An Essential Tool if You Read eBooks

I’ve mentioned Calibre eBook Manager before, but I don’t think I’ve ever spent an entire post talking about its value.

Last week I had a conversation with a reader who had never heard of it before, which was a shock to me!  It cemented the idea of writing about Calibre even though it has been around for seventeen years.

What is Calibre?

Calibre is a free, open source ebook management program that is absolutely friggin’ marvellous.  Here’s some of the things it does, from the About Calibre page on the official website:

  • Save time on managing your e-book collection
  • Use it everywhere and with anything
  • Comprehensive e-book viewer
  • Download news/magazines from the web
  • Share and backup your library easily
  • Edit the books in your collection
  • Satisfy every e-book need and get support

Some of that is pretty vague, I admit.  I can do better than that.

Here’s what I’ve discovered it can do for me, from years and years of using it:

  • Centralizes my ebook collection, as I acquire ebooks from multiple sources, in multiple formats.
  • Converts all ebooks (except those with DRM protection) to my preferred ebook format.
  • Synchronizes my ebook collection on my preferred hard drive, so it’s always accessible.
  • Downloads covers and book descriptions for books that are missing these details.
  • Lets me sort and filter in endless ways, to make finding books easier.
  • Helps me rediscover books that, on my ebook reader, have disappeared at the bottom of the list.
  • Lets me rate my books and add notes reminding me about the contents.
  • Will compile “newspapers” from RSS feeds of my favourite blogs, into ebooks I can read with my reader.
  • Will let me read ebooks on my desktop computer (as ereaders like Nook and Kobo won’t).
  • I can swap the display of the books from lists, to cover thumbnails, and “browse” my books.
  • I can set the program up so it automatically scans certain directories and adds new books to Calibre when they land in the folder, all without me touching it.
  • I can shop for books on public domain sites (eg Project Gutenberg) and others, from inside the program.
  • I can rate, label, tag my books, so I have a perfect record of what I’ve read, what I thought of the read, and what the genre, sub-genre and other specifics are for that book (so, for example, if you’re into, say, captivity romances, you can make that a category or a tag for future reference)
  • I can split my library into major sub-libraries — non-fiction, fiction and books about writing.
  • I can search on any data in the database, not just author and title.  So if I remember a phrase from the description, but nothing else, Calibre will still find the book.
  • I can split boxed sets up into individual books, and add a cover and blurb to those books.

There is a grand tour video showing you the major highlights here.

Despite using Calibre for over a decade, I still haven’t learned all the features and possibilities of the program.  It’s highly tailorable, and because it is open source code, there are a ton of free plug-ins to add functionality (such as splitting boxed sets, or making your own covers).

There is a companion program out there, Calibre Companion (CC), which works in concert with Calibre to upload your books to your preferred reader and also export all the data in Calibre, including your personal notes, ratings, series information, the book description.  This is particularly useful if your ereader doesn’t import that data for itself.

I don’t us CC myself, but I have in past with different reading software, and found it useful.

Why Use Calibre?

Why would you want to use Calibre, if you have a perfectly good ereader like Kindle or Kobo or Nook, that keeps all your ebooks in order?  That is the question I got last week when I explained about Calibre to my reader friend.

Here’s the thing:  I’ve been searching for the perfect ereader for years.  All of them have a weakness or are missing a feature that would make them perfect — and I’m including the biggies in this, too.  Kindle, Kobo, Nook, MoonReader, FB Reader….there are dozens of ereaders out there and none of them do everything I want them to do.

They don’t sort well, or don’t sort at all.

Kindle won’t show ALL my available books, on all my devices and computers.  It picks and chooses what I can access, depending on what device I’m using.  And sorting sucks.

I currently use Google’s eBook Reader, which lets me upload my own books without fuss.  It renders nicely on the screen, but it has some severe limitations, too, including sorting functions.

I won’t go into specifics for all the readers, but they all have different issues.  I’ve yet to find ereader software that provids all the features I want, and doesn’t come with major drawbacks I have to work around.

If I use Calibre in conjunction with my most preferred (but still not perfect) ereading app, then I get all the features I need, including comprehensive and endless ways to sort and search my books.

Calibre is a management program — a card index on steroids.  It isn’t supposed to be an ereading app, although it has an inbuilt reader.    In more recent updates of the program, (after it was rebuilt using Python) the inbuilt reader has become even more powerful, allowing annotations and notes, which can be exported.

I use the inbuilt reader quite often, and have made it my default program in Windows to open any ePub or Mobi files.

Calibre is fabulous for pulling together all the books I have, everywhere.  I can even add “empty” records for print books I own, with a notation telling me where the print book is stored on my shelves.

If you acquire ebooks from different sources, or would like to (which you then sideload to your reading app), then Calibre will help you keep all your books organized and help you rediscover favourites and books that you’ve forgotten you have.

Plus, if you keep your Calibre library folder on a shared drive, you can use Calibre on whatever computer or device that can access that folder.  I currently use Calibre on both my laptop and my desktop computer.

Where to get it.

The download page for Calibre is here.  As you will see, it has versions for every computer and device, including a portable version you can keep on a thumb drive.

It’s completely free — no ads, no inducements to upgrade.  (Although, I have found the program so useful, I have donated several times over the years.)

This really is one of those programs that, if you don’t have it yet, you really should scramble to get.

Already use Calibre?  What are some of the ways you use it?  Have a unique setup you’d like to share?  Comment below.


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