Academic, Info Tech

This is a review I posted for the Mac OS X citation management application Bookends. I tried to keep it short, so I didn’t even list all of the new features I like. One of the reasons I am so excited is that while I had no hand in writing any code for this software, I did suggest many of these features to the developer, and spent a lot of time back-and-forth discussing why I thought these features were important and how they should be implemented. While I don’t take any credit (or blame) for the final implementation, I do feel I had a lot invested in this new version and am happy to announce that it is finally out!

Bookends is one of the oldest citation management software packages for the mac, but Bookends 8 marks a major new development in this venerable application. Most importantly, Bookends 8 understands that managing your database is as important as making bibliographies. Sporting a new interface, Bookends 8 offers some of the features found in Apple’s iTunes: Bookends groups” are analogous to playlists, and its smart groups” similarly mimic smart playlists. Don’t expect a glistening Cocoa interface — Bookends is a legacy program and its OS 9 roots still show through, but the thought and care that have gone into designing this program more than make up for this. Especially once you start realizing some of the features packed into this new version.

Smart groups are definitely my favorite. Suppose you are doing a research project on global warming. Whenever you add a new citation you simply add a keyword for global warming.” If you have a smart group for this keyword, the new citation will automatically appear in the list when you click on the group! But that’s not all — say you are doing a paper on environmental law — simply create a smart group for only those citations that have BOTH the keywords environmental law” and global warming”! These are dynamically updated, so they are always up to date, unlike EndNote where you have to regenerate a search each time you wish to see the results.

Updating an older database and don’t have keywords assigned? No problem! Bookends offers powerful batch operations that let you find and replace or insert data into multiple records at the same time. (Be sure to back up before doing this, just in case you make a mistake!)

I haven’t even used all of Bookends’ features, like its ability to share its database via the web! Or the ability to export citations to vCards that can be imported to the iPod’s address book.

One of the most important changes to Bookends 8 is that it now supports Unicode. This means you can include citations in any language — even Chinese! (Although I don’t know about right-to-left scripts — I haven’t tested those.)

And for those of you who use Mellel, Bookends integration is built right in. Unfortunately, Bookends still chokes on scanning large Microsoft Word documents from within Microsoft Word, but it is easy enough to save a word file as RTF format and then format the bibliography using Bookends’ scan a Document” feature. You will not loose any Word formatting when you do this, although it does require an extra step.

Two other changes over Bookends 7 are worth noting: First, Reference Miner is now built-in to the application, so you can easily import files from, the Library of Congress, or PubMed. And secondly, now you no longer need to keep the reference window open — you can do everything except edit citations directly in the list view. The List view itself has been updated so that it now sports a nice preview pane that shows you exactly what the formatted citation will look like.

The one area where Bookends lags behind EndNotes is the small number of dedicated fields in its database. Although this new version sports a few more user-definable fields, and makes it possible to add custom labels to each field depending on reference type, it still lacks a tertiary author field, or dedicated fields for the original language title of foreign texts, etc. The advantage of Bookends’ approach is that you don’t need to scroll the reference window — all the fields appear at once — but the lack of specialized fields for some types of data (such as translated texts in collected volumes) which are, in turn, matched to specific rules when generating bibliographies, means you might occasionally have to manually edit your bibliographies. However, I consider this a small price to pay considering the other advantages of this software.

Finally, I should say that one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about Bookends is the responsiveness of the developer. While I have had nothing but frustration in my dealings with EndNote, Sonny Software has been great. There is now even a user forum to facilitate sharing tips and tricks, as well as to provide feedback on the software. I’m sure that if more people use Bookends it will become even better! (3/3/2005, Version: 8.0)

UPDATE: Doing some testing, I think there are still a few hiccups in the database backend to Bookends 8. Please report all errors to Sonny Software and I’m sure these will get ironed out quickly.

UPDATE: Although it can’t yet scan RTF documents, an up and coming competitor in the field is Sente. Definitely something to keep an eye on!

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