like to organize your data in multiple tables, would like the ability to query your collection, or do not want to enter the information cell-by-cell in a spreadsheet program.


 

Listography
Pros: Accessible from any device with an internet connection (or in an app, if you have an iPhone); Lists are sharable and can be followed by other Listography users
Cons: Works best for simple lists, such as title-and-release-year-only

A catalog on Listography can include multiple layers of lists, such as this list from my DVD collection of titles included in boxed sets. However, a catalog of greater detail would be better-suited for a different tool. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
A catalog on Listography can include multiple layers of lists, such as this list from my DVD collection of titles included in boxed sets. However, a catalog of greater detail would be better-suited for a different tool. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

I keep a title-only list of my collection on Listography’s website and reference it when I’m shopping to avoid buying duplicates! Listography is also a great place to keep your “watched this year” lists, which I’ve been using the site for since 2010.

Simplistic lists such as the two types listed above are Listography’s best use.  If you want a catalog that includes the names of crew and central cast, a plot synopsis, a personal review, the aspect ratio, the run-time, etc…. this is not the tool for you.

However, the site is easy to use and the lists quick to create, with a formatting options available if you’d like to make certain titles bold or create a list that is numbered rather than bulleted. If you’re not into the social aspect of this list-sharing platform, your lists can be marked private. And if you’re working on a viewing project, like my Barbara Stanwyck Filmography project, you can even make checklists and add links.

Since the lists are so simple, Listography is a great option for those who have an aversion to organizing and don’t want to spend much time tracking every detail of every item, but still want to reap the benefits of having a collection catalog.


 

Libib
Pros: Equipped with a barcode scanner that adds items to your lists automatically; Available on the web and via FREE app for Apple and Android phones
Cons: Not all titles come up in their database after being scanned, making the catalog-building process more complicated; Individual titles are not listed in the descriptions for larger boxed sets, such as the Mill Creek 50-packs.

Libib is my most recent personal cataloging discovery, and is the tool that prompted me to create this post. I fell in love with the idea of this app the minute I heard about it from Ariel Bissett. I’ve always loved the barcode-scanning abilities of the Goodreads app (as slow as their scanner can sometimes be). Libib does the same thing, but can be used for books, movies, music and video games (scanned into separate lists of your own creation)! I CAN TRACK ALL OF THE THINGS! (Except video games, which I don’t own or play.) And it’s freakin’ fast. As soon as there’s a hint of barcode somewhere on the screen, it gets scanned and added.

My Television Library list on libib.com, after scanning titles in through the Android app. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
My Television Library list on libib.com, after scanning titles in through the Android app. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

I’ve chosen to make one large list for my entire film collection and a separate list for my TV-on-DVD collection, to start. You can make as many lists as you’d like, though. If you want to get really crazy, you can spend a weekend scanning your DVDs and Blus into genre-specific, decade-specific, or production-co.-specific lists, you party animal. (I’ll probably dedicate my four-day Thanksgiving weekend to this, not gonna lie.)

The lists in Libib's app are alphabetized, but not sectioned off by first character. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
The lists in Libib’s app are alphabetized, but not sectioned off by first character. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

One thing missing from this tool, as mentioned under “Cons” above, is the full titles list for larger boxed sets. Luckily, I have these titles listed on my Listography collection page, so I can reference that list when I need to. Additionally, title formats may vary for items in a series. (See “Arrested Development” in my TV Library list above. It bugs me more than it should that season 2 is listed below season 3, and that season 2 is in all caps!)

Scanning every title can take some time if you’ve got a large collection, so this tool falls between the good ol’ spreadsheet and the simplistic Listography in terms of time-consumption. I’ve also run into a few problems with titles not being able to be scanned — either the barcode isn’t recognized, or there’s a sticker over the official barcode from the store where I buy my used DVDs. In these cases, the titles have to be entered manually, which adds to the time-consumption factor. However, I should note, of the 510 DVDs, boxed sets and Blus in my film collection, only about 60 titles did not scan properly, and most of those were due to those pesky resale-shop stickers.

Libib’s app is great for the scanning feature, but I would recommend syncing your lists to libib.com, which separates the lists by the first letter of the title (see images of online verison, above and app version, at right).


I use and enjoy all of the above tools for keeping track of my own personal film library (and my other collections). Libib wins in terms of ease-of-use, making new additions as easy to catalog as a simple barcode scan; Listography wins for simplistic format and easy reference lists; Spreadsheets/databases win for comprehensiveness and control. Personally, I think a spreadsheet is the best way to go if you’re only looking to use one tool. The initial set-up time is higher than other tools, but the payoff of having a personalized catalog (formatted just the way you want it to be, with as many or as few data categories as you wish) is worth the effort!

Even if you think I’ve gone nutty for putting this much thought and effort into keeping track of my collections, I urge you to physically organize your collection, at the very least. Alphabetize, organize by director, organize by actor… whatever system works for you, so long as you’ve got some system. No more hunting for that title you thought was in the back corner of the third shelf. No more accidental purchases of three extra copies of Mrs. Doubtfire. Your sanity and your wallet will thank you!

 

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6 thoughts on “Organizing & Cataloging Your Personal Film Library

  1. On libib’s website, if you click on the title and the over hover the context menu that appears, you can actually edit the title of an item. That’s how I get my books in a series ordered.

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  2. This post was incredible! I loved it (maybe it’s because I’m a tad bit OCD when it comes to organizing things)! For me, personally, I’d rather just create and use an Excel spreadsheet rather than use an app or other program. Excel allows for complete creative freedom and that’s definitely something I treasure. Plus, I’m so used to using Excel at the office, that opening up that program has become second nature for me.

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  3. Ooh, thanks for posting this. I desperately need to catalogue my DVDs and I’ve been thinking about a spreadsheet. However, I want something that I can refer to on my mobile device, so I might go to Libib. I never would have heard of it if you hadn’t mentioned it, so thanks again! :)

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