Year ago, I chose to move from a a physical library to a digital one as a way to save on space both in my home and in a moving van. I’ve been keeping all my books in Calibre on my computer, making sure to download any purchased from Amazon. I generally read on my Kindle Voyager (but would probably prefer a Kobo now).

Library management

Tsundoku: the reading pile

My digital library is small, at just 65 books. But I still have slightly more unread books than read, ranging from history and human geography to classics and modern novels. These books represent interests and ideals and opportunity. Really, the unread are more valuable than the read.

To reflect this, I use Calibre’s Virtual Library feature; it’s basically a saved search. First, create a column that will hold metadata on whether you’ve read the book or not.

  1. Right-click the column headers, and choose Add your own columns.
  2. Click Add custom column, and use these settings:
    • Lookup name: “#unread”
    • Column name: “Unread”
    • Column type: “Yes/No”
    • Default value: “No”

After creating and populating the column, use the Virtual Library button to create your tsundoku. I created two virtual libraries this way—Unread (search expression: “#unread:yes”) and Read (search expression: “#unread:no”). In the Virtual Library menu, I selected “Show Virtual libraries as tabs” for easy switching.

In addition, it can be nice to add a short note on why you added a book to your tsundoku, since it might be a while before you pick it up again. For this, just add another column (type: long text). All custom fields can be edited by right-clicking a book, choosing edit metadata, and going to the custom metadata tab.

A brief note on annotations

Amazon makes your annotations accessible online, but the interface is not great and subject to change at any time. There is an Annotations plugin for Calibre that will fetch annotations from books that have been USB-synced and place them in a custom field. Haven’t used extensively but I highly recommend it as a way to control and backup your annotations.

Server setup

Calibre has a built-in web server for accessing ebooks (official documentation and DigitalOcean community tutorial). While some people just run it on their home network, I thought it would be fun to set up on my VPS. The linked articles were helpful, I just struggled with Apache and expanding my SSL cert a bit. If I remember correctly, something in my Apache configuration caused an issue with the certbot challenge, and I ended up adding a DNS record to get around that. Make sure to turn on authentication, as Calibre doesn’t have a great security reputation.

Future concepts

Currently, my local Calibre install is my main, since that’s what I use for USB sync. The web server has to be manually updated via SFTP. I think Kobo readers can be set up to sync with online Calibre libraries (in addition to great support for public libraries!), so I would love to explore that option. I’m also interested in connecting object storage to my VPS for blog photos and ebooks.

Have any tips to improve my setup? Is this a project you want to try? If you have a Kobo, what do you think of it?

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