Bibliography formatting software: an evaluation template
by Francesco Dell'Orso
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PERMANENT ADDRESS FOR ALL THE EDITIONS: http://www.burioni.it/forum/ors-bfs.htm
Bibliography formatting software (BFS1) is a group of programs designed to help users in compiling bibliographies and managing textual records in one or more databases.
Originally, these packages were specifically conceived to facilitate the task of writing papers with all their bibliographic citations. To switch from one style format (e.g. Chicago, Turabian, ANSI, APA, Vancouver ...) should just be a matter of selection: hundreds of citation styles are there and more can be added by the user himself to fit the requirements for publishers and scientific journals.
Bibliography formatting software packages have evolved significantly since their first appearance in the early 80's, and now can be seen as a tool for completely managing textual databases.
Not only do they take care of the output process: they also provide functions to import data derived from electronic sources and to intercept possible duplicates, to sort records, to search by means of Boolean operators and to edit data. Their object is not exclusively bound to bibliographic citations, but more generally to textual data. However, "bibliography" still remains their singularity.
Which are the main features that distinguish them from other textual database manager programs and why should one resort to this type of product rather than using a generic DBMS database management system?
1. From the point of view of database structure, they can be defined flat-file managers with a vertical structure like: Database -> Record -> Field (-> Subfields) -> Multiple values: they are ready-to-use products with database definition already designed including reference types for different kind of documents: books, chapters, journal articles, patents, e-mail, dissertations.
2. Fields are of variable length and can have multiple values and specific attributes, e.g.: searching, sorting, printing take care of the features of fields like authors, titles, pages, date, keywords ... It is common that fields attributes cannot be changed at will or moved to another field. It is common that all the fields automatically have their content indexed and thus searchable.
3. They offer filters to convert and import bibliographic data from external electronic sources such as: CD-ROM, Internet catalogues, local OPAC.
4. They have a very distinctive function: the so-called "manuscript formatting" procedure. This process consists in inserting references to database records into a document prepared by means of a word processor, in order to eventually have all the in-text citations and the final reference list automatically generated and formatted within the document.
5. They offer hundreds of output formats for citation styles fitting the requirements of publishers, scientific associations, scholar journals: Nature, APA, MLA, Vancouver, Index Medicus, Chicago...they can all be used to display and print data. Printing includes sorting records according to nested keys.
6. Increasingly they embed or work in co-operation with Z39.50 search clients ready to import the retrieved and downloaded data.
7. In general, their makers supply users with ready-made and ready-to-use objects, rather than with the tool to develop their own products. Thus, the language to design output styles and import filters tends to be limited -and efficient at the same time- by offering numerous sophisticated options already prepared and ready to be selected with the mouse. As a result of that, they are very easy-to-use packages, efficient within the boundaries that developers have pre-set and that the user cannot overcome by developing his own application, script, routine.
These are all features that one cannot usually find in generic and relational DBMS like dbase, Access, FileMaker, Paradox. Thereby users can develop new applications and build new objects by resorting to the design tools and the programming language provided with the DBMS. As users decide not to rely on specifically designed packages, but rather to adopt a generic, flexible and powerful tool, they must be expert and willing to struggle on their own -or relying on valuable help- to achieve similar functionalities. Not only will users have to define and build the database structure, along with input forms, output styles, searching, sorting, printing, import/export routines, but they will also have to ensure maintenance of their product for the future.
BFS have been conceived, developed, maintained and
marketed especially for the individual -mostly the
academic researcher- working with his own personal
computer database and goals, and not for the library or
information service, though they have been successfully
used in those environments too.
Librarians and information professionals would benefit from a closer glance at this kind of product as it is the most specific bibliographical computerized tool that their users might employ. Thanks to downloading and importing routines, these software packages play a role in facilitating information and data communication between local or remote catalogues and the end-user.
The document that I am presenting here is a detailed
analysis of this kind of product achieved by means of an
evaluation template with a checklist in table form. It
should facilitate analysis, description and evaluation of
a software program belonging to this category. There are
other similar tables in the Internet, namely the works done by M.
Shapland, P. Evans
and reviewers in Chorus
just to mention a few. In general they are more synthetic
and cover a larger number of packages than the one I am
presenting here. I have added a webgraphy, i.e. a list
of references to web resources, on bibliography formatting
The sample application of the template is given here
by applying it to a few outstanding products: Library Master, ProCite,
EndNote, Reference Manager, Papyrus, Bookends (the latter through a separate shorter version of the same template)2.
Francesco Dell'Orso, University of Perugia (Italy) firstname.lastname@example.org
1. They are called in many different ways:
personal bibliographic managers; personal reference databases;
reference manager databases; database reference
management software; personal citation managers, research
information managers, research information assistants...
etc. Sometimes they are also called personal information
managers -PIM, which is another category of products on
its own. PIM are free-form database managers designed to
handle unformatted pieces of recorded information, i.e.
data not belonging to the traditional document type
Packages like AskSam,
Cardbox belong to this
category, while they can certainly manage textual and
bibliographic data too. "Personal bibliographic
managers" would probably be a better definition than
bibliography formatting software. I am mainly using the
latter as it is already familiar to users, and it
emphasizes one important feature that of formatting the
output. Formatting citations for the output was the most
preminent characteristic at the beginning, it is still an
outstanding one and it represents the core of the manuscript formatting procedure.
© F. Dell'Orso, Bibliography Formatting Software: An Evaluation Template
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