How to search your entire book collection with this Evernote system

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Evernote is an amazing tool for storing, organizing, and searching your digital notes. But if you’re like me and read a lot of physical books, etc., wouldn’t it be helpful if you could search those books from Evernote as well? Let me give you some examples.

Imagine being able to search your physical books for passages on climate change, but only in business books. Or articles about the Himalayas in travel magazines that you have stored in a box.

In this article, I’ll show you how to do just that. And no, that doesn’t involve the terrible idea of ​​digitizing all of your physical media (thank goodness).


Common tips that are not ideal for mortals

You can try saving the scanned passages to your Evernote library. Many Evernote gurus recommend it. This can work if you have a lot of spare time or if you rarely read. But it’s not as convenient as flipping through a book or magazine to find what you’re looking for.

You can also try typing manually each of the passages that interest you. It works, but only if you have the time and the tenacity to carry it out. For most of us mere mortals who like to highlight huge passages, typing them out is too much to ask.

To resolve this issue, I started creating notes in my Evernote library that serve as an index for the books, magazines, and reports I read.

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Each of these indexes corresponds to a book, a magazine, etc. individual on my shelves. This allows me to search for topics in each of these physical media in seconds.

Start building book indexes when you read

I started building personal book indexes after reading a 2007 blog post by Tim Ferriss on how to “take notes like an alpha geek”. Tim said,

“[…] the information is only useful if you can find it when you need it. “

This idea was then developed in a podcast that Tim recorded with Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. Well worth a listen.

To create your own indexes, nothing could be simpler. When something jumps out at you as you read, rather than quickly highlighting the passage and then continuing to read, do the following:

  1. Go to one of the blank pages at the beginning or end of the book.
  2. Write a word or two on the topic to which the passage relates.
  3. Note the corresponding page (s) next to it.

By the end of the book you will have something that looks like this (although maybe a bit sharper).



Creating an index of books

For magazines or reports that do not have a blank page, create the index on a separate sheet of paper, then attach it to the inside cover.

Save and tag your indexes in Evernote

When you’ve finished a book, create a new note in Evernote with a title that makes it clear that this note contains a book index.

Example: “Book Index – Lost Japan (by Alex Kerr)”.

In the main body of the note, manually enter your index. I prefer to prefix each subject with “BI. “(For” Book index “). This means that searching Evernote for “BI.Minimalism” will only display book notes that contain passages relating to minimalism. The other notes will not be taken into account in the search results.


I am also marking the note according to my Evernote organization system, which I have already written about. This system keeps my library organized no matter how many notes it contains.

This involves a tag explaining the type of content contained in the note and tags generally indicating the topics covered by the note. In the case below: culture and history.



Sample Evernote Book Index

Why not rely on OCR?

At this point, it should be noted that for premium users, Evernote offers optical character recognition. Evernote can search for text in images with OCR. If that works perfectly, you can upload a photo of your handwritten index in your note, and Evernote can then search for text in that image.

It sounds amazing in theory, but in practice I have found it not to be particularly reliable. If your photo isn’t up to par, or (more often) your handwriting isn’t legible enough, Evernote won’t be able to parse your index images for text.


Additionally, Evernote’s servers can take a long time to analyze your images, which can be frustrating.

Also try it yourself to see how manually entering an index like the one above will take less than 10 minutes. You can make sure that there are no typos. And you can be sure that if you ever need to stop using Evernote, your book indexes will still be searchable, even if your next note-taking app doesn’t provide OCR.

That said, if you wanted to go even further, you could photograph the indexes printed on the back of each of your books. It may take a few days for Evernote’s servers to scan these photos. But by uploading them to individual notes with a descriptive name, you’ve created all of those previously un-searchable indexes searchable from your Evernote account.


Search your indexes

When you need to find all of your personal book indexes at once, it’s very easy.

Want to find passages relating to “nature”? Search for “BI.Nature” in Evernote (adjusted for the taxonomy you decide to use). As you can see below, this research has shown me that I have more than one book on my shelves with some interesting passages on this topic. By clicking on the note itself, I can see the exact page (s) to turn to to find these passages.



Search the evernote book index

You can use this organizational system to make your book search more precise.

For example, if I want to search for “nature” related passages specifically in “history” books, this is also possible. A search for the relevant tag (for me that would be “3history”), and “BI.nature”, will show the required results. In this case, I only have one match.




evernote granular book index search

Get more value from your information

Considering the amount of information we all consume, there is a very real problem with memory and recall. This is especially important if you’re a student or knowledge worker who has a ton of information you need to stay organized.

It’s so easy to forget what we read, watch and see with the bombardment of information on our brains. This is why it is so important to capture the content that we deem valuable. We should be able to re-access and link these ideas in the future, with as little resistance as possible.


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