Tablet Tech Unlocks A Collection

by Sean Cleveland

In Taoism, the phrase “ten thousand things” refers to everything that exists in the universe. In regards to my book collection, it probably accounts for what’s sitting on the shelves scattered throughout my house.

In addition to lining the walls of my home, many more books fill a large storage locker. My collection has grown so big, in fact, that I’m honestly not sure how many books I have. And more frequently than I’d like to admit, I wind up buying duplicates of copies I already own.

That’s about to change, however, with a book cataloging app on my new NVIDIA Tegra 3-powered Google Nexus 7 tablet, a tool that will allow me to take control of my collection, and possibly help me share my passion for books with others.

From Arkham House to My House

As a young adult I’d started buying works of horror and wonder, many from Arkham House – publishers of genre greats such as H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long, and Clark Ashton Smith. Many of these stories were printed in the ‘30s and were out of print, forcing me to find the originals. While I love old musty tomes, I’m glad these stories are now reprinted by other publishing houses.

It was about 15 years ago that I seriously caught the book collecting bug. The picture below gives a sense of what most walls in my house look like (I reserve a little space for my Scotch collection as well).

I started down this path at The Other Change of Hobbit, a well-known science fiction and fantasy book seller in Berkeley, Calif. I would hang out there with Dave Nee, the owner, and Rory Root, my late friend who owned Comic Relief, the legendary comic book shop, nearby. The two of them would suggest classic and up-and-coming authors to read, feeding my passion for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.

Somewhere along the line I started buying first edition/first printing books, and my collection has been growing ever since. I am particularly fond of books from small-press publishers like Subterranean Books, Cemetery Dance, and PS Publishing. What sets these publishers apart from others is their heavy use of custom artwork by artists who are commissioned exclusively for the special editions that they produce.

These publishers reproduce hardbound editions of classic science fiction and fantasy books, new stories from top contemporary authors, and collected stories and anthologies from many contributors. When announced, the publisher will tell you the author, the cover artist (perhaps showing a draft cover), and the expected time frame to publish. Many times, you don’t know what the stories are about, although anthologies typically revolve around a theme.

Some books are solicited years in advance of publication, and are a delightful surprise whenever they arrive in the mail. Depending on the popularity of the work, the author, and the condition of the book, these books can increase in value over time, sometimes substantially. Many of my books are now worth two to three times their initial value.

A librarian’s work is never done

Sean Cleveland book collection
Hundreds of books neatly organized in Sean Cleveland’s collection.

Sorting through 10,000 of anything is a daunting prospect, but I’ve been using the camera on my Tegra-powered HTC One X+ smartphone and the front-facing camera on my lightweight Nexus 7 to scan the UPC symbols of each book. Book Catalogue, the Android app I use, automatically pulls up information about the book, including book details, description, a picture, and more from databases such as

I can then adjust the record based on the particulars of my copy and add details the app won’t know about, such as if it’s been signed by the author and its estimated current value.

Every work of fiction tells a story, of course. But each work in my collection also has a story, for example, where and when I found it, the quality of its construction, and the condition it’s in. These books are beautiful in and of themselves and really well made, with amazing typography. I’m particularly interested in cover art, which is often fantastic for genre works.

I have often thought about sharing these stories online, where I can preview my first printings as well as feature older favorites from my collection. I have even purchased a domain for the site:

I would also love to interview more of my favorite authors and artists. My professional background includes editorial work at Maximum PC Magazine, and radio work with GeekSpeak on National Public Radio, where I was fortunate to interview great authors including William Gibson, David Weber, and my personal favorite, Charles Stross.

The irony in my life is that my job at NVIDIA gives me access to cutting-edge technology and games, and with a young daughter and now this new cataloguing project, it’s getting harder and harder to find time to read!