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Dr Alistair Brown
Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Bibliography Software


Work with books for some time, and you are soon going to lose track of what you have read and what you own. Finding myself in this position, I have been scouting around for some form of database to allow me to keep track of my reading, and here I review four possible solutions.


Needs and Options

In terms of my requirements for such a piece of software, firstly, there had to be some way of searching for particular keywords. This would let me create one single large collection, in which I could plug not only those books which I know have proved useful or which are acknowledged as vital in their particular field, but also those various articles, newspaper reports, websites, even radio programmes which I come across and which seem interesting, even if they are not at the moment relevant to my work. Keywords allow these to be included, without confining them from the start to a particular specialist database in a particular subject field.

Secondly, I wanted something that would link directly to files both on- and off-line. The Internet provides etexts of both primary and secondary works, and whilst it is possible to keep a list of browser bookmarks, it makes much more sense to keep all the data together, making it simple to switch between locating a hard copy of a book, and finding the etext which corresponds to that edition, enabling searches for keywords or phrases. Equally, it makes sense to associate your own documents such as notes, abstracts and reviews with the particular books to which they refer.

With this wish-list, I considered four options:

I am aware that I am not comparing like with like in this list, and it might have been fairer to compare Biblioscape (the parent version of Biblioexpress) with the latter two. However, I wanted to try a range across price bands rather than comparing them on features, many of which (apart from the fundamental requirements above) I would not need anyway.

Database or Standalone?

The most flexible solution is to create your own database. Whilst there are some free Open Source databases out there, only Microsoft Access 2000 (and its later variants) offers the user-friendly but powerful interface, whilst other databases tend to fall into providing either the former, or the latter, but not both. Of particular use for a bibliographic project, Access allows you to create links within databases to online resources and files on the hard drive. Using Access, one could create a database which corresponds specifically with one's particular needs; in the case of all the standalone bibliographic software, there are many surplus fields which clutter up the screen. However, unless you already own a copy of Office, Access is of comparable price to the stand-alone software, yet it takes both time and knowledge to set it up to work as easily and effectively as you want. In addition, features such as retrieving information from online bibliographic sources is not possible. Copying citations into Word documents would be possible, using the mailmerge field and the use of macros but, once again, this requires an initial outlay on your part.

Ease of Use

In terms of user friendliness, all four options take some getting used to although (with the exception of Biblioexpress) they come with substantial manuals and help systems. As might be expected of a pared-down version of its parent software, Biblioexpress is perhaps the easiest to use, with four tabs at the top of the screen enabling you to switch between reference information, writing an abstract, writing notes (a neat feature, which saves one from keeping separate word files for synopses or notes) and seeing a list of all the information you have entered.

Endnote is presented with a large print list organised by author, year and title. To input information, you have to go to a new screen, and simply type and tab down until you have filled in each of your required fields.

Initially, Reference Manager looks the most daunting, displaying every field of a reference on screen above a list of existing references. However, one you get used to the clutter, it becomes easier than Endnote to edit existing references, as you can do it from one screen rather than (as is the case with the former two) going into a new component.

Keywords and Searching

Keywords are vital to the bibliographical project, as they allow you to associate books with particular fields of interest specific to you. For example, you might want to list Joseph Conrad under “colonialism” or “Polish,” or file Woolf under “modernism” (if you are interested in a period) or “feminism” (if you are interested in a movement) or, of course, both (if you think the two are inseparable).

One obvious problem with this is that you may forget, when adding new references, how you keyworded the old (did I use “feminism” or “feminist” or “female writing” for Woolf?). Although as you enter keywords for a reference Endnote informs you whether these have already been used by highlighting your text, Reference Manager goes a step further and calls up a dialog box containing all your existing keywords, from which you can click to insert them. In addition, it scans the title of the book or article and if it finds an existing keyword in this, it copies it automatically to the keyword field.

Searching for words (or books, authors etc.) in all three is easy, although only Biblioexpress offers a quicksearch option at the top of every screen. However, only Endnote and Reference Manager allow you to produce printed bibliographies based on fields such as keywords or authors. These look very neat and professional, and are equally easy to develop on both kits.

Exporting and Importing Between Programs

Biblioexpress does come with some export filters to copy files to Endnote format. However, these were only partially successful, dropping off some letters on conversion; at the other end, it is difficult to know which import filter to select in Endnote. As you would expect, because they come from the same publisher copying files between Endnote and Reference Manager works very smoothly.

As a further note on files, Biblioexpress and Endnote create subdirectories to hold your bibliographical information, which can look slightly clumsy, and may make it more difficult to know which files to back up or send to third-parties. Reference Manager, by contrast, creates just two files.

Citation Formats

All the specialist software supports a vast array of bibliographical styles. Formatting for these (although I can only talk with authority about MLA) looks equally good on all three. There are some problems, particularly with electronic media, the presentation of which is continually shifting in the need to find a way of referencing a form which could change every day. However, you can expect updates to keep the software in line with the alterations and, in the interim, both Endnote and Reference Manager allow you to edit the layout of references so with a bit of tweaking I am sure it would be possible to get them to produce accurate output most of the time.

The Verdict

In terms of cost, all three (and the database option) are accessible to the individual user, especially since versions of the software keep cropping up for second-user prices on E-bay. But, until you are sure you are going to need bibliographic software, Biblioexpress offers a basic interim measure.

However, for its ability to to link to a variety of external files and to keep track of your subject keywords, Reference Manager 11 provides arguably the solution which is most powerful, flexible and future-proof for most users.

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This page was published on April 23, 2005 | Keywords: citation, references, Endnote, Reference Manager

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