Are You A Bibliography Nut?

April 15, 2011

Michael E. Smith posted on his blog that he has 18,000 bibliographic references in his EndNote database! Which got me wondering, how do others stack up?  Anyone got him beat? Have you actually read everything in your bibliographic file, or do you, like Smith, add things you “are likely to use”?

I have an interest in the technicalities of scholarly workflow, so I love to read blog posts like this that track the technological changes that have shaped a scholar’s workflow over decades:

It all started early in graduate school, when Clark Erickson showed me his library card catalog drawers full of references written on 3×5 index cards. How cool was that! I immediately started my own program of price supports for the index card manufacturers. Clark and I would make cards for each other when we came across appropriate references. I think I had between 15,000 and 20,000 cards in all. In the 1980s I got up to 1,000 or so citations into the Minark database. What a klunker! OK for very early PC days, I guess, but I soon switched to a bibliography program (I forget which one).

I think I had a Filemaker Pro database for citations on my Mac laptop in the late 1990s, and I definitely remember when my classmate pioneered an early version of EndNote in the department (I think this was about 1999).  I currently use EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero, though none of them heavily.  But plenty of scholars – from undergraduates to faculty members – still use pieces of paper or Word documents to keep lists of citations. How does a citation management program affect the way scholars work? If you have 18,000 references in a database, are you more or less likely to turn up the right article for the project at hand? I don’t know that anyone’s studied this, and I can’t really conceive how one would do so quantitatively, but I find it as interesting as the transition (or not) from print to digital texts for scholarly work.


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