Tips for importing in LibraryThing

Tags how-to

When importing records into LibraryThing, below are some things to think about:

If your process does not work your file may not be in the correct format:

To import all that information, you'll have to use a CSV file with a very specific format. You'll need to format your excel file to match the column names etc in the sample CSV file on the import page. You'll need to save that as a CSV file and then make sure it's all formatted properly as a CSV file (so opening it in something other than excel, like a plain text editor). There is a TAGS column in the sample CSV, and it sounds like you're doing that part right (double quotes around the whole field, commas between tags). So my guess is that there's a formatting problem elsewhere in the file, which is making it ignore all data but the ISBN.


For CSV import to work and import the data in your file (as opposed to grabbing external data based on the ISBNs), your file needs to be in *exactly* the same format as the sample CSV -- with exactly the same column headings, and with data in the subsequent rows formatted correctly. I'd recommend having the columns in the same order too. Also note that the author names need to be in last-comma-first order.

Here are the columns in the sample CSV:


See also the HelpThing page on Importing, particularly this section:


Technical details (CSV format)

"Import" uses a (specially formatted) text file, which contains information about a collection of books and is on your local computer, to upload a list of books into your library on LibraryThing. The most important thing to appreciate is that, if the syntax of the lines about the books in the text file are not PERFECT, LT will either conclude you (a) have no books at all or (b) have a different set of books. (The first is the most common. The second means you'll have to delete them from your library.)

The type of file is in a format called 'CSV' (Comma Separated Values) because it contains a list of "comma[or tab]-delimited-values." In a list of things, the character which separates "things" from each other is called a 'delimiter.' "a,c,,b" is a comma-delimited string of four values (the third is empty, btw). A program reading this as a string will see a string of 6 characters (the quotes are not part of this particular string), but another program reading it as a CSV string will instead see FOUR values (not strings)--namely, ay, see, NULL and dee--which it can then do with whatever it want. In LT's case, it'll put them in appropriate places in the appropriate database storing information about your library books.

CSV was invented as a mechanism to pass information between computer programs which couldn't read each other's file formats. Provision was made, however, for both to be able to write and read third format (which was provided in text for the benefit of allowing the human to examine it for accuracy), and the CSV was born. People speak of "dumping" data from one program into a CSV file for another one to "slurp" (import).

To get a computer program (e.g., like a spreadsheet or a database) to read a file containing information about books, you have to tell it: 1. what type of info is in the file (the HEADER row, containing a list of the FIELDS in the successive rows), 2. the delimiter character (that is, how it can know when it's done reading one FIELD and should start another)

(You don't need to tell it how many lines are in the file; when it reachess the end, it'll get the idea there are no more...)

If you look at the LibraryThingSample.csv file, you'll see a first, header, row, simplified, like this:

'TITLE',"'AUTHOR (last, first)'",'ISBN',"'PUBLICATION INFO'" which announces that book records will have four fields (shortened for this example) for the Title, for the Author's name , and for the date and publisher info. Note that the fields for the author's name and publisher are actually just one field each, although each will contain more information (e.g., publisher has who, where and when). The quotation marks inform the program when a comma is to be understood as delimiting the "next record" and "when it's just a comma to be read in like any other character."

After the header row, lines constituting one or more individual book "records" follow. In the LibraryThingSample,csv, it'll look like (again shortened to four fields for illustration):

"A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books","Basbanes, Nicholas A.",1999,0805061762

A word about ISBNs: great (if you have one for the book).

If not, simply leave the field blank like this:

"A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books","Basbanes, Nicholas A.",1999,

The comma on the end tells the program "this is the field for the ISBN all right," and the emptiness tells "I just don't know what it is."

N.B. The Definitive List of Legitimate Field Names Useable for Importing is yet to be identified.

What information can be imported from CSV files?

What information is imported from your CSV file depends on whether the books (rows) have ISBNs listed.

  • For books (rows) with ISBNs listed, LibraryThing will only import your information from the tags, ratings, and review fields. Information on title, author, date, and publication info will be "grabbed" from external sources, using the ISBN.
  • For books (rows) with no ISBN listed, LibraryThing will import the information you have listed in the author, title, date, publication info, tags, ratings, and review fields, exactly as you have listed it.

If you make a in import mistake:

You can re-import and duplicates will get synced but only for the fields allowed for import.

If you want to delete and start over:

Go to the "Your books" tab at the top of the page. Select the lightning bolt button to Power Edit. Click on Select all XXX books and when they are all selected click on the "Delete books" button then on the " Delete selected books" button.

If you want to export your collection as a backup for disaster recovery:

The export options are not perfect but you can certainly get most of your data in either CVS (fewer fields) or tab-delimited (more fields) text file exports. These can be loaded into Excel or even one of the mobile phone apps for Android and iOS.

In the "chocobar" click on the "More" link and from that page select "Import/Export". Alternatively, you can go directly to this link:Import/Export

Some things that you will notice in the export. "Other Authors" data and Common Knowledge (CK) data like series are not part of the export. Tags and Collections do export.

Here is a list of fields from the tab-delimited export (recommended):

book id


author (last, first)

author (first, last)

other authors






language 1

language 2

original language




date entered

date acquired

date started

date ended



your tags




private comments

your copies


Of these, Tags and Collections are comma-separated values in a single field. For example, it might look like:

Drupal,Content Management System,computers,nonfiction,pb

for tags of a programming book if those are the tags you have applied to it.

Again, it's not perfect. Getting cover images is nearly impossible in this way. But, it does let you have an archive of your data (especially ISBNs, comments, etc.) in case you have to use another system, roll your own database, or wish to use a mobile device to view your inventory.




Additional notes

Supplement to LibraryThing in 10 steps


Article ID: 1491
Tue 5/26/20 6:00 PM
Mon 8/31/20 9:23 AM