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:
- fully web-based, to avoid the fuss of installing programmes, updating to new versions and compatibility issues
- easy import (1 to 4 clicks) for the most important databases (including Google Scholar)
- easy import and export of your full database in the most current formats (e.g. RIS, Bibtex, TAB-del.)
- integration with Word or other editors to cite and create bibliographies
- 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)
- creation of folders
- being able to use RSS-feeds to import references automatically
- sharing folders publicly by the creation of a seperate public url
- creation of RSS-feeds to dynamically share folders
- a grab function to capture bibliographic data from pages without a save function
- custom fields to add information to a record or use tags
- being able to upload images, tables etc to a record
- sfx compliance
- deduplication of records
- 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.