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Alexandria: Book cataloging the way it should be

By Bruce Byfield on January 22, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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GNU/Linux inherits a tradition of small programs that do one thing very well. A modern example of this tradition is Alexandria, a dedicated book cataloger for GNOME. Although a few workarounds would make it almost as useful as KDE's Tellico for other collections, especially music, Alexandria's focus remains squarely on books and their organization by library, status, and ratings. Perhaps its closest analogy is the online LibraryThing, although Alexandria actually predates LibraryThing and is designed for private, desktop use.

Available as a Debian or source package, Alexandria recently released version 0.6.2.b2 after a couple of years without an update. The new interface is much the same as the one in earlier versions, with libraries listed in a table of contents page on the left and the contents of selected libraries on the right as either a series of book covers or a list. The main difference is that the left pane now includes a series of views or Smart Libraries based on the ratings assigned to individual books. Read, Wishlist, Owned, Loaned, and Favorite are the default views, although you can add additional ones based on tags.

Libraries are Alexandria's equivalent of directories, and its main organizing principle. For example, you might choose to use a single library for all your books under the default name of "My Library," or create a series of libraries by subject or publisher. You can also import libraries from a text file consisting of one ISBN number on each line, or from a Tellico file. You can also rename and delete libraries, although the availability of these functions is inexplicably intermittent. Similarly, clicking the Refresh button -- when it works at all -- only alphabetizes the list of libraries once; after that, the position of libraries remains the same, regardless of how you rename them.

There are four ways to add a book to a library. The easiest way is to click the New Book icon on the toolbar or press Ctrl-N to open the Adding a Book dialog window. From the dialog, you can search online lists of books such as ones on Amazon.com for an ISBN, title, author, or keyword. Alternatively, you can scan a book's barcode. If you cannot find a book -- perhaps because it is out of print -- you can enter it manually. A fourth choice is to import it, either from another library or from a Tellico or plain text file that lists ISBNs one per line.

In addition to bibliographical information such as the writer, title, ISBN, publisher, and publication date, each book listing in Alexandria includes a cover, if one can be found online. In addition, you can choose to enter information about the binding -- generally, hardcover or paperback. You can further describe a book by adding tags, rating it on a five point system, and noting whether you own or want it or have read it. On another tab of the dialog window for each book, you can record when and to whom the book was loaned. A third tab is reserved for general notes.

To find a book as your catalogue grows, you can either use the Smart Libraries, or a browser-like search feature for bibliographical information or notes, which narrows down selections as you continue to type. You also have the option of exporting a library to Tellico or Bibtex formats, a CSV file, a text file of ISBNs, or an HTML file complete with cover graphics.

Alexandria works by searching online sources for bibliographic information. To some extent, these sources are editable from Edit -> Preferences -> Providers. Some of these sources can be edited -- for instance, you can choose which country's version of Amazon.com to search.

However, the most useful customization is to arrange the order in which providers are searched. In particular, English-speaking users will probably want to make sure that Amazon and Barnes and Nobles are at the top of the list of providers, while providers for non-English books are at the bottom.

Aside from the intermittent library functions, Alexandria leaves little to be desired. Its interface and functions are understandable at a glance, and detailed online help is available if you want to ensure that you aren't missing any finer points. Moreover, online searches are as fast as your Internet connection can make them, rarely taking more than 20 seconds.

I have no doubt that, by its 1.0 release, Alexandria will be a fast and efficient program. Meanwhile, I recommend it with only the mildest reservations.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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on the sholders of giants

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.122.165.196] on January 22, 2008 08:48 PM
Rather than hurling invective vituperations as one who has resigned defeat and as for spite seeks to intimidate the last of their once throng of support, but can pave the way for encaustic encomiums like a jeweled case with a diamond ring inside, one must first design the goal. Hardware and software specific to an automated task is sensable were a lack of humman involvment is perfered. Now it can be seen that if the objective is humman acceptance through involvement, that an intuitive interface is the key. Google has demonstrated the input box as a reasonable primitive and I would concure suggesting that a learning aid using the DOM and OOS as a model be used to build and demonstrate the workings of a computer from its most primitive beginings. First use the input box, connect it to annother box so type in the first box shows up in the second thus demonstating input. The second box should be sizeable (describing memory space) and incremental additional features should be available like a programe pointer and registers that can be used for instuction input that interact with data registers that can perform micro-instructions to build opperation files that can be labled as instructions. A compiler should translate ones practice device into a virtual hardware demonstration that could eventualy be placed on an fpga. These files could be kept in a library of files among them could be standard hardware components such signal proccessors, micro controlers, PLA's and standard cpu and gpu chips allowing hand compiled programing. To one input box a feature could atach another box were a translation is shown such as binary or hex to get a feel of what the computer actualy is doing. Not only would such a project help teach computer science, it would provide a better understanding of hardware to the programer helping them to negotiate cluster programing as a shaded glen insted of a bewildering maloderous missadventure.

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Re: on the sholders of giants

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.92.152.213] on January 27, 2008 08:31 PM
I hope for your sake you had a program generate that crap and it didn't come from your wasted little brain.

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Alexandria: Book cataloging the way it should be in Fedora now

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 142.179.54.37] on January 22, 2008 11:55 PM
As of Fedora 7 Alexandria is available from the standard Fedora repository

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Alexandria: Book cataloging the way it should be

Posted by: Joseph Method on January 23, 2008 06:59 PM
Hi, thanks for the mention and the mostly positive review. As one of the administrators of Alexandria, I'd like to mention a few things:

1) We have a 0.6.2 release now, with a deb. Many stability issues (segfaults, etc.) in 0.6.1 were caused by ruby-gnome2 0.15, so make sure to use 0.16, which is included with Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon.

2) Alexandria is a project that has been trying to pull out of a tailspin for a very long time. With the new release, we've finally got things moving again. The good news is that the codebase originally written by Laurent Sansonetti and others is IMO very well written. Anyone interested in Ruby or Gnome programming would do well to study Alexandria's code.

3) We love handing out commit access. If you're looking for an opensource project to contribute to, we're very open to working with different levels of programming experience. Just announce yourself on the list.

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