Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two guys and their reading list in 2007

My Friend's "Books 2007" listGuy #1:

My friend shared his 2007 reading list with me (he started maintaining a list last year). His list runs so long and wide I can't find a way to capture it in one screen shot.

I thought I was meticulous in compiling my own "read list" but his list blew me away! He gave me permission to share excerpts here but insisted on anonymity.

In 2007, he borrowed 215 items from the public library.

The equivalent of SGD$ 8,762 (based on what it would have cost him to buy the books rather than borrow).

Wow, that's making excellent use of his Premium Membership.

He was quick to qualify that by "reading", he doesn't necessarily read from cover to cover. Some he might scan through. A rare few he'd return to the library without reading (I joked that he was like a hoarder and going to the library was like free retail therapy! lol)

But clearly, he's read the majority of what he borrowed. The proof being the short one-liner synopsis for some of the books.
My Friend's 2007 reading list (3)

In his list, apart from the usual "Title", "ISBN", he records/ calculates things like whether he made a reservation for the item, whether it was renewed, how long did he hold the item, amount of fines incurred (if any), the cost of the item.
My Friend's reading list 2007 (2)

He classifies them up to 10 categories (these are his own subject categories).

He also developed his own "reading depth" scale (i.e. how much of the book did he read), his own rating scale for its content, and how items he subsequently purchased from bookstores.

For each field, he calculates the total and average figures. All this helps him quantify the net monetary net (what he termed as "Leverage") from his using the public library (after deducting the fees and fines).

His final analysis was a positive "leverage" of 53.66 times.
I could be wrong, but I think it means every $1 invested (in the form of library membership fees, reservation fees, overdue fines) would have generated $53.66.

[My friend clarifies: "It's actually the amount I would have spent on the books I borrowed, if I had bought them, divided by the amount I incurred borrowing them i.e. total of membership, reservation, renewal, fines. So, the higher the figure, the better i.e. stretching my dollar."]
My friend's 2007 reading list (4)

His top subject read was "Investment & Economics & Business" (57%) with the remainder distributed over nine categories.

My analysis of my friend's 2007 library usage as follows:
  1. For less than $170 a year, he's resulted in a cost-avoidance almost $8,800. That's a significant amount.
  2. He's mainly interested in the Business and Investment subject, but has also achieved a commendable spread among other subjects (only area he didn't read up was Health & Sports). Diversification is always good. Most people tend to focus narrowly on two or three areas.
  3. Judging my friend's active and sustained use of library materials, I'd infer that the public library has adequately supported his reading needs.

Guy#2: Me.

Like my friend, I record my reading list on an Excel worksheet. Makes it easier to churn out figures.

Mine's just a simple worksheet with "Title/ Author", "Type" (fiction or non-fiction), "Subject", "Format" (book, magazine, blog etc.), "ISBN".
My Excel file - Reading List

This is my list of library items read in 2007 (all borrowed from the public library).

In 2007, I read 36% more items compared to 2006. Looks like I'm back to my 2004 reading level.
Total items read
  • 2007 = 104 items
  • 2006 = 67 items
  • 2005 = 91 items
  • 2004 = 100 items

But item for item (2007 Vs. 2004), I'm reading more Graphic Novels than "Books" per se.
  • 2007 = Books 46%, Magazines 33%, Graphic Novels 17%, CDs 4%
  • 2004 = Books 73%, Magazines 22%, Graphic Novels 5%
I read more graphic novels to keep myself updated (and entertained!) on our graphic novel collections. In truth, I also turned to more graphic novels because I wanted easier-reads; the visual stuff appealed to me and helped me relaxed more than say, reading a Science Fiction novel.

There's also a shift towards Fiction works.
  • 2007 = 69% Fiction Vs. 31% Non-fiction
  • 2004 = 56% Fiction Vs. 44% Non-fiction
While my top three subjects and genres are relatively consistent, there's been a shift in their weightage.
  • 2007 = Art (graphic novels) 41%, Science Fiction 27%, Contemporary Fiction 4%
  • 2004 = Science Fiction 26%, Contemporary Fiction 14%, Military 13% (others include Management 12%, Fantasy 9%, Library Science 5%)
I stopped calculating the equivalent cost of books after 2006 (too tedious!) but I can roughly estimate that without the public library, I would NOT have read the equivalent of SGD $2,000 a year. It would've been a lot less, since I wouldn't have paid that sort of money to buy reading materials.

Ironically, I've not been motivated to explore in depth. I'm not sure if it provides a way to input, store and share such "reading list" data. I know it allows a list to be created but it's a sequential one, rather than for specific and multiple time periods. I could be wrong but it doesn't have any data-crunching statistical features.

There's but it's been a long while since I logged in. Again, my impression is that it allows you to start a list but not by specific and multiple time periods.

Anyway, I'll stick to Excel for now.

Until a social sharing platform comes along for people interested in sharing their "reading list statistics".

Now I also wonder who else keeps their own reading list.

Of all the Singapore librarian bloggers I follow, I only know of QQ*librarian. Her list is more of an online listings of items read. I don't think she goes into calculation of Subject and cost analysis.

Hey, maybe the public library should build one. Allow people to maintain their "Annual Read List".

Which the library can utilise to understand reading habits and patterns. And channel back that information towards tweaking its collection range and depth.



  1. Hi Ivan, great idea. I'd imagine that the NLB would already have all the basic raw data residing somewhere. The question is pulling all these data from all over, consolidating it in one place, and then building the appropriate columns for these information to be displayed in a meaningful way. This won't be easy. It could also be an expensive "toy" for the NLB. But if somewhere, somehow, someone high up sees this as important enough ... who knows? One day, the NLB could have a state-of-the-art online account for all its users to know their own borrowing/reading patterns. The NLB would also benefit by being able to data mine the borrowing patterns of its users.

  2. Hi! I am a librarian in Seattle and a lot of us use Goodreads to keep track of our books. It does allow you to keep track of when you read something, although I am not sure how much number crunching is possible. It is a good way of keeping track of what I have read, what I thought of it and it makes it easy to recommend books to others.

  3. 8,000? Your friend sure knows how to utilise his $21 membership to the max.

    I would love to get my hands on his excel file template.

    The idea you came out with is great. I do not want to pay money to list books (e.g The library can make it an additional free benefit for premium and normal members. I know I (and some of my friends) will appreciate it.

  4. I also read free and library loan materials. Otherwise there would be no way I could afford to feed my "addiction," or if you prefer, "habit."

    I have a closet shelf filled with calendars from years past where I kept my reading lists. The lists are plenty basic with just the title and author. I can thank you fifth grade teacher for starting me on this activity.

    More recently I began using my blogger account to record my reading habits. Now I sort by reader level and make note of title /author as read each month. I am sure that the transition happened when I began keeping my calendar electronically!

    I admire the dedication your friend has given the effort of categorizing his readings. Thank you for sharing his story. It really can be an inspiration for the rest of us.

  5. visitor3:31 pm

    First of all, your friend sure reads fast - even if some books were just browsed through. And definitely his interest in investing shows!

    I have tried a reading list application in Facebook. Besides having the convenience of lookups by ISBN or title, there's this social element of finding out what your friends are reading, or what other books other people who have read the same books as you are reading.


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