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.

* * *

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!


  1. @Coyote – Huh? I’m not sure the DMCA has anything to do with it! Juli simply isn’t a fan of DRM stripping, and so she’s decided not to cover it in the Calibre guide. Not everything is a corporate conspiracy, after all. (Unless … Juli? Is there something you should be telling us? Hmm?)

  2. Incidentally, how many readers out there would like it if we covered DRM stripping in this series? Are there are a lot of you out there who really want to know how it’s done, but can’t find the information elsewhere? And on the other hand, would most of you prefer we didn’t discuss DRM stripping? Please chime in, pro or con.

    And for that matter, if there are any other specific Calibre-related tips or tricks you’d like to learn about, please let us know. Joanna Cabot will be contributing to this series as well, as I’m sure both she and Juli would be open to any suggestions.

  3. Resistance is futile. You are now part of the Collective…

    *blink* Sorry. I’m back now. 😉

    I’m happy to cover DRM stripping. I personally have no moral or ethical issues with it. I don’t even think it’s fattening. I just figured since it’s a taboo subject on every e-reader user group I’m a part of that it would be a taboo subject here too. If you all want me to cover it, I’ll add it to the article list.

    And absolutely I’m open to suggestions. Bring ’em on. If I don’t know how to do it, I’m sure I know how to research it.

  4. Well, there you have it, coyoteblue! Looks like the DRM stripping chapter is still up in the air. Hopefully some readers will weigh in with their opinions – that is, whether or not they’d like to see a “How to Remove That Pesky DRM” article. Speaking personally, that’s a how-to I’d like to read. I don’t know how to strip DRM, but I’d like to know. And yet as Juli (rightly) pointed out, it is a controversial topic in the e-reading community, which makes me think we probably won’t get a lot of honest responses unless readers are allowed to chime in anonymously.

    This sounds like a good excuse for another survey!

  5. Dan, you’ve just been looking for an excuse for another survey, haven’t you? 😉

    Go for it. If folks want it, I’ll write it. Dirty secret, though. Once you learn how, you’re going to kick yourself. It’s incredibly easy now. Not like the bad old days when you had to install Python and learn how to run scripts.

  6. Oh yeah, I love surveys – who doesn’t? We’ll stay away from Survey Monkey for the next one, though. We have someone in-house who can embed them, but since I was out of town and on a tight deadline for your Valentine’s erotica e-reading survey, I had to stick with what I know … which ain’t much!

  7. Your extended tutorial will be of great help for people just getting started with Calibre and others who want to look more deeply into its capabilities.

    I want to suggest an alternative approach for tracking Kindle books in Calibre. I have almost 700 ebooks in my Calibre database, about 300 of them from Amazon. I read Kindle books on a Kindle Paperwhite, iPad, Nexus 7, and a Galaxy Nexus phone. I use Amazon’s Wispersync cloud to download and sync kindle books to these devices so each device knows my current place in the book.

    Instead of adding Amazon books to Calibre, I use Calibre’s “Add Empty Book” option from the dropdown menu next to Add books. I enter the title and author of the “empty book” and then choose Edit metadata as you explained. In the Metadata dialog, I choose “Download metadata” and a large amount of metadata is looked up online and added. You even get to choose a book cover from those available online.

    This approach has several virtues: you can continue to use the powerful Wispersync to download books to all your Kindle devices and keep your place in each, you get all the value of having the metadata in Calibre, you don’t have to physically connect your reading device to your computer, and you don’t need to take up disk space on your computer with kindle books.

    If you know a book’s ISBN number, you can use “Add from ISBN” instead of “Add Empty Book” from the dropdown. This populates Calibre with much of the metadata for the book, although you still would want to go to “Edit metadata” to add tags and other information.

  8. @Harvey, that’s awesome. I didn’t know about “Add Empty Book.” Thank you! That’s why I appreciate reader comments.

    Oh, and hi, almost-neighbor. I stopped by your website, and I see you and your family are all local. I’m in Springfield, VA. Great zoo pictures, especially the sleeping red panda. Aww!

    Dan, any chance you can add Harvey’s instructions to the main article?

  9. Appreciate the series. There’s so much about Calibre that lies hidden. I’d like to know how to edit the complete list of tags. There are so many tags that I’ll never use (like all those numerical tags, and several versions of “history” courtesy the publishers, etc), and I’d like to trim the list down and set my own tags. Also how do you use the date field to track date read? I’m sure I’ll come up with more questions as you go forward. 🙂

  10. Mrs Mac, trimming tags is easy. I do it myself for publisher-added tags. Go to your tag list on the left side of the screen and start pulling up tags you don’t want. Use the “edit metadata” screen to edit them out of multiple books. That’s a good question, and I might do a quick post showing how to do that.

    You can set the date in the “Date Field” to be anything you like, so just change it to the date you finished a book. Obviously that only works for future books unless you’ve been tracking your history in some other way (Goodreads, Excel, etc).

  11. Juli: I’m glad I had something to contribute to this very useful set of articles on Calibre.

    Yes, I don’t live that far from Springfield. I used to shop at the mall there when I lived just on the Maryland side of the Wilson bridge. Since retirement I have the time to indulge in my favorite activities, taking pictures for local newspapers and theater companies, and reading eBooks.

  12. I am not a fan of DRM. I don’t disagree with using the technology to prevent pirating. Instead, I take issue with the fact that DRM prevents me from accessing an ebook on different devices. For example, when my Nook Color finally dies (it is over 2 years old, after all), I cannot transfer my nook books to a new Kindle. The DRM imbeded in the nook books prevents the files from being converted to the Kindle format. Nor can I purchase a Kindle book from Amazon and read it on my Nook. By removing the DRM, the books I have purchased can be accessed on multiple devices.

  13. Most sites that I know of don’t directly address how to strip DRM for a couple of reasons. One is that an argument can be made that it is illegal. The other reason is to not draw official attention to the site where one can get the anti-DRM tools, for fear that it may be taken down.

    The most that I see is “if you want to strip DRM, google Apprentice Alf.”

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail