Managing a Reading List

Pile of booksThe problem of scholarship in our age is one of abundance, not scarcity. Leaving aside everything that comes through the internet, the stream of books, journals, and other publications is overwhelming. We’ve covered some tools that help organize the flood: Brian has written about Read It Later, an excellent service for saving web articles that I also use. Almost two years ago I wrote about “Keeping Up with Journals,” and since journal publishers are scarcely the most innovative of institutions, what I suggested there probably still holds. But this still leaves us (or me, at any rate) with the problem of how to keep a list of books that I ought to read. I’ve tried three ways of managing a reading list, none of them wholly satisfactory.

The way that I thought held the most promise was with Zotero. I would add publications that I should read to Zotero as I would any other potentially useful citation, but I would also give them a tag: “#to-read.” The idea was that I could search for the tagged books and articles, then read what was most important at the time. Of course, this approach is not limited to Zotero (though we do love it so). You could easily do something similar with LibraryThing, which Amanda Watson wrote about, or any number of other tools. This method fell flat for me, simply because the list ballooned in size to unmanageable proportions. Another problem was that adding the book to Zotero didn’t mean I actually had access to it, certainly not at home or at the office, and often not at my university’s library. Here I was caught in the divide between digital and analog.

The second approach that I’ve tried was to integrate my reading list with my to-do list. The virtues of this approach are that I have one system instead of two, and that since I always have my to-do list with me I can always add new items or look at the list when I’m at the library. For my to-do list I use Things, which Ryan introduced us to and has kept us up-to-date about, but you could easily do the same thing with any method of keeping your tasks organized. I still try to do this.

But let me be honest. The real system that I use is this: I check out books constantly (made possible by the generosity of my library, which lets me check out up to 250 books for up to two years each). I even subscribe to a few paper journals. These all go on a dedicated bookcase in my office, or more likely in piles next to my desk that my infant daughter loves to stare at. When I need something to read, I pick from that more limited universe of choice, rather than from a list of all the books I’ve ever seen cited. It’s not much of a system, but it’s working for now.

Surely there is a better way of managing a reading list. How do you keep up with the unceasing stream of publications, both print and electronic?

Image courtesy of Flickr user laureninspace // Creative Commons licensed.

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