Manging "want to read" for books and research papers

I was writing this post in the form of “can you help me out”, but as I was thinking and trying to phrase it, I actually came to solution by myself. I’m still posting it, for the sake of:
a) maybe someone can add something to it
b) maybe someone will also have this problem and will stumble upon this post in search of help

Here we go.


I’m struggling with how to organize my reading inbox for long-form items like books.

So, I see at least 2 distinct piles of “nice to read/watch” stuff in my life:

  1. Short-form, like articles and youtube videos. These are processed at max in 1 year after adding to inbox, oftentimes way faster.

  2. Long-form, like books. Some of them might be sitting in the “inbox” for years. Usually these are some kind of recommendations from someone (either direct or from other article/book/etc).

The process for bin (1) is straightforward: add to Raindrop, process, add notes to Obsidian if there is anything interesting.

The process for bin (2) is … a mess. Some books are part of daily notes in Obsidian. Some (older) are in LibraryThing, where I capture in private comment WHO and WHY recommended this book.

I do plan having all books to be in LibraryThing, because it helps with classifications and recommendations. But I also love inter-connectivity of Obsidian vault.
Now, where inter-connectivity might be useful for long-form inbox?

  • finding all inbox books on topic:
    • but this will require notes on books to be linked to topics. And let’s be honest, most of them are just sitting in my daily notes
  • finding books that got often recommended
    • or for that I can just continue updating private note in LibraryThing.
  • linking recommendation to actual literature note.
    • or I can just add link to the LibraryThing?
  • find all recommendation from a particular source (e.g., all books recommended by X)
    • cool, but will I ever use it for actual reading and not “X’s picks” type of writing? Probably not.

Hmm, doesn’t look like I really need Obsidian for books. Same way as with bin (1), Obsidian contains only what I actually learned from this bin and not used as “collection place”.

Then, question, why I don’t like LibraryThing? Why I looked at Airtables and Notion and Obsidian and whatnot? — Because private comments are sad. They are searchable, but not structured. I used to add other information there, for example, link to local library checkout (I now learned that it was useless). Also, UI is kinda meh. But it seems to be slowly improving with time.

Thus, my solution for bin (2):

  1. Whenever I get some book recommendation, I SHOULD capture it somehow, for example, obsidian daily notes. I MUST add information about source of recommendation, why source was recommending it, and why I got interested (using template).
  2. During capture processing I SHOULD:
    • just in case, check whether I already have mentions of this book in the vault
    • add/update book in the LibraryThing with private note containing recommendation info
    • add link to the LibraryThing item to the processed capture
    • some books might be forming a collection of “all interesting books about topic X”. Usually such collections exist in my vault as “topic notes” (kinda like MOC). Just add it there too.
  3. Whenever book is read and I have a literature note for it, add link to LibraryThing in the note metadata (just for tracing)

But. There is one weird item. Research papers. I don’t have many of them in “to read” inbox, so they are in the bin (1) right now and I don’t use any fancy Zoter-ish processes. Read, make notes, add link in the metadata. Yet, it’s definitely an item more suitable for bin (2), because some might be sitting there for a long time. I don’t have a process for that yet, but seems like it should be something similar to book process, just using a different non-Obsidian tool to keep references.

Well, this is a poor, lonely thread. lol I have a lot of the same kinds of things to process, though, so maybe we can get some ideas bouncing around?

I do use – and love – LibraryThing, but I pretty much only use it to catalog the books we own. (We have about 5,000, so we definitely needed a way to keep track of them!) But book recommendations are something I’m still trying to figure out. Right now they’re pretty scattered, for me. Someone recommends a book, it goes on my Amazon wishlist, and by the time I get around to buying it three years later, I can’t remember who recommended it or in the context of what conversation. So I’d love to hear how people are addressing that “interim” stage.

And then there are the books I’ve bought but haven’t read yet. And they have differing degrees of priority, which sometimes ebbs and flows. So there’s this whole process from get (and make note of) a book recommendation → procure the book → get around to reading the book to take notes on it. And I don’t have a good method for that.

Add the fact that some things are print books and others are Kindle – and on Kindle everything just kind of gets lost in this black hole of books – and…someone has to already be doing this a better way.

As for research papers…it depends, I guess, on what and why you’re reading it. For me, I’m not usually planning to just sit down and read a single paper straight through; I’m usually “collecting” papers on a topic and might go back and study that topic later. Since most of them I download as PDFs, I have them stored in a folder system on my computer. Since they often download with some jumbled mess of a filename that I’d never recognize as anything, I usually append a suffix to the filename in all caps, that’s kind of like a hashtag. So if I’m saving papers about influenza, I might tack -FLU on the end of all the file names that aren’t already obvious. And that way the main part of the filename is intact in case I need to be able to compare it against one online or something to see if it’s the same document.

But I’m thinking I need a way in Obsidian (I’m a newbie still finishing up importing all my existing notes) to tell myself what I have, so that even if the research papers – or the books – aren’t in Obsidian, they’re still connected to it as a “hub” so I don’t have to look in three different places to see what to read.