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Setting Up A New Library With Calibre: User Created Columns, Saved...

Part two of settling up a new library with Calibre.  The first can be found here for plugins and metadata. 

Once you have the books entered into your library, you can then manipulate the data. Calibre now allows you to create your own custom columns.  Calibre comes with columns for Title, Title Sort, Author, Author Sort, Date of Publication, Date (that you add the book to Calibre), Size of the file, Rating, Tags, Series, Publisher, Description.

Creating User Defined Columns

To create a column, CTRL/CMD + P (This opens Preferences).  From the first row of icons, click on the button: Add your own columns.

add your own columns

Or simply position your mouse on the header bar of the database page and right click:

Right click add your own columns

Use the green and red buttons to add and delete user create columns.   Here I’ve created “want” “read”, “price”, “reader comments”.    You can define the type of column.   Want and Read are Yes/No while Price is an integer and Reader Comments is long form text.  If you downloaded the Pages plugin we discussed last week, you would want to create a “Word Count” and “Page Count” plugin, both integer.  The checkmarks indicate which columns will show on the database page.

I marked the books that I want to buy under “want” as yes.   I’ve marked books under “Read” as “blank/Yes/No.”   Blank means “To be read”.   The yes/no type column actually has three choices.   Also important to remember is the lookup name for the user generated column. The lookup name will be vital for searching.  You cannot have spaces in the Lookup name.

Now that I have marked my wants, I can create a buy list.

want calibre search

First, I am going to create a custom search.   For all my user created columns, I need to use # in front of the lookup name for the column. For “want“, I would enter in the “search box.”


I am going to save this search by naming it in the “Saved Searches”   (Click and start typing).   I’ve named this my “To Buy List” search.   Click on the green plus sign. You can double check by clicking on the saved searches drop down box.

You can also create a TBR search by


The false means that there is no entry at all (neither yes or no).   Enter “TBR” (or whatever you would want to name this list) in the “saved searches” box and then click the green plus sign to save.

So now you have a searchable and sortable list for your wants and your TBRs.   You can continue to create as many columns and saved searches as you want.  Some other columns that might be helpful:

  • Price
  • Print/eBook
  • Location of purchase
  • Date Begun
  • Date Finished
  • Date Abandoned
  • Original/Republication
  • Genre
  • Subgenre

You can select which columns you see. Simply right click on the header bar and hide and add columns as you like.

Multiple Libraries

You can have as many libraries as you want. Instead of creating a column that sorts Paper and Digital books perhaps you want to create a different library for just paper books.   Click on the bookshelf button in the toolbar

library icon
Then change the location of the ebooks to a new folder such as “My Dropbox\Calibre\PaperBooks”.   I maintain three: one for books I’ve purchased, one for ARCs and one that contains no ebook files but generates the Dear Author coming soon catalogs.
move library to new location calibre


Plugboards are difficult for me to understand but one great feature is the ability to use a plugboard to insert the series name into a file when it is sent to your device.  That way your books can be sorted on your device, in order of their series appearance.  This is to get around the lame way that ebook readers allow you to sort your content.  Basically you are using the calibre template language to combine already existing fields into new fields.

{series}{series_index:0>2s| – | – }{title}:  Turner Brothers – 01 – Unveiled

Let’s unpack this.  The field name inside the brackets {} correspond to the field lookup name.  In the above example, we have the following metadata:

metadata example of author title series

By using a plugboard, we are asking Calibre to change the title when it it sent to the device from “Unveiled” to  “Turner Brothers – 01 – Unveiled” which is the {series} + {series_index:0>2s| – | – } + {title}.

  • series=Turner Brothers
  • series_index:0>2s| – | –
    • 0>2s – two digits with leading zeros.  If you did 0>3s it would be three digits with leading zeros.  0<3s would result in a digit with three trailing zeros.
    • “| – | – ” places the dashes around the series. field:|prefix_text|suffix_text is the formula.  Here we have space pipe space as the prefix (or the text before the digit) and space pipe space as the suffix (the text after the digit).  If I changed it {series_index:0>2s|*|*} the result would be Turner Brothers*01*Unveiled.  Notice the lack of spaces.
  • title=Unveiled

Putting this together, access Preferences and then select Plugboard:

plugboard preferences calibre

Format: Here you choose which format you to apply the plugboard to.  Perhaps you have a Kindle and an iPad and want to use different plugboards for Mobi and ePub.

  • Device: Choose the device you want to apply the plugboard to.  I’ve selected “email” so that every time I email a file to myself, the title becomes title, series, series number.
  • Source template: This where you enter the fields:{title}{series_index:0>2s| [|] }{series}
  • Destination field: authors, author_sort, language, publisher, tags, title, title_sort.  Here I’ve chose Title. (Click on image for larger image).  I like to use a slightly different format:  {title}{series_index:0>2s| [|] }{series}

calibre plugboard email

SAVE  your plugboard.  You can test out what the plugboard will look like by creating a custom column created from other columns. Review the top of this post to refresh your recollection on how to create a custom column.  This time you are going to create a custom column based on other columns which is essentially what you do with plugboards.  Paste in the formula you would like to use for the title.  Remember in the Lookup name you cannot have blank spaces.

custom column created from other columns


You’ll have to restart every time you add a new column, however, you can edit the formula (and tweak it to get it just right) without restarting Calibre by simply clicking in the new column you created.  When you restart, the column will be filled in (or populated) from the other metadata that is already in the database.

results of the test plugboard column

And this is what it looks like on my iPhone:

iPhone results after plugboard

But, if you can only sort by Title or Author, then you want to start with the series.  Turner Brothers [01] – Unveiled.

Series series number title

You can use custom columns created from other columns to eliminate things like articles from the series names like “The”, “A”, etc.  This would be akin to the “author sort” or “title sort”.  Create a “series_sort” custom column.  In the “Template” section enter the following:  {series:re(^(A|The|An)\s+,)||}

This takes the series and strips out “A”, “The”, and “An”.  Then when doing the plugboard, instead of {series} you would use {#series_sort} (you need to add the # for any user generated column).  Actually, if you create a custom column, then just reference the custom column in the plugboard.  That way any modifications you make to the custom title will be automatically reflected in the plugboard.

Whew.  Plugboards require a little concentration but it is a powerful harnessing of data that is already entered. To get more hints and tips on how to use plugboards, visit Mobile Read.

Next week Getting eBooks from Calibre to Your Device Using Send to Device and the Connect/Share Functions.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Keishon
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 08:33:13

    With all these powerful management tools, I still can’t manage my ebook collection any better than I do. But I am working on that. I love the plugboards feature and see that you have mentioned something I didn’t know how to do. Will give it a shot. Thanks for this excellent write-up.

  2. becca
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 11:29:26

    I love this series. You’re really helping me use Calibre better. I don’t understand plugboards either (much less why they’re called that) — maybe Kovid can do a guest column explaining them?

  3. becca
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 11:41:12

    don’t forget that, after adding the series number-title plugboard, you have to re-convert the document to make the changes stick.

  4. Jane
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 12:37:12

    @becca: You don’t need to re convert to make the changes stick with the plugboard. The change occurs on the trigger, ie., whether it is send to the device or email or save to file.

  5. library addict
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 13:51:03

    I think the plugboard was what I used to create “All Books by Author” and “All Books by Title” collections on my Sony. It’s been so long since I set that up though, I don’t remember.

    I also like the fact that when I send books to my Sony via Calibre, it keeps the books in the correct order within the series collection without actually changing the book name. For example, the In Death books appear by their title in the alphabetical lists, but if I go to the “In Death” collection on my reader, they appear in series order. I think this a feature of the series tags. I’m not sure how that all works. I just love that it does.

    I never thought to create a separate library for my print books. That’s such a daunting task and I already have a list I maintain in Word, but that’s something to think about. So thanks for the idea.

    I just recently made a new Calibre library for books I didn’t want to keep on my reader, but didn’t want to totally delete. I called it Calibre Vault. I know I could just not add the books to my reader, but I dislike not having that check mark appear in the “on device” column – LOL. I added a custom column in my Vault Library that I called “Archive Date”. I put it as the first column mainly so I will immediately see that I am in the Vault library rather than the Calibre library. Hopefully it will stop me from adding books to the wrong library.

  6. Jane Davitt
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 15:02:47

    My young daughter has a Kobo like me and this has made me realize that we don’t need to use the same Calibre so to speak. I set up a separate library for her and now my reading list is empty of Babysitter’s Club books and hers is free of all my romances, mysteries, and ‘boring old-fashioned ones for kids I’m never going to read, Mommy’.

    Thank you!

  7. becca
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 19:37:31

    @Jane: Thanks, Jane. I think there’s something wrong with my plugboard rule, because I copied and pasted your rule, and it doesn’t seem to work. I’ll have to write for help at MobileRead, I think.

  8. willaful
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 00:04:36

    Thanks for all this great info, Jane. Do you know, is there an easy way to move a book from one Calibre library to another?

  9. Jane
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 00:12:54

    @willaful: I think the easiest way is to “O” for open and then copy the book file onto the desktop. Switch libraries and then drag the book file onto calibre.

  10. Sherman
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 01:00:06

    @Jane @willaful:
    If you have multiple libraries, you can right click a (or multiple) book(s), and there will be a “Copy to library” option.

  11. Lada
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 08:46:59

    Really appreciate the lessons on how to get the most out of Calibre. So much I’m not taking advantage of. Wish I had read the comments before transferring books to new library because now I’m working on getting metadata again. Oh well, it was a good project to work on while watching football all weekend. (Sorry about your Packers, Jane!)

  12. MarieC
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 09:37:23

    Thanks for the info! Hopefully, I won’t screw anything up trying the plugboards!

  13. Angela James
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 10:28:21

    @Sherman: to further elaborate on Sherman’s answer, you can also select copy to library (delete after copy) option. I keep a separate library for books I have to update metadata on, and this is how I copy it to my main library once I’ve updated it and then it deletes from the “extra” library.

  14. willaful
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 11:04:24

    Many thanks! Angela’s method is perfect. I have a lot of out of copyright classics that I want to *keep* but don’t necessarily want to read any time soon, so having a second library is terrific.

  15. Lobo
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 14:35:18

    Love this series for the great tips. I never thought I could manage my print books with Calibre what a good idea! Now I am off to put my librarian skills in action.

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