The trouble with online bibliographies

Some of you will remember that I have several online bibliographies over at EMR, all published as static HTML files. Well, this works fine with short lists, but when you get a research-generated bibliography like this bugger, there’s a point at which it inevitably becomes unmanageable. It hasn’t been updated for months because I just can’t face the job any more.

So I’ve been looking for a better way to do it. As I found with EMR in general, converting to a web database format is initially time-consuming but tends to save a lot of time on future upkeep, and makes it possible to do useful things like assigning multiple categories to each entry.

I think I may have the answer: an open source program called PhpBibliography. I’m trying out a local installation (using MAMP, one of my favourite little Mac apps; XAMPP works for Windows users, before you start feeling left out). The best bit so far was importing instantaneously an entire BibTex bibliography. Not quite sure at the moment if I can work out how to manipulate the formatting for web presentation, but it’s fun to play with. (Using some locally generated definitions of ‘fun’, of course. Ahem.)

What have other people done along these lines? (I have work-related motives for asking this question as well as personal curiosity.) And maybe there are online services to save messing around with PHP/SQL installations? I’m familiar with the cuteness of LibraryThing, but I need to cover journal articles, book chapters, unpublished theses, etc, as well as books. Could Zotero be used for this purpose? [Update: you can generate Zotero bibliographies as HTML files, which would certainly be easier than editing HTML files by hand.]

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25 Responses to The trouble with online bibliographies

  1. Simon says:

    I use a wiki. On the one hand, it requires a lot of work. On the other hand, I am free to format the entries in any way I see fit; I’ll never find myself unable to make an entry because the software doesn’t accommodate a certain type of text.

    That said, I have a lot of work to do before the bibliography is up to date. And it is a daunting task.

  2. sepoy says:

    Zotero uses Citation Style Language to generate bibliographies and I can’t imagine it would be a huge deal to export an html file. However, if you are already using BibteX, you can simply go with bib2xhtml.

  3. Sharon says:

    sepoy, I’m only sort of using BibTex. I installed BibDesk and converted some of my Endnote libraries into BibTex format with the intention of learning to use it properly… which hasn’t quite happened so far. But I’ll investigate that too.

  4. Sharon says:

    PS: Simon, thank you for this wonderful link!

  5. Trevor says:

    Hi I work on the Zotero project at the Center for History and New Media and I think our tool could work wonders for you.

    First you can import Bibtex files, as well as almost every other kind of bibliographic metadata. Then, as you mentioned, you can export formated bibliographies as HTML. One thing which is particularly exciting about these bibliographies is that Zotero embeds COinS metadata, which means the bibliography you generate is automatically Zotero readable for anyone who surfs by your page. Allowing your users to automatically capture references they are interested in.

    You can check out a post about this here for examples of these “smart” bibliographies.

  6. John says:

    I was going to comment about Zotero, but instead I’ll just second Trevor’s advice. Making it easier for users (only some, granted) to scrape the bibliographic info that they need from your site is pretty significant; plus, the metadata schema used by Zotero is also a standard that other types of programs (beyond Zotero) could make use of in the future.

  7. Ancarett says:

    This is a fascinating and wonderful discussion. I’m assisting with the Canadian History of Education Association’s website and we’d love to re-instate an online version of the association’s bibliography but have been stymied by ignorance on suitable tools. Zotero sounds especially interesting for the user end of matters so I’ll have to explore the tool a bit more, but I’m still stuck on figuring out what’s the best way to host the bibliographic entries on our site.

  8. Jeremy Boggs says:

    There are a few bibliography WordPress plugins out there, but nothign really sophisticated. I’ve been wanting to write one, but there’s this pesky little thing called a dissertation that I have to write.

    If you’re only talking about an online bibliography, Zotero may be a little better than editing a static HTML file, but it still only generates a static HTML file. (In the future, Zotero users will be able to share their bibliographies, from what I understand. Trevor might explain further.) So, sharing your bibliography would essentially be the same, just that the creation and maintenance of it would change.

    I’m curious, Sharon. What would you (and your readers) want in an online bibliography manager? I’m thinking specifically of somethign that could be created as a plugin for WordPress, instead of a stand-alone app, but it could be either.

  9. Sharon says:

    Thanks for all the info about Zotero!

    Jeremy, I suppose it’s at once quite straightforward and quite complex: you want something into which you can input the various bits of data that make up a bibliographical citation (title, author, date, etc) and it will then output them, conventionally formatted and styled. What makes it difficult (which Simon refers to above) is that you have so many possible different types of citation that all need slightly different treatment: an authored book, an edited collection and its individual chapters, a journal, a thesis/dissertation, etc. And that’s without even getting into primary sources. And differing citation styles across disciplines. And then it would be great if you could make it format and generate metadata properly so that it could be picked up by programs like Zotero…

  10. Matt says:

    We use refbase, another free/open source apache/MySQL/PHP project to store a large collaborative bibliography.

    People in our group use a mixture of Zotero, Endnote, and BibTeX & refbase happily imports and exports data to all of these different clients.

  11. Matthias says:

    Like Matt, I’d like to emphasize that refbase works nicely with Zotero which automatically senses the database entries displayed on a refbase results page, and entries can be imported to Zotero with a single click. In addition, we’d like to develop a little Zotero utility which allows for direct upload of Zotero entries into a refbase database.

  12. Sharon says:

    refbase looks like a very powerful tool (perhaps too much so for my current needs…), but I do have a question for the people who are familiar with it. It seems to me that in order to view it, users have to be logged in. I need something that’s freely accessible for readers to browse and search – is that an option?

    (Edited to note: Ha, silly me. I thought the people leaving links to refbase were real readers who wanted to share some info with us, as opposed to passers-by who were just interested in plugging their product.)

  13. Matthias says:

    Sharon, the first comment on refbase was in fact done by a “real reader” (which I don’t know). I’m one of the developers, though, so I’m certainly biased (which is why I gave the link to in the “website” form entry to indicate so).

    We always encourage people to try things out for themselves, and we surely don’t want to pursuade anybody. The software was written out of our own needs and it was only later that it became open source & freely available. We don’t earn anything from it.

    I simply commented on your blog since I felt that the combination of refbase & Zotero could help you with what you’re trying to accomplish, sorry if this was inappropriate or offensive in any way.

    There are many more bibliographic web apps listed at the Bibliophile web site and they’re all well worth trying (checkout Wikindx and Aigaion, for example).

  14. Sharon says:

    Thank you, Matthias, and it wasn’t offensive. (I was just having a bit of a tantrum there.) Thank you for the additional link – I’ve been trying to search for resources like that without much success (it doesn’t help that Google seems to think that ‘biography’ means the same thing as ‘bibliography’…). I did find Wikindx and have been trying it out – I’ll hopefully be posting some more on the subject.

  15. Hi Sharon,

    I’d be interested in your comments on wikindx (I’m the developer). It certainly imports (and exports) bibtex and will handle the citation needs you indicate. v3.7 should come out tomorrow. For those above mentioning the need to have bibliography (and citation) modules/plug-ins for CMSs like WordPress, v3.7 provides the facility to import references from wikindx and to properly cite (in-text or footnote style) blocks of text from the CMS.

  16. To Ancarett,

    Zotero is not an online bibliography. To have that, you need the bibliography on a web server which applications like refbase and wikindx do but zotero does not. It may do so at some point in the future but currently, the zotero bibliography is stored on the same computer on which you’re using Firefox; meaning you are the only person able to access it.

  17. Sharon says:

    Mark, the quick answer on wikindx is that I like it very much and may well be using it for the big crime bibliography. It imports bibtex files easily, and very importantly, has a facility for assigning categories in bulk. It’s also been quite easy to change the appearance to blend in with the rest of my site. I should write more about it soon!

  18. Always good to have a satisfied customer….

    I hope you’ll make the wikindx public; it looks interesting.

  19. Sharon says:

    Here. I’ll write more about it later.

  20. Hi Sharon,

    An interesting, minimalist take on the layout.

    BTW — some of your links are broken because they use wikindxbib rather than crimebib in the address.


  21. sharon says:

    Darnit, thought I’d fixed all those! Thanks, Mark.

    [edited to add: I think they’re all fixed now.]

  22. JQ Johnson says:

    There are lots of options for publishing an online bibliography. Which ones are the easiest for a typical academic to set up and maintain long-term? I’m imagining someone with moderate computing skills and an existing bibliography in endnote or bibtex format, let’s say ~2000 annotated entries. That’s a big enough bibliography that you need moderately powerful search and presentation facilities, (perhaps beyond what phpbibliography can offer) but don’t need a library catalog. If it’s a single maintainer then I don’t think there’s too much benefit to be gained from wikindx’s wiki features. If the user is already happy with her data entry and maintenance but just wants web presentation, then zotero doesn’t seem to offer much additional. Given the ease of maintenance criterion, I’m not sure that Drupal or SIMILE Exhibit would be appropriate. So which tool would *you* currently recommend?

  23. Sharon says:

    JQ, I think all of the database-driven options require a certain skill level which many academics don’t have. (I thought Drupal was quite straightforward to work with, but I’ve got used to installing and working with this kind of application now.)

    For relatively small bibliographies, the simplest solution seems to be setting up an Endnote or BibDesk (which is free but might be Mac only? I forget) bibliography and then exporting it to Zotero and using that to transform it into HTML. For large bibliographies, especially those with multiple classifications there is no really simple answer.

    I should note that Wikindx offers a single user plenty of features beside the wiki functions. (If you don’t want them cluttering up the presentation, they can be hidden but you need to know some HTML/CSS and to work out how the template files work.) But, if the standard list-by-author can be implemented, I think my favourite so far might actually be Aigaion. I really liked the way it did categories and I recall it being quite easy to work with.

  24. Wietse says:

    Hi Sharon,

    I have just manage to implement the list-by-author lists in Aigaion. It is available on our CVS and will be available in the next aigaion 1.x release!


  25. Sharon says:

    That’s cool. I’ll look forward to trying it out!

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