Online bibliographies: once more, with feeling

The sparkly new all-singing all-dancing criminal bibliography.

It’s been quite a learning experience. As it turns out, there are quite a few free applications out there that will publish bibliographies online, as long as you can handle databases. (If you’ve ever installed WordPress on a server, you already have an inkling; if phpmyAdmin is installed on your server, it makes it much easier than you might think.)

(This is a long and rather geeky post, so I’ll put the rest below the fold…)

For this particular bibliography, I’ve gone with Wikindx. I’m only using a fraction of what it can do, in fact. Firstly, it’s a full-scale bibliographic program, with an array of bibliographical styles for every type of reference (which are conveniently stored in XML files), a full range of options for searching and browsing the database, and categories and keywords for classification. You can use it equally to publish a bibliography online or to manage a conventional scholarly bibliography and citations for print media (from what I can make out, it can do almost everything a program like Endnote can do, minus the $$$, and with the advantage that you can log in from anywhere with an internet connection to add new material). Secondly (and as the name implies), it’s yet another wiki application, so it’s designed for collaborative use and multiple user management (authentication using usernames and passwords). It’s also possible to make it entirely private and password-protected.

It has all sorts of useful functions: if you have an existing bibliography it will import bibTex or Endnote files, and will automatically recognise the ‘keywords’ fields in those formats. You have to assign categories manually, but it can do that in bulk (it’s particularly easy if you’ve already done the keywords). It can also export references to a range of file formats including bibTex, Endnote and rich text files for word processing. It even has a built-in word processor (which I haven’t tried at all).

You can easily customise the presentation online using template files and CSS. I didn’t need most of the functionality so I found the default menus rather cluttered, but it was reasonably straightforward to create my own template theme with pared-down menus to suit my needs (it just took a little while to work out exactly where to insert what in the templates). There were one or two elements of the display not included in the template files that could have been, notably the headings for list view pages – I had to dig around in the PHP files to work out how to re-style those.

Customising the bibliography styles (if you want to do this) is at first sight intimidating, but there are excellent help pages for the task. Generally, the documentation was helpful – ie, it covered what you needed to know to get it running and was clearly written (neither of which are always the case with open source software!). My only criticism of the Help files was that there were a number of different files with similar names and it wasn’t always immediately obvious which one would have the particular information I was looking for.

So I would certainly recommend Wikindx, although I can’t judge what it’s like to use as a wiki. Which brings me to some general points. The best software for you will depend on your needs and priorities – here is a very useful list – and there are a few questions it’s good to ask yourself.

1. How will you want to order the entries in your bibliography?

Now I don’t quite get this, but a number of otherwise very good programs will not let you order entries by author name. They’ll do it by year, by category, by publication type… and god knows what else, but what I always thought was the scholarly standard? Nope. I’ve already mentioned PhpBibliography in this respect, but Aigaion (which I liked a lot otherwise) was another much more sophisticated program with the same limitation. (Or, if it can do it, it’s not at all clear how.)

2. Are you building a bibliography from scratch, or trying to import an existing bibliography?

Some of these applications will import Bibtex (or Endnote) files, and some won’t. In Aigaion (I think – I can’t check because I managed to break my local installation last weekend…) you can paste multiple bibtex entries into a form, but not import files. Some have good facilities for assigning categories to multiple entries (including Aigaion, again, I think). If you’ve imported a bibliography with several hundred entries, you don’t want to then have to go through and assign categories one by one. (This appeared to be the case with the otherwise good looking Drupal bibliography module, although I might have missed something.)

3. What sort of classification structure do you want for your bibliography?

Some bibliography applications can provide highly sophisticated categorisation hierarchies (multi-tiered, many-to-one, one-to-many – eg, Aigaion). Some can combine broad categories and narrower tags/keywords (Wikindx). Some only have one level of categories/keywords (eg PhpBibliography). You need to think about the fit between what a particular piece of software can cope with and what you want to do, right from the start.

4. Is this a one-person affair, or do you want it to be collaborative? If the latter, multi-user facilities are vital. Aigaion is another one that can do this, as can refbase (which I hope to take another look at before long).

Be prepared to do some test runs before you make a final choice, to see what suits you best. (And to read the instructions carefully. And be patient when it doesn’t seem to be doing what you want.) If you don’t already, it’s good to get some familiarity with a standard bibliographic file format such as bibTex. Once it’s done, managing your bibliography will become much easier – but you need to be prepared to take some time in order to get there.

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5 Responses to Online bibliographies: once more, with feeling

  1. Pingback: Gammelost² » Blog Archive » A Database Solution to Online Bibliographies

  2. Alun says:

    That looks to be staggeringly useful. So useful I may have a go at installing it tonight.

  3. Wietse says:

    Hi!

    Cool to find your review of these bibliography servers! As one of the Aigaion developers, let me place a few sidenotes on Aigaion:
    * Sort on authors: You are partly right there, Aigaion can sort on either first author’s name or on title (setting on ‘Profile’ page), but it will be nested within the sorting on year. I’d be glad to implement a sorting just on first author :).
    * Import files: We do not support automatic import of files directly from bibtex input, since the format of such links is not specified in bibtex. The url field is supported. Once a publication is in the database, attachments can be added as much as you like. These can be both local (upload to server), or remote (link to document on the web).

    For those who are interested: we have a demo site online: http://demo.aigaion.nl, login using demo / demo.

    Cheers!
    Wietse

  4. Hi Sharon,

    Nice review on wikindx — thanks. Give the word processor a try. I wrote my entire PhD thesis in it and never once had to format bibliographies or my in-text, APA-style citations.

    Mark

  5. Muninn says:

    Your posting was really useful. I’m looking into Wikindx and into potentially setting something up with it at Frog in a Well. Thanks! – Konrad

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