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Old 09-30-2018, 11:57 AM   #1
swineone
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Question Library management system suggestions

Hello,

I just registered on the forum, after countless Google searches returned links to topics here, where I could witness how knowledgeable the members are and the high level of the discussion going on.

I've been using the iPad since the 1st generation as an ebook reader. At the time I just started using iBooks as my reader app as that's what was available. Unfortunately I get the feeling that Apple is trying very hard to make iBooks less useful with every new version, and iOS 12 with the change to Apple Books sealed its fate for me -- I'm finally looking seriously for alternatives, and I'd very much appreciate the input of the community here to help me choose.

Some information to start with:
  • My library is mostly (98%+) composed of PDFs and EPUBs, with the odd DJVU and CHM file here and there -- and I don't really care if my chosen setup can't read either DJVU or CHM (or both). However, both PDF and EPUB support is essential.
  • I download new files from both my Mac and my iPad, and one of my most wanted features would be to have seamless syncing between the Mac's and the iPad's libraries, so that a file downloaded on the Mac is copied to the iPad and vice-versa. Ideally I'll even be able to edit metadata on my iPad and have it sync back to the Mac. Although I'd be very very disappointed if such Mac-iPad sync is not doable, I'll learn to live with it.
  • Some kind of tagging system is the essential feature I need -- mostly my library is of technical books, and often I need to search for books in my library on a specific subject/genre rather than looking for the author or title. Also, a hard requirement is tag syncing between my Mac's and my iPad's libraries -- I don't want to duplicate work in the Mac and iPad.
  • One thing I really hated about iBooks was how hard it worked to "hide" its library from you, inside the ~/Library folder in the filesystem, plus it had no folder hierarchy to save these files. This forced me to keep a second copy of my library in an easier to access location in the filesystem, but with space at a premium in my MacBook Pro's SSD, I had to resort to a process of hardlinking files between the iBooks library and my own copy of the library. Although this worked, it required periodic manual intervention and is a really convoluted setup which is prone to errors. I'd really really like to do away with this and have a single, well organized, user accessible library for my ebooks in my Mac.
  • I already purchased MapleRead SE, so if I could integrate that with whatever solution I decide to go with, that would be great. However, I'm open to spending some money if necessary (say up to $50) to implement my dream library management setup. However, I don't do subscriptions, on principle -- I'd rather pay $50 once than pay $20 or even $10 a year for an app.

Basically I'm a fan of the iTunes model of syncing music tracks between my Mac and iOS devices, while keeping the files well organized in an easily user accessible folder in the file system. Obviously there's no way that I know of to download music tracks in the Music app in iOS and sync them back to iTunes, so that's an extra feature I'm looking for in my setup. To try to put it as concisely as I can, what I'm looking for would be similar in spirit to what Dropbox is to file management.

From my research, it seems like Calibre is ideally suited to implement the Mac side of my library management system. Although I'm not a fan of the app's UI, I'm confident it will do the job, even if not in the most pleasant way. The issue now is to find a companion iPad app that fits into this system.

As I mentioned, I already downloaded the MapleRead app and was trying to implement a setup like I described above, but I ran into some roadblocks. Let me make it clear that I haven't done as much research as necessary -- I just downloaded MapleRead last night and didn't spend that much time with it, but maybe my issues here are something that forum members have seen before and will be able to help me overcome.
  • There doesn't seem to be the concept of syncing per se between Calibre and MapleRead. Rather, it seems like I need to add the Calibre OPDS content server to Maple Read, then tell it to download all books, and it will skip whichever books were already downloaded. Besides being a little awkward, it doesn't seem to take care of the reverse sync (iPad -> Mac), plus I have no idea if edited metadata in Calibre on the Mac will be reflected in MapleRead after a "sync", or if it will just skip over.
  • I really need a tagging system to make sense of my library, and Calibre's section on subgroups/genre of their manual is absolutely perfect for my needs. I followed the steps there to implement the "Genre" column on the Calibre side, but when following the "syncing" procedure of the previous bullet point, these tags were not downloaded. As I said I'm not willing to do the same work twice, once in the Mac and once in the iPad, so this setup won't work for me as is.

Ideally I would like to stay with one app only, but it appears the Calibre Companion iOS app may be the missing piece of the puzzle for my library management system. Unfortunately, from reading the app's description on the App Store and their website, I was left with more questions than answers. I can't picture concretely in my mind what it does or how it works -- maybe a demo video of Calibre Companion in action would help me understand? Maybe a more knowledgeable member of the forum could help me understand if its syncing process is closer to what I need than MapleRead's and if it will sync my subgroups (Genre tags) from Calibre. Also, I'm unclear about integration of Calibre Companion with reader apps, and exactly how it works -- e.g. is the library kept in MapleRead or Calibre Companion? When I open a file in Calibre Companion, is it copied over to MapleRead, so I may end up with basically two copies of my library, one in Calibre Companion and the other in MapleRead (I don't have enough free space in my iPad for two copies of the library)? What about syncing last page read between both apps? Etc.

I will buy Calibre Companion in a heartbeat if it is clear that it solves my problem, but as it is, I'm not clear on how it works and won't speculatively spend money on it just to find out it's not suitable for my system.

I now defer to the very knowledgeable members of this forum, hoping that you may enlighten me on ways to overcome the issues that I've found, or even suggest a completely new workflow that implements my requirements above.

Thanks in advance
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Old 09-30-2018, 03:44 PM   #2
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Calibre Companion syncs with Calibre. The way that I use it is I keep all my books in Calibre and Calibre Companion, then I send the books that I'm either in the process of reading or about to read to by reading app (Marvin in my case) via the read button in the calibre companion app. When I'm done reading, I delete it from my reading app and leave it in Calibre Companion.

Syncing last page read is done by the reading app. I have yet to see a reading app that syncs between different reading apps, you always have to have the same app on different devices. Yea, I wish that was a thing as well. I would love to sync between reading on my iPad, my Kobo eInk reader and my mac, but I know of no solution that will do that. I know that you can sync between the kindle app on your mac and the kindle app on your iPad, I assume you can do the same with iBooks, though I haven't tried it with the new books app.
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Old 09-30-2018, 04:50 PM   #3
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Thanks for replying.

So as I understand, Calibre Companion is used to sync with the Mac, but then to actually read books, I have to transfer them from Calibre Companion to the reader app, and manually delete them when done? And in the meanwhile, they will be taking up space in both apps (Calibre Companion and the reader app)? I have to admit, I find that a little awkward. In that regard, iBooks is in my opinion much better.

Can you add ebooks to Calibre Companion in the iPad? Will they sync back to Calibre running in the Mac?

What about tagging? Will Calibre Companion work correctly with the subgroups/genres tagging system that I mentioned in my post?

My understanding is that Calibre Companion's main advantage is that it shows up as a device inside Calibre. Is it the only app for iPad that does that?

Sorry for asking so many questions, but I'm really struggling to "get" how Calibre and Calibre Companion works.
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Old 09-30-2018, 07:21 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swineone View Post
Thanks for replying.

So as I understand, Calibre Companion is used to sync with the Mac, but then to actually read books, I have to transfer them from Calibre Companion to the reader app, and manually delete them when done? And in the meanwhile, they will be taking up space in both apps (Calibre Companion and the reader app)? I have to admit, I find that a little awkward. In that regard, iBooks is in my opinion much better.

Can you add ebooks to Calibre Companion in the iPad? Will they sync back to Calibre running in the Mac?

What about tagging? Will Calibre Companion work correctly with the subgroups/genres tagging system that I mentioned in my post?

My understanding is that Calibre Companion's main advantage is that it shows up as a device inside Calibre. Is it the only app for iPad that does that?

Sorry for asking so many questions, but I'm really struggling to "get" how Calibre and Calibre Companion works.
The purpose of Calibre Companion is to have Calibre information available to you on your iDevice (the primary version is the android version). As far as I can tell, iBooks (or Books as it's known now) doesn't have all the meta data available that Calibre does. There are several reading apps that talk directly to Calibre. I use Marvin and synced Marvin up with Calibre before Calibre Companion was ported to iOS from Android. Marvin works fairly well, though Marvin is now just a one way sync (from Calibre to Marvin) since the Marvin plug in stopped working a couple of years ago. No idea how well Maple Reader works or what type of library management it has. I've played with it a little bit, but not much.

Your main problem is that perfection doesn't really exist and frankly, most of these sort of apps can't make money, so they are works of love that are only updated sporadically. At one time, the Marvin/Calibre combo did much of what you want, but as I said, the two way sync was broken with an iOS update and the plug-in developer moved on to other things. That's the reality as I understand it.
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Old 09-30-2018, 09:14 PM   #5
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I understand. It's just that I had certain fundamental gripes with iBooks (now Apple Books) that drove me to seek alternatives. However, I'm now thinking the alternatives may be even worse than what iBooks offers. I will keep looking, and of course appreciate any further input. Still, thanks for taking your time to help.
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Old 10-01-2018, 08:22 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swineone View Post
I understand. It's just that I had certain fundamental gripes with iBooks (now Apple Books) that drove me to seek alternatives. However, I'm now thinking the alternatives may be even worse than what iBooks offers. I will keep looking, and of course appreciate any further input. Still, thanks for taking your time to help.
Sure. The old Marvin/Calibre solution with two way syncing sure was nice and several of us kept pushing the Marvin developer and plug-in developer (I think he was actually someone who had taken the code that the original plug-in developer had posted and modified it to keep it working for a while) to get together to find a new solution, but it never happened. I don't think that Marvin or the iOS version are under active development at this time, though the android version is. There is a very active forum for it here.

Yes, there are certain things about iBooks/Books that I don't like. That's why I use the CC/Marvin combination. It does most of what I need it to do. The only thing that I really miss is the percent read and finished reading sync.
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Old 10-07-2018, 10:06 AM   #7
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Since nobody else replied, I'd like to broaden the scope of the question a bit, by getting a little creative.

Since there's no eBook app that does what I want natively, what about treating this as a simple file sync problem, putting aside the fact that the files in question are eBooks?

Basically I see two options here:
  • An app for the Mac that can use the File Sharing feature (similar to iTunes), but which supports automatic syncing between an iPad app's files and a folder on my Mac. Anyone knows of one?
  • Lastly, a path I'd rather not take, I could use a cloud storage solution like OneDrive or Google Drive to sync my books to a supported reader (sounds like KyBook 3 would do the job). If anyone has gone down this path, with one of these two services (I have storage space avalable on both), could you report on your setup, which app you use, how well it works, etc.?
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Old 10-07-2018, 04:01 PM   #8
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I suspect that the reason you don't see a lot of response is because there are very few options in this area. I've been playing around trying to find the perfect solution for a number of years and really haven't run across anything that works better for me that what I currently use Calibre on the Mac, CC on the iDevice and Marvin as a reader. The real issue is that Calibre truly dominates the server market, so it becomes a question of writing plug ins to Calibre on the server side and libraries/reader apps on the iDevice side that communicates with those plug ins.

It's really a chicken and egg questions. The big three (Apple, Amazon and Kobo) have no incentive to support Calibre plug-ins since they want tie you into their infrastructure. Each is more interested in selling you books than providing a robust library management system.

The smaller reading apps (Marvin and MapleReader are the two main ones here, but there are others) seem to be one man shops. Now that CC is out there and gives 90% of what most who want an on device library app, there just isn't any real incentive to go the rest of the way. As I pointed out earlier, the market for this is so small, anyone who makes the effort to write a reading app does it more as a labor of love rather than as a money making venture. Unless someone writes a new app designed specific as a reader/library app and who goes the extra distance to support two way syncing with Calibre, what you see is what you have to work with.

The issue with file sharing is that you really can't sync that way with Apple's security model (the new security model is what broke the Marvin plugin). I think that you need to write a calibre plugin that syncs up wirelessly to make it work. It's certainly doable, but you need to find someone who is willing to put the time and effort into doing it.

No idea about the other path. I suppose that in theory, you could write an app designed to work with a cloud solution that reads and writes to the calibre database files. You would need to coordinate that with Calibre's developer and I don't know how keen he is to allow that approach rather than stick to the plug-in model that Calibre normally uses.
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Old 10-08-2018, 05:47 PM   #9
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Need a Calibre OPDS client plug-in

Quote:
Originally Posted by swineone View Post
Hello,
...
  • ...
  • I already purchased MapleRead SE, so if I could integrate that with whatever solution I decide to go with, that would be great. However, I'm open to spending some money if necessary (say up to $50) to implement my dream library management setup. However, I don't do subscriptions, on principle -- I'd rather pay $50 once than pay $20 or even $10 a year for an app.
I bought MapleRead SE several years ago, and the app has kept improving since then without charging me a single extra dime. In the meantime, I have spent thousands of dollars buying several generations of iPhones and iPads. Even though MapleRead SE has been my preferred ebook reader since then, I wouldn't have paid $50 in one shot. However, I wouldn't mind at all if I was charged $5 to $10 annually. That will give the developer a stronger incentive to continue updating.

...
Quote:
  • There doesn't seem to be the concept of syncing per se between Calibre and MapleRead. Rather, it seems like I need to add the Calibre OPDS content server to Maple Read, then tell it to download all books, and it will skip whichever books were already downloaded. Besides being a little awkward, it doesn't seem to take care of the reverse sync (iPad -> Mac), plus I have no idea if edited metadata in Calibre on the Mac will be reflected in MapleRead after a "sync", or if it will just skip over.
To be fair, I think the issue has equally have to do with Calibre's model. Currently Calibre insists to be a OPDS server, but not a client, even for another Calibre instance running on another device/computer. If it worked as a client, then MapleRead SE, acting as a server, could have easily transfer data to Calibre. Note that such an OPDS client plug-in would be mostly of generic nature, as OPDS is an open (vs. proprietary) protocol, that will potentially benefit all existing and future reader apps on iOS and Android.

If you have modified the metadata of some books in Calibre after downloading them to MapleRead, you can easily transfer the metadata from Calibre to MapleRead, if you select "Overwrite Metadata" instead of "Skip Book". It'll just take doing an experiment on one book to confirm that this is indeed the case.
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Old 11-08-2018, 01:31 PM   #10
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I've knocked up a script to sync Calibre to KyBook 2 here: https://github.com/karlic/calibre_to_kybook2.

KyBook 3 can bulk download from Calibre's OPDS. You could press the author for wireless device syncing here https://github.com/kolyvan/kybook/issues/91
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