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Branner Blog » reference management
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In response to user requests (questions that start off like: isn’t there a way to…, or wouldn’t it be nice if we could… and end with musings about the possibilities of doing it all: searching for references, saving/storing pdfs, tagging/labeling/manipulating/creating records, retrieving information, and incorporating it into the writing process), I’m trying to get a handle on the various bibliographic management tools out there. Our library serves a diverse set of users whose studies span the Earth Sciences from geologists and petroleum engineers to earthsystem-ists and environmental policy types. I don’t expect one tool to meet all of their needs, but I’ve suspected that we can offer different and better suggestions and solutions than Endnote and Refworks.

These two resources are great tools, but both can be a little bit clunky and pre-2.0. To date, our advice tends to fork at the intersection between web-based (Refworks) vs. local (Endnote), and free (we have a campus site license to Refworks) vs. pay (Endnote). (As an aside, you technically adept users who have found your way to the world of BibDesk/BibTeX, we’d love to hear what has worked for you.)

I may be coming late to the blogosphere on this topic, but as I’ve researched the options, I’ve realized that our preferences and observations as librarians are different from some of the other commenters out there so I hope this will be a useful exercise. In that spirit, I offer a review of some options that are out there (in no particular order), relying heavily on what others have written.

I have really enjoyed posts from Academic Productivity about reference management tools, and specifically on online reference management and its convergence with social networking tools. I recommend them, and the blog in general, if you’re interested in these topics.

Here are my picks:

    1. Zotero:
    Zotero lets you

    “gather, organize, and analyze sources (citations, full texts, web pages, images, and other objects), and lets you share the results of your research in a variety of ways. An extension to the popular open-source web browser Firefox, Zotero includes the best parts of older reference manager software (like EndNote)—the ability to store author, title, and publication fields and to export that information as formatted references—and the best parts of modern software and web applications (like iTunes and del.icio.us), such as the ability to interact, tag, and search in advanced ways.”

    I installed Zotero about a year ago, but really haven’t given it much time yet. I was excited about its potential as a way of managing ephemeral web content and pdfs, but haven’t used it much as a bibliographic tool.

    One extensive review that I found helpful comes from a PhD student in history. It’s a different perspective from over here in the sciences, but incredibly thorough and insightful.

    2. LibraryThing
    I mentioned LibraryThing a few posts ago and haven’t done much with it since. It is a great tool, but is geared toward books not articles, and although this is hardly a criticism, seems too much fun for work (ie. it doesn’t have that sobering “this is intended for an academic audience” disclaimer that some of the tools promise). Others might find this more useful, but in a journal-heavy discipline, it seems best left for hobby reading.

    3. Citeulike
    Citeulike is free and web-based. It allows you to export references to BibTeX or Endnote during the writing process. It stores links, not whole articles, and has been described as del.icio.us for academic papers. It’s an interesting iteration of the tagging/social bookmarking/sharing world as applied to academic content. You can install the citeulike bookmarklet in your browser, do your searching and click the link when you’re ready to add a reference. The service works with several publishers/platforms and extracts metadata from their sites so you don’t have to.

    Other services do this as well, but citeulike offers some nice points of discovery (always a sought-after feature for a librarian) including RSS feeds and watchlists allowing users to track the latest additions to particular tag categories as well as other users’ libraries. You can also monitor additions according to subject, as in the latest papers saved in “Earth/Environmental Science.”

    This article provided a good explanation of the features.

    4. Connotea
    Connotea, a web-based service from the Nature Publishing Group, has a lot in common with citeulike including: saving, organizing, tagging and sharing references. It is also free, and gives you the ability to discover new leads from other users. I found this review from Duke Library’s libraryhacks to be quite helpful.

I’ve been toying with the idea of making a table to compare the various options, but it’s been done. Here’s a comparison of reference management software from wikipedia with information about operating system compatability, ability to import and export citations, what citation styles are supported, database connectivity and word processor integration.

In the end, no one product does it all–it’s a personal choice, but all of this searching has left me with a few questions: is the social networking option important or just distracting? It seems really exciting now, but will it offer more than traditional citation linking? Do users want their libraries and references to be public? And, would anyone really subscribe to (and then follow) a feed consisting of updates to someone else’s library?

(This is first attempt. I expect that there will be updates to this topic down the line.)