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How to index your bookshelves to find any item instantly

What’s the best way to organize a large collection of books? Alphabetical? The dewey decimal system? Pure aesthetics?

The answer, if you have an iPhone, is any way you like.

Thanks to the optical character recognition (OCR) features in iOS, you can use the Photos app to create a searchable index of your bookshelves, helping you find any tome in an instant. It’s a game-changer for anyone with a large collection of books, and it works for other items like board games and vinyl records too.

It’s really easy to set up and you don’t need to download any apps – this lesser-known functionality is built into every iPhone or iPad running iOS 15 or higher.

Index your bookshelves

All you need to do is snap a clear photo of all your bookshelves, and then wait a minute or two for the Photos app to work its indexing magic in the background.

Apple’s OCR is pretty impressive, but books with very small text can sometimes be missed if you snap your photos from too far away. To check which books have been successfully scanned, open one of your bookshelf photos and tap the Live Text button in the bottom right. You’ll see a faint highlight over every piece of text that was recognized. This can help you understand where the blind spots of your archive lie, or show you where you might need to retake a closer photo.

Find any book instantly

Open Photos and tap Search, then try typing a book title or author. Nine times out of ten, your photo will appear as a search result. Tap it and the text you’re looking for will be highlighted by a yellow dot. This works really well if your bookshelves value form over function and you have one author who shows up all over the place, as you’ll see with Neil Gaiman below.

If you’re searching a more generic term like “Dune” you may need to scroll beyond the automatic suggestions until you find the Text found in Photos section. Tap through and you’ll get the bookish results you’re looking for, rather than rolling sandy hills.