e-books server (Calibre)

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a number of e-books, most of them dealing with exciting subjects like Excel and various financial and investing topics. And, yes, some actual novels and non-fiction. Some were in various e-book formats (.mobi,.epub, .azw), some zipped with recursive directories, and a lot of pdfs. I’d just been dumping them into a folder on my servers over the years, without any real organization. I knew before I started, I’d have a lot of clean up. I didn’t have an appreciation for how much, though. Having been through a much larger scale clean up when implementing my Plex server, I should have had a better appreciation. While Plex handles music and video well, it’s not designed to handle e-books, and photo management isn’t it’s strong suit either. See my prior post.

I decided to install the Calibre application on my Mac Mini, the same one I’m using to function as my Plex media server. The server component of Plex runs on the Mini, but the media lives on my Synology server. So too, do my e-books. Calibre is cross platform, running on Windows, Mac and Linux. So the application runs on my Mini, but the back end data files are mapped to the Synology.

Cross platform support was a significant reason for choosing Calibre, as though I have several Windows VMs available to run on the Mini under VMWare’s Fusion, I didn’t really want to run a server in a VM and dedicate more memory to this application than if it ran natively. From the Activity Monitor, Calibre appears to take about 174meg of RAM (Plex takes 133meg). Giving the VM 4 gig of Ram to run one application that by itself would only take ~174 meg didn’t seem to be a good choice.

In between when I first thought about the e-book project and when I started, I decided also wanted to play with Windows 10 as a VM on the Mini. But that’s a topic for another post.

I wanted to experiment with the Calibre e-book application to manage this unruly “collection”. Not RTFM beforehand (who does that?), I didn’t know that Calibre can handle zipped and RAR compressed files with recursive folders, so I unzipped them and tried to tidy things up a bit, moving some data files and such to a different folder. Fortunately though, Calibre asks you to start out with a dedicated (empty) folder for the books you’ll add, though it does allow you add entire folders. Had I simply done what thought I would do, I would have pointed the program to my ‘cleaned up’ e-books folder and have it import everything there. It would have created a gigantic mess with all of the nested folders containing material I didn’t necessarily know was there and some I probably wouldn’t have cared about having in my library.

I started out with a few items that were actually books and added more material, usually through drag and drop (there is a command line interface as well) . One of the key elements in managing this collection is search. To search, beyond simple things like title and author, you need metadata. Calibre has a means of searching, but it is dependent on the items in the database having metadata. Calibre has the ability to import metadata, but it is mostly dependent on the title of the file and any metadata already in the file. So this is where the work comes. You can individually edit the metadata for a file, or do so in batch mode, to add the proper title and author so the import process finds it. You can also add tags as another means to search and group. This search capability means that Calibre is very powerful, but only if you’ve organized and tagged (metadata and tags) to allow it to do so. You can have multiple libraries if you wish, organizing them according to type of ‘book’, for example. I’m not sure I’ll take that as a first step, but it is nice to know the capability is there later on.

Importing metadata after correcting the title and author

So I have a small collection started and now comes the dirty work of manually cleaning up and importing metadata. This is very much like my effort to manage my media through Plex, where organization and grouping/sorting depends on the associated metadata.

But there’s not much fun in this part, so a little play is in order. You can make your e-books collection accessible over the Internet. And you can view an item through the built-in viewer, or send it to one of your devices (wired if connected to the server), or wireless , or even email it (Gmail doesn’t like this though; use Calibre’s suggestion for setting up a free GMX email account).

Once you’ve installed Calibre, in order to make it accessible over the Internet, you’ll need to set up the connection to your server using either a FQDN (if you have one) or the public IP address of your router and the port to which you’ve assigned the Calibre server. You’ll need to do port forwarding on your router to direct the request to the port of the internal computer of your network on which Calibre is running. The port you use is flexible and does not have to be the one Calibre suggests; obviously, you want to assign a user name and password. Web access does not, however, give anyone who accesses the machine, deletion rights. Having done this before for the Synology, it was just one more port on my custom services list to add.

Web based view of library


Mobile Use

  • Android
    There are apps in the Google Play store to access your e-book content. I installed Calibre Companion (Android) , which allows you to directly access your content server both remotely from your tablet or phone, and over your home network and manage which books to download. It’s not a reader, but a book management app that connects directly to your content. Setup for the app is very simple, requiring just the public IP of your server and port assigned and (for internal network access), your Calibre server’s internal IP address and port. The iPad doesn’t currently seem to have an app that directly supports Calibre in the same way.
  • IOS
    There’s apparently a IOS plug-in for Calibre that’s not yet compatible with version 8.x of IOS. Since IOS 9 is shortly forthcoming, I can’t wait for that. I paid for Marvin, which allows you link to a cloud account (Dropbox among them), and import books from there. It works, just not as straightforward as the Android app, nor allows for remote access to the content.

Now I’m RTFM.

The application is free, but they do take donations. I made a small one to start. As I become more invested in time and interest, I’ll likely make another.

Definitely worth a look if you have the need.


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