I never realized the scarcity of a good tool for managing personal bibliography database until recently. I was writing a paper and found that it is really difficult to manage hundreds of references and use them in a document. Beside my original research I started researching on this issue and found that no single tool can solve all the required tasks for this purpose. This post is a result of the search for a free tool that will best serve this purpose.
Here is how a bibliographic manager works. An author creates a document and cites his document with entries form a bibliographic database created earlier. After the author completed writing the paper he passes the document and the database through some application and the application incorporates all the references cited in the document from the database. This produces a final version of the document containing the text, graphics, etc. the author created along with the references he cited in a specific format. The entire process is shown in figure 1.
Figure 1: The bibliographic citation process
I will present a comparison matrix on all the available bibliographic managers. First I will decompose each bibliographic management requirements into several sub-objectives i.e. feature. Then I will present a table showing the supports for those features in available tools. However, I did not use all the bibliographic managers out there and it is not possible for a single person to use all of them. So I would request you to let me know about any tool you have used.
Expected Features in a Bibliographic Manager
There are six basic requirements expected from a bibliographic manager. Listed down below is a functional decomposing of these requirements.
- Search: Search all the available academic/non-academic databases.
- Store: Store the reference and possibly a soft copy of the reference.
- Viewer: View soft copy (doc, pdf, etc.).
- Annotate: Keep notes on the reference.
- Overall: Just a single note on the reference
- Anywhere: A note anywhere in the document
- Communicate: Import from and export to different formats.
- Import (BibTex, End Note, XML, etc.)
- Export (BibTex, End Note, XML, etc.)
- Platform: Run on different platforms (Linux, Windows, etc.)
- Presentation: Present the data to some standard formats.
- Formats (MLA, APA, etc.)
- Document (doc, pdf, html, etc.)
Some Issues about Bibliographic Tools
The main hurdle in my opinion is to annotate the reference document. There are so many different and complex file formats out there that it is really difficult to add support for all of them. Also pdf, the mostly used format for file exchange is also very difficult to handle. There is no good free application or library to handle pdf. I know about pdf library iText and annotation tools like Jarnal and Multivalent, but even these are tough to incorporate into any system.
The next problem such software may face is to present the data according to some specific standard. There are so many different organizations and so many different formatting styles that it is really hard to add support for all of them. On the other hand some text processing systems, for example LaTeX, can produce a final document from a bibliographic database and source document, but others like Microsoft Word 2003 can not do it. Adding this support for all such systems is important but very difficult.
The platform issue limits the application to communicate between different systems.
The search capability has to deal with the differences in internet connection methods in different operating systems. Another issue is to provide search support for all different bibliographic databases in different research domains.
So it is easy to see why most of the free tools and many of the commercial tools do not support all the required functionalities.
Free Tools for Bibliographic Management
There are many different tools available for this purpose. They can be divided into three categories: Application, Web based, and Hybrid. A Google search on bibliographic tools returned this comprehensive survey on bibliographic tools. This list includes even the smallest possible script to count number of bibliographic entries in a database. The purpose of this writing is not to include every possible bibliographic tool but to compare the tools that are decent enough to do the tasks specified earlier. (update) Links to some other useful articles submitted by the readers:
- Bibliographic tools list in wikipedia (submitted by atom prober)
- Openoffice.org (submitted by atom prober)
- Open standards and software for bibliographies and cataloging (submitted by Matthias)
- List of bibliographic web applications (submitted by Matthias)
- Another review of bibliographic managers (submitted by Kjell Magne Fauske)
Table 1: Comparison matrix on free bibliography management application.
|Application||JabRef||Medline, citeseer, IEEExplore||Pdf, ps||Single note||BibTex, RIS, MODS XML||All||HTML, RTF||Open Source|
|Bibdesk**||Pubmed, Z39.50||Yes||Single note||BibTex, RIS, MODS XML||Mac||HTML, RTF||Open Source|
|PBib||No||No||No||BibTex, Endnote||All||HTML||Open Source, Copyrighted|
|Bibus||yes||no||Single note||RIS, Refer, Medline||Windows, Linux, Mac||Itegrates with Word and OOo||GPL 2|
|Web based||Aigaion||Unkn.||Yes||Yes||BibTex, RIS||All||HTML, RTF||GPL|
|RefBase *||yes||yes||Shared/ Personal||BibTeX, RIS, MODS XML, COinS||All||ASCII, HTML, LaTeX, MarkDown, PDF, RTF, etc.||X|
Eng Vil and
|WIKINDX$$||PubMed||yes||yes||BibTeX, Endnote, RIS||All||Rtf, HTML + format editor||GPL|
|Hybrid||Zotero||yes||yes||Notes, Snapshots||BibTex, RIS, MODS, RDF, Refer, Bibex, COinS||All (firefox plugin)||RTF, HTML#||Open Source|
- *Submitted by atom prober
- !Submitted by Kjell Magne Fauske
- #Submitted by Richard
- $$Submitted by Mark Grimshaw
- **Update suggested by AHM
This matrix is however, not complete and perfect. I hope to update it if I find more information. I would appreciate your feedback here.
Commercial Tools for Bibliographic Management
There are more applications than you can imagine for solving this problem. Norman listed almost all known commercial packages available in his website. He also has a Bibliographic Grid comparing almost all the commercial packages. This page, however, does not include Microsoft Word 2007. Microsoft recently added bibliographic support in Microsoft Word 2007. Although it is still in primitive stage, its conformance with open standard will allow people to come up with solutions in this area. This Microsoft Word 2007 team blog post on bibliographic feature will help you to know more about it. Also don’t forget to see this document in msdn2.
I could not find a single resource on free bibliographic tools when I was searching for it. Even the free bibliographic tools do not show up with a moderate Google search. After I found JabRef I promptly started using it. Later I found other tools. I have not used all of them. But the comparison matrix will definitely help me hunt down others and choose which one fits best for me. Hope this helps any avid researcher out there.