How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian

This is a tutorial explaining how to manage books and summaries in Obsidian, including how to create a list and a gallery of books

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian
My gallery of books in Obsidian

In this article, I explain how I now manage books and summaries in Obsidian. I discuss why I've switched from Goodreads to Obsidian, and why it's a great improvement to my Knowledge Management system.

Introduction

I've been a frustrated user of Goodreads for many years. Since they were acquired by Amazon, they've stopped evolving, and what once was an innovative web app became a dark corner of the Web.

Meanwhile, I've been using Obsidian more and more. It has already replaced many apps I was using previously. I've also started centralizing my book notes and summaries in Obsidian, and kept thinking about using metadata to track the books I want to read, those I'm busy reading, and those I've finished reading. Combining the library side with the summaries felt like a winning move.

I've now achieved my goal, and designed a cool system in Obsidian to track all my books and summaries. I've combined properties, plugins, and created a cool dashboard I can use to track my progress, and choose what to read next. I'll cover the implementation details in this post.

Now that it's there, all that I have left to do is to actually migrate my book library from Goodreads to Obsidian. And that might take a while... ;-)

PS: This system will soon be part of the Obsidian Starter Kit

Obsidian Starter Kit and community
Who is this for?You are just getting started with note-taking or you’ve recently switched to ObsidianYou wonder how to take smart notesYou want to know how to properly organize your notes and avoid creating an overwhelming messYou want a solid system that scalesYou wonder what Zettelkasten, the PARA method, and the Johnny decimal system areGetting started with Obsidian is not the hardest thing in the world, but it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how to structure and organize your knowledge base. You have a busy life, and you don’t want to spend weeks or even months figuring out the “right” approach.Note that this product is included in the Knowledge Worker Kit.What is this?This is NOT just a template. It’s a complete system with a detailed user guide.I’ve been passionate about information, knowledge management, and PKM for more than 20 years. As an author, blogger, knowledge worker, and entrepreneur, I needed solutions to store and organize an enormous amount of information.Over the years, I’ve explored, used, and advocated many tools but have been using Obsidian extensively since 2020. With the Obsidian Starter Kit, I offer you the result of my own research and experimentation. It’s like a cheat code to jump straight to stress-free note-making.I’ve spent months refining and perfecting my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system, and have spent countless hours tweaking my system. I’ve published a few articles to share some ideas about this. My system combines the Zettelkasten approach, the PARA method, the Johnny decimal system, and other ideas to create a solid basis for my work as an author, blogger, and content creator.The Obsidian Starter Kit is a ready-made Obsidian vault that includes my recommended organization system and plugins, as well as example notes to help you get started. It also comes along with a user-friendly guide.What’s included?If you buy access to the Obsidian Starter Kit, you’ll get:The Obsidian vaultA comprehensive and solid structure with support for Journaling and ZettelkastenLeveraging the PARA method and the Johnny Decimal systemMany recommended plugins to boost productivity and automate actionsA clear system for Journaling, Meeting Notes, Periodic reviews, etcMany templates to improve consistency and productivityA powerful dashboardMaintenance notes (e.g., find duplicate and orphaned notes)Automation rulesVarious examplesThe user guideLifetime access to the Personal Knowledge Management community for support and knowledge sharingIn addition, you’ll also get free access to all future updates. Over time, I’ll expand it step by step to include tutorials about the various aspects; from exploration/curation to summarization and reuse.What’s in the user guide?The user guide is a growing and evergreen knowledge base about how to take smart notes. It includes:Installation instructions.Details about the contents of the Obsidian Starter Kit (i.e., Obsidian vault structure, key design principles, included plugins, etc.)A clear overview of Obsidian and its core concepts (everything you should know and care about)Clear explanations about...The Zettelkasten methodAtomic notesProgressive summarizationThe PARA methodThe LIFT principleThe Johnny Decimal systemJournalingMaps of Content (MoCs)Periodic reviewsWhy and how to tag notesTemplatingThe Markdown syntaxWhy you need a single source of truth for everythingThe collector’s fallacyThe Inbox Zero principleHow to capture informationHow to capture quotesHow to capture information about persons of interestHow to extract knowledge from daily notesHow to save mental contextsObsidian tips and tricksWhat’s in the video course?The Obsidian Starter Course is a video course (~2h20) of content covering:Obsidian: installation, user interface, key features, plugins, automation, tips and tricks, etcThe Markdown syntaxYAML metadataPersonal Knowledge Management techniques and principles: the Johnny Decimal system, the PARA method (e.g., the Zettelkasten method, the LIFT principle, Atomic notes, Maps of Content, knowledge capture & extraction, etc)JournalingPeriodic reviewsTemplatesAutomationTask managementBest practices and recommendationsHands-on explanationsand more!Evergreen contentThe user guide of the Obsidian Starter Kit is expanding day after day, week after week. It will soon include:More theoryDetailed processes (e.g. when to take notes, how to use Zettelkasten in practice, daily notes, periodic reviews, ...)Additional how-to guidesMore tips and tricks...The Obsidian vault also evolves over time:The structure improvesNew templates are addedNew plugins are addedetcRefunds policyIf you’re not 100% satisfied, then just let me know, and I’ll issue a full refund. I’ll only ask you a single question: How can I improve the product?If you think about asking for a refund, then consider reaching out to me with your issues, questions, and remarks. I’m always available and happy to help. My goal is to help you succeed.Testimonials”Finally clickeđ how awesome @Obsidian is! Thanks to your excellent Obsidian Starter Kit!”— Cal Desmond-Pearson (@CalSocialHermit)“Off and running w/ @obsdmd. I’ve installed the app & have @dSebastien Starter Kit & my own fresh start Vault open. Learning from former & putting into practice w/ real content in latter. So far, so good”— Raymond D Sims (@rsims)“Great content - got me up to speed with what I was looking for fast ! Sébastien answered some questions by mail also which was much appreciated ! Thanks”— Sam Gonzales”As someone who has bounced around trying to find the right Knowledge tool, I’ve realized that many of my issues have been related to the complexity of the tools and the processes. The structure, design and explanations provided in the Obsidian Starter Kit have finally given me the foundation I’ve needed. 100% worth it”— Michael Aaron (via e-mail)“I absolutely love your kit and it has been so immensely helpful”— Ashwin Appiah (via e-mail)“Thanks for making the product. I’m making efforts to start using Obsidian more in my daily workflow and having a place to start makes the task much less daunting!”— Liam Weight (via Twitter DM)“I’m very new to PKM, but the Obsidian Starter Kit has been a tremendous help in getting me started”— Fredrik Nordström (via the PKM community Slack)“Sebastien’s Obsidian Starter Kit is a powerful tool for those looking to dive into the world of Obsidian without being overwhelmed. It’s a comprehensive solution that significantly shortens the learning curve, providing an impressively structured way to start capturing notes and facilitating daily journaling. The kit’s integration of automated tasks and pre-designed templates are a boon to beginners, alleviating the initial intimidation of starting from scratch. If you’re new to Obsidian and need a solid starting point, this starter kit comes highly recommended. It doesn’t just help you navigate Obsidian, but also empowers you to harness its full potential right from the get-go.”— Lubos KolouchFredrik (via the PKM community Slack)“Just to thank the work and content that allowed me to discover the background of a custom vault. It was a real boost for me and given the price, it was a real investment of time and learning.”— Trobrillant

Why leave Goodreads and similar apps?

There are multiple reasons why I wanted to get away from Goodreads. Some of those apply to other tools as well. First of all, as I said, Goodreads hasn't improved in many years. It's just one more channel for Amazon to sell books. Yes, it has some use, such as discovering new books, reading user reviews, etc. But those advantages come at a price: one more information silo to maintain. And in practice, I can get those benefits without having to centralize my book library over there.

Second, there's a lot of value in centralizing knowledge in a single tool such as Obsidian: the ability to connect ideas. Having book notes and book summaries in Obsidian, I can connect the ideas in my summaries with other notes in my system, enabling me to actually build upon and leverage the knowledge I have acquired.

Third, it means I have one less app to care about, and as I've argued before, fewer apps means fewer worries, and fewer integration issues.

Last but not least, Goodreads and other similar apps could disappear anytime, and I would either lose my data, or be forced to find ways to migrate it. Now that I have full control over my data, nothing/noone can take it away from me.

Overview

Here's a quick overview of the solution:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - final books gallery.png

The same information can also be seen as a data table:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - books table overview.png

To achieve this, I've combined:

The Book Search plugin is the one responsible for fetching all the metadata about books (it uses an API of Google to do so), and for creating book notes containing all the information (including the book cover when available).

The Projects plugin makes it a breeze to create dashboards and galleries.

Finally, the Templater plugin enables creating very powerful and versatile templates.

Pre-requisites

Simply install, and enable all the plugins I've listed in the previous section.

Create the book template

The Book Search plugin relies on a Templater template to create new notes and insert the metadata it has fetched.

Go ahead, and create a new template file. I've called mine "TPL Book Note". Add the following content to it:

<%"---"%>
<%*" <!-- Statuses: To Read, Reading, Read, To Read Again, References --> "%>
status: To Read
title: "{{title}}"
subtitle: "{{subtitle}}"
description: "{{description}}"
categories: [{{category}}]
authors: [{{author}}]
published_on: {{publishDate}}
publisher: {{publisher}}
pages: {{totalPage}}
isbn: {{isbn10}}
cover: {{coverUrl}}
local_cover: {{localCoverImage}}
link: 
tags:
- book_notes
- books
- summaries
<%"---"%>

# <% tp.file.title %>
- Author(s): {{author}}
- Link: 

![[{{localCoverImage}}|200]]

# Brief description


# Key quotes
> ...

# Key ideas
...

# Chapter 1: ...
...

## References
- 

You can of course customize it as you wish. Note that all the {{...}} blocks are specific to the Book Search plugin. You can find the full list of supported variables here.

Also, notice that I have decided to use the following values for the status property:

  • To Read
  • Reading
  • Read
  • To Read Again
  • References

Again, don't hesitate to use something else if you want.

Note that this template is one of the many that are included in the Obsidian Starter Kit:

Obsidian Starter Kit and community
Who is this for?You are just getting started with note-taking or you’ve recently switched to ObsidianYou wonder how to take smart notesYou want to know how to properly organize your notes and avoid creating an overwhelming messYou want a solid system that scalesYou wonder what Zettelkasten, the PARA method, and the Johnny decimal system areGetting started with Obsidian is not the hardest thing in the world, but it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how to structure and organize your knowledge base. You have a busy life, and you don’t want to spend weeks or even months figuring out the “right” approach.Note that this product is included in the Knowledge Worker Kit.What is this?This is NOT just a template. It’s a complete system with a detailed user guide.I’ve been passionate about information, knowledge management, and PKM for more than 20 years. As an author, blogger, knowledge worker, and entrepreneur, I needed solutions to store and organize an enormous amount of information.Over the years, I’ve explored, used, and advocated many tools but have been using Obsidian extensively since 2020. With the Obsidian Starter Kit, I offer you the result of my own research and experimentation. It’s like a cheat code to jump straight to stress-free note-making.I’ve spent months refining and perfecting my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system, and have spent countless hours tweaking my system. I’ve published a few articles to share some ideas about this. My system combines the Zettelkasten approach, the PARA method, the Johnny decimal system, and other ideas to create a solid basis for my work as an author, blogger, and content creator.The Obsidian Starter Kit is a ready-made Obsidian vault that includes my recommended organization system and plugins, as well as example notes to help you get started. It also comes along with a user-friendly guide.What’s included?If you buy access to the Obsidian Starter Kit, you’ll get:The Obsidian vaultA comprehensive and solid structure with support for Journaling and ZettelkastenLeveraging the PARA method and the Johnny Decimal systemMany recommended plugins to boost productivity and automate actionsA clear system for Journaling, Meeting Notes, Periodic reviews, etcMany templates to improve consistency and productivityA powerful dashboardMaintenance notes (e.g., find duplicate and orphaned notes)Automation rulesVarious examplesThe user guideLifetime access to the Personal Knowledge Management community for support and knowledge sharingIn addition, you’ll also get free access to all future updates. Over time, I’ll expand it step by step to include tutorials about the various aspects; from exploration/curation to summarization and reuse.What’s in the user guide?The user guide is a growing and evergreen knowledge base about how to take smart notes. It includes:Installation instructions.Details about the contents of the Obsidian Starter Kit (i.e., Obsidian vault structure, key design principles, included plugins, etc.)A clear overview of Obsidian and its core concepts (everything you should know and care about)Clear explanations about...The Zettelkasten methodAtomic notesProgressive summarizationThe PARA methodThe LIFT principleThe Johnny Decimal systemJournalingMaps of Content (MoCs)Periodic reviewsWhy and how to tag notesTemplatingThe Markdown syntaxWhy you need a single source of truth for everythingThe collector’s fallacyThe Inbox Zero principleHow to capture informationHow to capture quotesHow to capture information about persons of interestHow to extract knowledge from daily notesHow to save mental contextsObsidian tips and tricksWhat’s in the video course?The Obsidian Starter Course is a video course (~2h20) of content covering:Obsidian: installation, user interface, key features, plugins, automation, tips and tricks, etcThe Markdown syntaxYAML metadataPersonal Knowledge Management techniques and principles: the Johnny Decimal system, the PARA method (e.g., the Zettelkasten method, the LIFT principle, Atomic notes, Maps of Content, knowledge capture &amp; extraction, etc)JournalingPeriodic reviewsTemplatesAutomationTask managementBest practices and recommendationsHands-on explanationsand more!Evergreen contentThe user guide of the Obsidian Starter Kit is expanding day after day, week after week. It will soon include:More theoryDetailed processes (e.g. when to take notes, how to use Zettelkasten in practice, daily notes, periodic reviews, ...)Additional how-to guidesMore tips and tricks...The Obsidian vault also evolves over time:The structure improvesNew templates are addedNew plugins are addedetcRefunds policyIf you’re not 100% satisfied, then just let me know, and I’ll issue a full refund. I’ll only ask you a single question: How can I improve the product?If you think about asking for a refund, then consider reaching out to me with your issues, questions, and remarks. I’m always available and happy to help. My goal is to help you succeed.Testimonials”Finally clickeđ how awesome @Obsidian is! Thanks to your excellent Obsidian Starter Kit!”— Cal Desmond-Pearson (@CalSocialHermit)“Off and running w/ @obsdmd. I’ve installed the app &amp; have @dSebastien Starter Kit &amp; my own fresh start Vault open. Learning from former &amp; putting into practice w/ real content in latter. So far, so good”— Raymond D Sims (@rsims)“Great content - got me up to speed with what I was looking for fast ! Sébastien answered some questions by mail also which was much appreciated ! Thanks”— Sam Gonzales”As someone who has bounced around trying to find the right Knowledge tool, I’ve realized that many of my issues have been related to the complexity of the tools and the processes. The structure, design and explanations provided in the Obsidian Starter Kit have finally given me the foundation I’ve needed. 100% worth it”— Michael Aaron (via e-mail)“I absolutely love your kit and it has been so immensely helpful”— Ashwin Appiah (via e-mail)“Thanks for making the product. I’m making efforts to start using Obsidian more in my daily workflow and having a place to start makes the task much less daunting!”— Liam Weight (via Twitter DM)“I’m very new to PKM, but the Obsidian Starter Kit has been a tremendous help in getting me started”— Fredrik Nordström (via the PKM community Slack)“Sebastien’s Obsidian Starter Kit is a powerful tool for those looking to dive into the world of Obsidian without being overwhelmed. It’s a comprehensive solution that significantly shortens the learning curve, providing an impressively structured way to start capturing notes and facilitating daily journaling. The kit’s integration of automated tasks and pre-designed templates are a boon to beginners, alleviating the initial intimidation of starting from scratch. If you’re new to Obsidian and need a solid starting point, this starter kit comes highly recommended. It doesn’t just help you navigate Obsidian, but also empowers you to harness its full potential right from the get-go.”— Lubos KolouchFredrik (via the PKM community Slack)“Just to thank the work and content that allowed me to discover the background of a custom vault. It was a real boost for me and given the price, it was a real investment of time and learning.”— Trobrillant

How to configure the Book Note plugin

Now that your template is created, go to the settings of the Book Note plugin, and configure the following parameters. I've listed my own values, but adapt those based on your own needs:

  • New file location: 30 Areas/32 Literature notes/32.03 Book notes
    • That's where new book notes will be created
  • New file name: {{title}} (book)
    • That's how the book notes will be named. For example: "Essentialism (book)"
    • You can find the list of possible parameters here
  • Template file: 50 Resources/54 Templates/TPL Book Note.md
    • Where the template to use is located
  • Locale: English
  • Disabled "Ask for locale"
    • I only want English book notes, but if you want, you can also select the locale each time
  • Enabled "Cover Image Save"
    • I want the plugin to save a copy of the book cover in my vault
  • Cover image path: 50 Resources/51 Attachments
    • Where the cover image should be saved in your vault

How to create a new book note

To add a new book note to your vault, you can click on the book icon in the left toolbar, or invoke the "Book Search: Create new book note" command:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - create new book note command.png

After that, just type in the name of the book and select the one you want from the list of suggestions:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - selection.png

If you don't find the right book, search again, and add the author name.

Once you confirm, the Book plugin will fetch the necessary information, create the new note, and use the template. The new book note should look like this:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - new book.png

Now, you have an easy way to add new books to your vault. You can write your summaries in those book notes, and connect the ideas with the rest of your knowledge base. Cool!

The awesome part is that you can also easily publish those book notes and summaries using Obsidian Publish.

How to create a book list

Now that you have book notes, you can create a book list. I've chosen to create mine using the Projects plugin for Obsidian. That plugin makes it a breeze to create data tables and galleries based on the metadata present in your notes. I use that plugin for my books, but also for the articles and videos I'm preparing, my ongoing projects (e.g., the Knowledge Management course), etc.

Knowledge Management for Beginners (PREORDER)
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This course will equip you with the tools to curate a personal learning journey that’s both enriching and manageable.The Knowledge Worker: If you’re a knowledge worker seeking ways to manage the deluge of information you encounter daily, this course is your beacon. Whether you’re a student, a professional, or an entrepreneur, mastering Knowledge Management will set you apart in your journey.The Productivity Seeker: For those who are always on the lookout for ways to optimize their workflow and enhance productivity, “Knowledge Management for Beginners” offers a roadmap. Learn how to streamline your processes, make informed decisions, and leverage your knowledge for maximum impact.Whether you’re looking to overcome information overload, enhance your learning efficiency, or simply get more organized, “Knowledge Management for Beginners” is your first step towards transforming how you interact with knowledge. Join us, and unlock the full potential of your intellectual assets.Note that this product is included in the Knowledge Worker Kit.What is this course about?“Unlock Your Intellectual Potential with Knowledge Management for Beginners”, a video course that will Transform Your Intellectual Landscape, Learning and Thinking. Are you ready to take control of your learning and thinking in a way you never thought possible?“Knowledge Management for Beginners” offers an immersive experience into the world of Knowledge Management. This video course is designed to empower you with the skills, strategies, and tools necessary to master the art of Knowledge Management (KM) and Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), where managing your Knowledge effectively becomes second nature.At its core, this course is about turning chaos into order, complexity into simplicity, and information into actionable knowledge. This course breaks down complex concepts into digestible, actionable lessons. 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If you buy access now, you’ll benefit from the lowest price. You will also get early to the course.Draft table of contents:IntroductionInformation Management vs Knowledge ManagementPersonal Knowledge Management (PKM)Main parts of PKMPersonal Knowledge Management SystemsCore concepts of Personal Knowledge ManagementNote-takingNote-makingDumb vs Smart notesThe power of externalization and centralizationAtomic notesConnecting ideasKnowledge GraphsMaps of ContentCapturing information and knowledgeJournalingPeriodic reviewsPersonal Knowledge Management SystemHow to Organize your KnowledgeThe need for having a Single Source of TruthThe need for centralizingKnowledge typesKnowledge StoresMethodsPARAJohnny DecimalNaming conventionsOrganizing it allStructuresTagsMetadataHow to design your own Personal Knowledge Management systemHow to pick your toolsWhat to pay attention toWorkflowsOverview of my systemWhy and how to go from analog to digitalHow to ingest new knowledgeHow to remove busyworkHow to avoid losing your informationRefunds policyIf you’re not 100% satisfied, then just let me know, and I’ll issue a full refund. I’ll only ask you a single question: How can I improve the product?If you think about asking for a refund, consider reaching out to me with your issues, questions, and remarks. I’m always available and happy to help. My goal is to help you succeed.

Assuming you have installed the Projects plugin, you should now be able to open it using the "Open Projects" button in the left sidebar, or using the "Projects Show projects" command (CTRL/CMD + P):

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - show projects command.png

Once you're in Projects, you can click on the "Create new project" button in the top left corner. This will open the following dialog:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - new project.png

You can see how I've configured mine above. Note that I've used a "Folder" as data source, and set the path to the folder where I store my book notes.

After hitting the "Create project" button, I got this table:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - books table.png

Quite cool already, but a bit too crowded. Luckily, you can easily customize that table.

First, you can hide some fields using the "Hide fields" drop-down in the top right corner. I've decided to hide the following fields:

  • Path
  • Categories
  • Cover
  • Created
  • ISBN
  • Local Cover
  • Public note
  • Published on
  • Publisher
  • Subtitle
  • Tags
  • Title
  • Updated

Second, you can modify the sort order. I've decided to sort by "Status", from Z to A, in order to have the books I have yet to read displayed first.

This is what the end result looks like:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - books table overview.png

That's much better!

A table view is quite nice, but a gallery is way better. Using the Projects plugin, you can also create one. To do so, click on the "+" on top, next to the Table drop-down, in order to create a new view of the same information:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - Adding the gallery view.png

This will open the "Add new view" dialog:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - Gallery view creation screen.png

Then, customize that view to make it look better, and show the right information.

First, set the cover (top right) to local_cover (assuming you also save the book covers locally):

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - Gallery - cover.png

Second, configure the cover to "Fit Image":

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - Gallery cover fit.png

Third, include the fields you want on the gallery cards. I have decided to include the following ones:

  • Authors
  • Description
  • Pages
  • Status
  • Tags

Finally, you can also set the sort order. Once again, I have sorted the results by "Status", from Z to A.

And tadaaaa, a beautiful books gallery:

How I manage books and summaries in Obsidian - final books gallery.png

I don't know about you, but I just love this gallery.

Conclusion

There you have it, a simple way to add book notes to your Obsidian vault, with all the metadata, cover images, etc. And a project with a data table view and a beautiful gallery view.

Now, you can also get rid of Goodreads and similar apps.

If you liked this article, then you might also want to take a look at the Obsidian Starter Kit, which is a powerful Obsidian vault, full of plugins, templates, automation, and accompanied by a detailed user guide. That system is a 1:1 copy of mine. It has stood the test of time, scales really well, and is used by hundreds of happy customers.

References

While exploring this, I've taken inspiration from various sources: