19 Apr

Refworks promotion in the Netherlands, or: what criteria for bibliographic management software?

Refworks, challenging the monopoly of the Thomson-ISI family of bibliographic management software organised a well visited (c. 35 people) seminar in Utrecht today. Refworks claims hundreds licensing universities in the US, Britain and continental Europe, but the Netherlands still only boosts two universities working with Refworks (Rotterdam and Utrecht). Although there are some clear advantages of Refworks compared to the ISI products it seems difficult to get existing users to change to the new product. Partly this may be due to a lack of knowledge, lack of time or simply conservatism on the part of researchers, but there is also the problem of investment security. Presenting Refworks as a trial means people are not sure that their effort in learning to work with Refworks  solutions will pay back: the service may become unavailable after the trial. But to convince financial gatekeepers you have to prove that people are attracted to the system. In that sense a Refworks trial differs from trials for access to new content.

The seminar did not provide me much news, since we have been working with Refworks in some for or other for almost a year. It did produce some enthusiastic reactions however from delegates from other universities. In many institutions (e.g. Groningen) library staff are looking at web alternatives for Endnote or Reference Manager. What is good news is that we managed to convince the Refworks marketeers  of the importance to arrange direct import from Dare-net and Picarta, collated national systems for academic repositories and library catalogues respectively.

This leaves the question as to what criteria we should use to judge this kind of tools. After a year of testing, comparing and reading I can produce a list of minimum requirements:

  1. fully web-based, to avoid the fuss of installing programmes, updating to new versions and compatibility issues 
  2. easy import (1 to 4 clicks) for the most important databases (including Google Scholar)
  3. easy import and export of your full database in the most current formats (e.g. RIS, Bibtex, TAB-del.)
  4. integration with Word or other editors to cite and create bibliographies
  5. creation of bibliographies in various styles (e.g. Harvard, ALA, MLA, Chicago, although I agree with Wowter that we should get rid of the hunderds of different styles)
  6. creation of folders
  7. being able to use RSS-feeds to import references automatically
  8. sharing folders publicly by the creation of a seperate public url
  9. creation of RSS-feeds to dynamically share folders
  10. a grab function to capture bibliographic data from pages without a save function
  11. custom fields to add information to a record or use tags
  12. being able to upload images, tables etc to a record
  13. sfx compliance
  14. deduplication of records
  15. being able to create multiple accounts and multi-user accounts

To date, Refworks seems the only solution to meet all of these criteria. The ISI family is not web based  (including Endnote, Reference Manager, Procite). For Endnote there is a web version but as yet this is not fully developed, lacks good sharing possibilities and easy import. Newer web 2.0. solutions such as Connotea, Zotero, CiteUlike (and a host of others) are creative each in their own way, but most lack crucial functionality to be taken seriously as an overall solution for universities, be it SFX compliance, word processor integration or easy import functions. Of course Refworks has some minor problems as well: due to the fierce competition with Thomson-ISI they have not been able to set up direct import from Web of Science. Another problem is that if people start uploading full pfd’s of articles with their bibliographic records, server space allotted to an institution might prove too small quite rapidly, accrueing in extra costs to buy new space. And of course, it is not free…

As you know I like figures, so here is a small table comparing Refworks with Endnote and Endnote-web in the number of databases for which there is direct import or import through an intermediate save/import action, and the number of clicks needed to import a reference from the 41 most used bibliographic databases in our university. It comes from an internal report we did on bibliographic management tools for our university. We did not look at grab-it/scraping possibilities to import references.

3 Responses to “Refworks promotion in the Netherlands, or: what criteria for bibliographic management software?”

  1. 1
    Criteria voor bibliografisch beheer « Dee’tjes Says:

    […] Zat 21 Apr 2007 Criteria voor bibliografisch beheer Posted by Dee under Research  Jeroen Bosman heeft een interessant artikel geschreven in Infopinio over de criteria waaraan programma’s voor bibliografisch beher moeten voldoen: Refworks promotion in the Netherlands, or: what criteria for bibliographic management software? […]

  2. 2
    Earl Beutler Says:

    (First…full disclosure. I am the CEO of RefWorks)

    This blog entry is a very insightful summary of important criteria for choosing a bibliographic management program. In particular, your contrast of a RefWorks trial vs. a content trial really gets to the core of a problem for many institutions. Using a program like RefWorks (or any bibliographic software) requires a commitment of time and effort from the user, which one is not likely to make if one is unsure whether the program will remain available. Then, if one uses usage to evaluate a trial, the classic “chicken or the egg” situtation arises.

    RefWorks usage is very high at institutions that have 1) purchased a subscription; and 2) broadly exposed their community to its existence. For example, Arizona State University has over 15,000 user accounts.

    Thanks for your blog (and for listening to my reply).

  3. 3
    Zotero User Says:

    Have you really looked into Zotero’s features or just gone to a seminar sponsored by RefWorks and decided it’s the best? Zotero has OpenURL support (compare with SFX), integration with Word and ability to export formatted citations to other word processors, and many import/export options (actually, more than RefWorks). Zotero looks like iTunes and is far easier than RefWorks for new users to pick up. Unlike RefWorks, it is also free (as in no cost and open source). It can grab citations (with just a single click) from thousands of websites and databases–far more than RefWorks. And the Zotero server (available soon) will enable all of the things RefWorks can do and this article’s author asks for–sharing, feeds, groups, etc.–again, for free. Zotero is even available in Dutch. So why pay for an inferior, costly product?

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