Screen shot 2009-12-26 at 11.20.23 AM.pngIntroduction

Calibre is an open source ebook management tool. Simply put calibre allows you to organize your e-book collection, convert e-books to various formats and interact with your e-book reader all in an intuitive and friendly manner. It is compatible with Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, and 7 as well as Apple’s OS X (Intel only) and various flavors of Linux. It was created by Kovid Goyal who still leads it’s development and steers the direction of the project. In addition to Kovid a number people, such as myself, around the world contribute to the application.

The purpose of calibre is to make it easy to manage large and small collections of e-books. It does this in a few ways. It provides a means to organize, and search your collection so you can find the book you want when you need it. It can convert many e-book formants into other e-book formats. Also, there is tight integration with a number popular and obscure e-book readers.

The project is broken down into a few basic components. The graphical user interface (GUI), a number of command line tools, and an e-book reading application. However, all of the functionality is accessible though the GUI. These other tools are just another way to use the application. For instance, the command line tools are used by the ManyBooks service to convert on an as needed basis. The focus of this article will be the GUI and various tasks users often perform. Installing

The installation processes starts with you downloading the installer for your operating system. Run the installer and when it finishes launch calibre. You will now be greeted with the welcome wizard, which will help you configure parts of the application. The first page allows you to change the location calibre stores your e-books. If this is your first time using calibre, this should not be an existing e-book collection. Calibre manages the e-books you give it in it’s own way. Think of this directory as a black box. You don’t do anything with it. Let calibre do the work for you. If you have used calibre in the past and are installing a new version or have moved your library then it’s okay to point it at an existing calibre library.

top_tool_bar.png Click next to be presented with an e-book reader selection. If you’re device is not listed or if you intend to use more than one e-book reader don’t panic. Just choose “default” because this selection does not influence device detection. It mainly provides some tuning during conversion for formats that require fixed sizes. Click next and then finish. Congratulations, you’ve successfully installed and configured calibre. If at any time you want to run the welcome wizard again, click the downward facing arrow to the right of “Preferences” in the top tool bar and select “Run welcome wizard”.

The Main Library Window aka The GUI

main_window.png Once the welcome wizard finishes you will be presented with the main application window. There are a few components I would like to bring to your attention. The central piece is the main book list. This takes up the majority of the window and displays the books in a table. Right above it you will see the search area (more on this later) and above that a white box with the word Library. When you plug in a supported e-book reader an entry for it will appear next to Library in that white box. You can switch between looking at the books on the reader and in your Library by clicking on these items.

bottom.png The bar across the bottom of the window shows details about the selected book and displays the cover. If you click anywhere in the detail area (including on the book cover) another window will open that gives more information about the book.

coverflow.pngAlso along the bottom bar to the right of the detail area are a few icons. These icons are really buttons. The first one opens the cover flow view. Cover flow, for people who have never used an Apple product, displays the book covers in a fashion similar to how a juke box lays out albums. The selected book has the cover facing you while the rest face sideways. You can navigate though the book covers with the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard.

jobs.png The next icon looks like a dog tag and activates the tag browser. More on this later. Last is one of the most important pieces of the interface. The circle lines that say jobs at the bottom. Whenever calibre is working on something (conversion, sending books to the reader, downloading news, excreta) this will spin and the number next to jobs will change to the number of jobs (activities) calibre is working on. You can click on it to open the jobs dialog which will give you more information about what is happening.


Remember the main focus of calibre is meant to help you manage your e-book collection. Lets take a look at a few tasks that represent common activities: organizing, conversion, news downloading, dealing with devices and viewing e-books.

Task 1: Organizing

The first part of organizing is getting your e-books into calibre. Click the “Add books” button on the top tool bar and select the e-books you would like calibre to manage. When calibre imports your e-books it makes a copy of the book and stores it in the location that was set for it’s library. Once you’ve added your books calibre doesn’t care what you do with the originals.

metadata.pngWhen adding, calibre tries to read the metadata from the e-book. Metadata is information about the book that is stored within the e-book itself. Different formats support different information. Often the information is incomplete or just plain wrong. Don’t worry it is very easy to fix this. Click the book whose metadata you want to change so that it is selected. Then click the “Edit meta information” button on the top tool bar next to the “Add books” button. The metadata editor will open. The easy way to get the metadata correct is to either fill in the tile and author or the isbn (it’s better to use the isbn for the paper or hard back version not the e-book version) and click the “Fetch metadata from server” button at the bottom of the window. Calibre will open another window with possible matches for the information entered. If there is more than one match select the entry that looks best. A whole lot of information should be filled in now. To the right of the “Fetch metadata from server” button is the “Download cover” button. If the book doesn’t have a cover showing above this button or if you don’t like the cover click it to have calibre download one from the internet.

search.pngNow that you have you’re books in calibre there are a few different ways to find the book you are looking for. Searching is one of the fastest ways. Above the library table there is a search bar. Think of it like having Google built into calibre. Just type in what you are looking for. Be it author, title, series, or something else and watch as books that don’t match disappear. Don’t worry they are still in calibre they just aren’t shown if they don’t match the search terms.

tag_browser.pngAnother way calibre allows you to find a particular book is by using the tag browser that was mentioned earlier. When activated a list will appear to the left of the library. It allows for you to select specific information that you want shown in the library or that you don’t want shown in the library. Author, series, publisher, tags and news can all be shown or hidden. You might notice that as you enable items in the tag browser search queries are added to the search bar. This is because the tag browser is really just an easy way to create search queries. You could type the query directly into the search bar and see the same result but the tag browser is often easier to use.

Task 2: Conversion

Converting between different e-book formats is one of the most used features. It’s such an important topic that it warranted it’s own article. To learn more about converting e-books with calibre and why you should know how, please read The ABCs of e-book format conversion: Easy Calibre tips for the Kindle, Sony and Nook.

Task 3: Downloading News

This is an often over looked feature especially by people who own Amazon’s Kindle. Integrated into calibre is the ability to download news from a variety of sources. As of this writing 337 different sources from all over the world, including free and paid content is supported. The real advantage of having calibre manage your news subscriptions is, once downloaded the content will be formatted for reading on an e-book reader. However, you can still read the news right on your computer. If you’re going to be reading the downloaded news on an e-book reader it’s best to go into “Preferences” and under the general options set the “Preferred output format” to the preferred format for you’re e-book reader. This would be MOBI for Kindle, and EPUB for the Sony Readers as well as the Nook.

news.pngClick the “Fetch news” button in the middle of the top tool bar to open the news download scheduler. With 337 sources the best thing to do is find the ones you like and set them to automatically download at a time convenient for you. If you don’t want to schedule automatic downloads and would rather handle it manually, you can. Just use the “Download now” button that appears when you have selected a news source.

In the news download scheduler expand the categories that are relevant to you (the ones in languages you can read) by clicking the little arrows next to the bold text. Look thought the items and when you find one you like select it and check the “Schedule for download” check box on the right. You can also set how often and when you want it to download. Once downloaded it will be turned into an e-book.

By default when you attach your e-book reader calibre will automatically transfer the downloaded news to the device. If you don’t want this to happened and would rather transfer manually go into the “Preferences”, select the interface category and uncheck “Automatically send downloaded news to ebook reader”. Also, if you do want it send to the reader automatically it might be a good idea to check the “Delete news from library when automatically sent to reader” option in “Preferences”, interface.

Task 4.1: Interacting with E-book readers

In my mind the reason people start reading e-books as opposed to physical books is due to e-book readers. That’s precisely why I started collecting e-books. Calibre has full support for a number e-book readers both popular and obscure such as the Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, and Cybook Gen 3. All total calibre has integration with over 30 e-book readers. Yep, over 30. Everything from eInk devices like those I just mentioned to cell phones, and internet tablets.

white_box.pngAll you need to do is plug in your e-book reader. If it’s one calibre has support for an icon will appear next to the library in the white box above the search area. Clicking the icon will switch the main book list from your library to showing a list of books on the device. If you want to send a book to the device just switch back to your library, select the book and click “Send to device” in the top tool bar. It really is that simple. Another often used feature is to select a book on the device and click the “Remove books” button in the top tool bar. This does exactly what it says, it deletes the book from the device.

eject.pngOnce you’ve finished making changes to the e-books stored on your device put your mouse over the “Main Memory” icon for the device. You should be seeing an eject icon next to the mouse pointer. Clicking the eject button doesn’t do anything tricky, it ejects it from the computer. No need to go to “Safely remove hardware” in Windows, calibre has this built in through this button.

Task 4.2: E-book reader optional configuration

There are a number of different ways you can configure calibre to interact with your device but I’m only going to touch on the two most common. Open up “Preferences”, go to Add/Save and select the “Sending to device” tab. Here you can customize the save template. If you have experience with music tagging programs where you can create custom save locations this should look very familiar. The save template can be customized to change where e-books are saved on your device. If you have a device like the Kindle or Sony Reader this isn’t very useful and can safely be left with the default. If you have a device, like the Cybook Gen 3, that supports folders this is extremely useful. There are a number of variables (descriptions under the template) which can be used to change where the books are saved. Lets look at a basic example, “favorites/{title} – {authors}”. {title} will be replaced with the title of the book, {authors} will be replaced with it’s author and the book will be put into the favorites folder. All of the replacements that can be make in the save template are listed with descriptions under the entry area.

Another useful configuration change is disabling and reorganizing the supported formats. Lets use the Cybook Gen 3 (my primary reader) again as an example. In “Preferences”, Plugins, Device Interface plugins, select the Cybook Gen 3 Device Interface and click customize plugin. The first thing in the configuration for the device is the format list. Here you can uncheck formats you don’t want sent to your e-book reader. Also, you can reorder the formats. The format at the top of the list will be the one used for automatic conversion when sending an e-book in an unsupported (or unchecked) format to the device.

Task 5: The E-book Viewer

I’ve hinted that calibre has the ability to view e-books too. All you need to do is select the e-book you want to read and click the “View” button in the top tool bar to have calibre open the e-book in it’s e-book viewer. The viewer supports everything you might expect such as bookmarks, and navigating via the table of contents (if the e-book has one). One unfortunate limitation of the viewer shares with the conversion process is it cannot read books that have DRM.

Where to get help

The first place you should look is the “Preferences”. Funny as it may sound all of the options have clear descriptions and there a lot of options. If you want to change something about calibre there may already be an option for it. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the preferences because parts of it (conversion) are just defaults and will be presented to you at different times for fine turning on a per e-book basis.

The next place to look is the online user manual. There is a link in the main window right next to the big red heart for easy access. If you’re curious about the big red heart, click it. There is a wealth of information in the user manual including tips and common problems (solutions provided of course).

Finally, there is the calibre forum on Mobileread. This is the official help forum for calibre. There are a number of knowledgeable users who answer questions. Also, Kovid and myself actively participate in helping new and veteran users. If you have a question or need help this is the best place to go. If you’ve found a bug or would like to request a new feature it’s okay to ask about it on the forum but it’s also a good idea to submit it to the projects bug/issue tracking system. Forum posts tend to get lost over time while the tracking system makes it easy to see what needs fixing or worked on.


  1. Hi!

    Thank you for a very helpful article. I have downloaded the latest release 0.9 (as of this writing). The download did not include any default news sources or eBooks. Do you know where I might procure a list and where to put it?

    Many thanks,

    – Tom

  2. Dear Calibre Hello my name is Anthony and I have to create and e-pub and I just need to follow a format have to save one of my files on as a Rich text Format at(.rft) file.And then use calibre to export the file to an e-pub format. The download was available here I am using a Mac Book Pro I am available to use version of iBooks to create your e-pub file. I YOu you get a chance I need some technical support. thank you for taking the time to read my message, it was very much appreciated.
    From Anthony

  3. While I’m not sure what Anthony is asking, it may be that the latest version of Calibre (1.15) is one answer. There is a new book editor, capable of editing files in the EPUB and AZW3 (Kindle) formats.
    I haven’t worked with it yet but certainly plan to give it a look.

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