This post is part of TeleRead's "Using Calibre for E-Book Management" Guide: Ch. 1 | Ch. 2Ch. 3 | Ch. 4Ch. 5 | Ch. 6Ch. 7 | Ch. 8Ch. 9 | Ch. 10

Many people think of Calibre as an e-book conversion program, and it’s true it does conversion very well. I’ll be covering that aspect soon. However, to convert e-books, you need to either strip DRM (a topic this series will not be covering), or buy only DRM-free books.

While that’s an admirable goal, it’s not feasible for many e-book readers. And if you happen to be one of the many, you may be thinking Calibre’s not for you. But that’s not so! If you’ve been reading e-books for a while, you’ve probably amassed quite a library. If you’re new to e-books, you’ll want to plan for the future, when you will have a huge library.

Library management is especially important if you buy books from multiple sources. Fortunately, Calibre is an excellent tool to organize and manage your library, even the DRMed books you own.

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First, let’s quickly cover loading a book into Calibre. This step works for both DRMed and non-DRMed books.

You can get books onto your computer in a number of ways. Most e-book stores have a dedicated PC or Mac program, and downloading into that program is the easiest way to get books onto your computer and then into Calibre. However, Kindle users might want to consider another approach.

When you download a Kindle book to the Kindle program, the DRM is locked to that device (your computer), and you won’t be able to use Calibre’s “Send to Device” option. Instead, you might want to copy your books from your Kindle, or use the ‘Download & transfer via USB’ option on your Manage Your Kindle page.

Now that your book is on your computer, let’s get it into Calibre. It’s simple. Just click the “Add books” button, navigate to the folder where you stored your books, and Calibre will take care of the rest.

Now we’re ready to edit metadata and begin organizing your library. Note that you can add and change metadata even in DRMed books. This allows you to use Calibre to organize and search your library, even if you never use the conversion features.

First, what is metadata? Without getting into a technical explanation, basically it’s useful data about a book, such as its title, its author and its publisher. Some metadata is included in a book file, although you might want to change that. Some you will add as a way of organizing your library. You can do almost anything you’d like with metadata, but I’ll cover a few common and useful pieces here.

To edit your metadata, you click the ‘Edit metadata’ button. It’s right next to the ‘Add books’ button I circled in the screenshot above. That will bring you to this screen:

Everything here was added by the publisher. As a reader, though, I might want to make some changes. For example, perhaps you’re a “First Name, Last Name” kind of person. You can change the author name and author sort to reflect your preference.

And while you can’t see the complete title in this screen, but you can see enough to guess that it’s part of a series. Perhaps you’d like to make note of that for future reference. See the ‘Series’ field in the top left? You can add the series name there. In the field next to it, you can add the books’ number in the series.

Perhaps you don’t like the cover? Or maybe the book imported without a cover image? You can add a cover here in the ‘Change cover’ section.

Those are just basics, however. The real power of Calibre as an e-book management program is in using tags. See the ‘Tags’ box, to the right of the cover and just under the Rating field? That’s where things can get interesting. For instance: Do you have a hard time remembering which of the hundreds of books in your library you’ve already read? No problem—just add “Read” to the tag field. Can’t remember where you bought a book? Add the name of the bookstore to that field. Want to sort and organize by genre? Add genre to the field. You’re only limited by your imagination and specific needs.

Let’s add some tags and a description to this book. The description field is good for notes to yourself: (Did you like the book? Why?) Maybe you reviewed it on Goodreads, and you’d like to keep your review with the rest of the library.

In the screen capture above, you’ll see that I added a description, as well as series information and a few tags that are useful to me. You might add different items. Use this screen to capture anything you might like to know later about a book.

Now you’ve added metadata. So what? Tags aren’t static. They allow you to filter and sort your library.

Note the following screen. On the left, you’ll see the tags I’ve applied. Confession time: I don’t use tags as much as I could, so only a few of the books are currently tagged. Now that I’m writing this series, I’m beginning to see ways I could use Calibre more effectively, and I’ll be adding more tags in the future.

I’ve chosen a few tags. I’ve noted the genre, and the store at which I bought the book. And I’ve noted whether I’ve read the book already, whether I’m planning to read it, or whether I’m currently reading it. I’ve also loaded some fanfiction into Calibre, and I’ve got a few tags around that.

Imagine using this to find books you’ve not yet read, or to remember where you purchased a favorite, rare tome. The date field is automatically filled with the date you loaded the book into Calibre, but you can also use the field to track the date started or finished a book, for instance. Calibre really is only limited by your needs and your imagination.

Earlier, I mentioned needing to add some tags. (Lots of tags, actually.) Fortunately, you can add tags to an entire group of books at one time. Simply select them in the list, and then select ‘Edit metadata.’ You’ll get this screen:

This screen allows you to edit multiple books at a time. For this example, I’ve selected several of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books.

So there’s metadata. Just remember: Adding metadata is one of the very best ways of organizing and managing your library, no matter where you bought your books.

Anyone out there want to share how you use metadata in Calibre? I’d love to learn new things!