Ebook practicalities

I spent the day at the Maine Tri-Regional conference on ebooks, about which I expect to have a lot more to say in the not too distant future. This, however, is not that post. (Though I will say briefly that getting to hear Jessamyn West in person was just as awesome as I thought it would be, and I also really liked Jason Griffey‘s thoughts and comments about emerging technology and technology and libraries: I went to two presentations by each of them, and have a lot to mull over.)

Anyway, this is about ebooks, but a very practical problem.

See, I read a lot of series books – both science fiction/fantasy and mysteries. And when I have just finished reading a book, and I am lying in bed, and don’t want to go to sleep yet, i do not want to have to spend time thinking about which book comes next.

When I read print books, I shelve them in series order (or my preference for series order, if there are multiple options), and grab the next one if I think I might finish my current book and want more that night.

But with ebooks, I kept hitting the problem of not being able to make the reader software I was using show me the books in order, even if the metadata in the software I use to store and manage the titles was correct.

This seems very stupid to me. And things that seem that kind of stupid to me eventually motivate me to figure out a solution.

Let me pause here to specify what I’m using:

I manage titles using Calibre on a MacBook (running Lion, though it doesn’t matter particularly in this case.) I generally save them in ePub, unless I think I might want to read them on the computer as well, in which case, I am likely to save a PDF as well.

I read them – mostly – on my iPhone, using Stanza. And part of why I’m working on this now is that a shiny iPad is my birthday present. (I expect, for various reasons that should be a different post, to mostly not use it for ereading, though.)

I also have iBooks installed on both potential readers, though I prefer Stanza because I really like reading white text on black background when I’m reading before going to sleep. (I also use the Kindle app for some books, and yes, it’s a pain to have my potential reading multiple places. But I am not immune to the lure of “I really want to read that book now rather than figure out other download options.”)

The solution:

In the end, I came up with two solutions: both of which work on Stanza (though one is a really odd solution). I’m still unsatisfied with how they work in iBooks (right now, some authors/series are behaving, and some aren’t. More investigation is obviously called for)


The solution I found that worked best for Stanza is one I would swear I tried in the past – adding a series code to the beginning of the title. Anyway: I swear it used not to work. It does now.

example image: Calibre library

If you click on the image to view it larger, you’ll see that I do in fact have everything labelled with series and number (my example here are David Weber’s Honor Harrington books, which I really like for reading in short snippets between other tasks – like waiting for a computer to reboot – but where the titles are similar enough I can rarely remember what the next one is based solely on title.)

If you look to the left, you’ll see that I’ve added a short code to the beginning of each title, namely HH01, HH02, etc.

Here’s what that looks like on my iPhone:

Stanza on the iPhone showing sorted series

Easy to move from one book to another, etc. etc. And because the information initially lives in Calibre, it’s easy to move, sort, etc. manage the books there as needed.

You can also change the name of the export file name, if you like. To do this, go to the Preferences window, and select Add/Save. Select the Sending to Device tab.

Instructions for editing the export file name - more info in text.

What you can’t see on this image is that right below where it ends, there’s a whole set of string variables you can combine to get the file name you want. (The default starts with author sort name, and goes on from there.)

What I chose was {series} {series_index} {title} {author}, which makes it a bit easier to sort through files on my computer. But you can combine all sorts of things.

The odd solution:

The solution I tried just to see if it would work involves tags. If you set up a tag that says “first” (and assign it to the first books in whatever series), a tag that says “second” (and assign it to the second book in each series) and so on, you’ll get a set of category groupings where you can see all the first books, all the second books, etc.

While this is not what I ended up going with, I’m actually sort of taken with it in some ways: I am currently reading a book in the third tag category, so I go look for the next one by that author in the fourth category.

Other thoughts:

The thing that’s annoying about all of this is that it does require management (and ongoing management) from you. And that really shouldn’t be necessary. Information about series and place in series is not deeply mysterious – in print books, it’s usually pretty amazingly obvious (or if it’s not, it’s usually trivial to flip to the listing inside the first page or two.) At least with my ebook editions, some of them are there, sometimes they’re at the very end. (More of a pain to scroll to.)

But at least I’ve made a little progress. Now, to solve it for iBooks, and for Kindle. (Some of my Kindle books sort correctly – usually because the series title and number comes first – some don’t.)

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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