4.1246 Rs: Bibliography Software (1/72)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 16 Apr 91 23:36:09 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1246. Tuesday, 16 Apr 1991.

Date: Tue, 16 Apr 91 09:06:35 MST
Subject: Re: 4.1242 Qs: ... Bib. SW

I've done a bit of looking in regard to bibliographic software. I'll
make a couple of general observations and then one specific
recommendation. Nothing works right. Some packages come close, but
none of them behave the way they ought. Readers should note that I am
speaking of the DOS world, though I believe similiar conditions exist in
Unix and Mac. The fundamental trade-off seems to be between input and
output. Some programs are very good on the output side - Notebook with
nbCitation, for example. This class of software will give you long form
citations and short form citations, will do all the formatting, and in
short behave the way they ought. But the price exacted is on the input
side. They tend to be structured files with slots for each element of
the citation, meaning you will have lots of empty fields for any given
citation and inevitably you'll have a few works that don't fit right.

At the other end are programs where data entry is easy and flexible; such
a program is askSam, a completely free-form text-based management
program. But output is a chore. askSam has a macro language that helps
you automate the process, but that entails learning the language; not as
hard as learning to program, by a long shot, but still more than many
people are willing to undertake. You can do something similiar in any
top-line word processor such as WordPerfect or MS Word using their macro

There is one integrated environment I know of: Nota Bene. It combines
word processing with bibliographic and research note management. I've
evaluated it but never used it in a production environment. It was
noticeably slow in comparison with WordPerfect on my old IBM XT (and WP
is no speed demon) and the command structure was decidedly arcane.
Before the NB users out there leap to their feet, please note these are
my opinions; you might try the program and find it easy. But I'd try it
first before I purchased it.

I work as a support tech to our faculty, though my PhD is in history, so
I am sensitive to the issues here. One thing I've find is that there is
a surprising diversity in needs between various disciplines and even
within disciplines. I'm not at all sure that there is a
one-size-fits-all solution to this need.

Here are my recommendations for one-size-fits-a-few-anyway. Start with
your word processor. If you have a grasp of the macro language and the
merge commands, you can do a pretty nice job. The main limit here is
size (a few other issues arise, too, but they can be kludged into
submission). If you keep the number of references (notes and/or books)
in the few hundreds or less, you'll be fine. Larger than that and the
search times get out of hand. This obviously depends on the speed of
your machine, memory, and hard drive speed. Even that can be handled if
you split your references into multiple files. But large projects
exceed the capacity.

Anything else will require learning, so why not learn your word processor
macro and merge commands? But if your needs go beyond, or you just flat
don't want to do it there, then you've got to buy software.

The choices are askSam or Citation, the former from Seaside Software, the
latter from Oberon. I've already mentioned the strengths and weaknesses
of each. I'd recommend getting a copy of each -- see if you can get the
product on 30 day approval. Try one and then try the other; don't try
both at the same time. Both will accept ASCII files, though Citation
will force you to structure the information first, but at least you
won't have to re-type 100 references every time. Do work out with
_real_ data. Don't just use their sample files. Use YOUR books and
articles and documents.

And finally, if you don't much like your word processor anyway, or are
the type that doesn't mind learning new word processors, I suggest you
take a serious look at Nota Bene.

I hope this helps.

Historian, Data Center Associate
Boise State University DUSKNOX@IDBSU.IDBSU.EDU