Tools for Researchers and Book Lovers

Posted by Chris Lerch on Thursday, July 19th, 2007. Filed under: eHub Features

Libraries, students and book lovers can take advantage of several Web 2.0 tools to help them manage their book collections, do research, and create bibliographic citations. We’ve briefly mentioned BibMe and LibraryThing in the past (eHub Interviews LibraryThing), but let’s explore them further, as well as Zotero, a “next generation research tool”.

LibraryThing launched in 2005 as a way for book lovers to catalog and share their collections. It’s comparable to Flickr and del.icio.us since once a user uploads their collection, they can share it with the world and also see and interact with others who have the same books. There are currently over 15 million titles in LibraryThing, uploaded by over 200,000 registered users.

LibraryThing has a powerful search feature, grabbing information (cover art, ISBN number, etc.) from Amazon, as well as the Library of Congress and dozens of other major libraries. Users need to only enter the title or author to be presented with a list of possible matches, and then click on the appropriate title to add the book to their collection.

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Users can (and do) tag items in their collections (over 17 million tags have been assigned to date), making for a fun browsing experience. The Zeitgeist page on LibraryThing shows the most popular titles and authors, plus a host of other stats on its huge collection of titles.

LibraryThing allows for a great deal of social interaction between its users, allowing them to post reviews, make recommendations and form groups based on their interests. There’s also a message board.

LibraryThing is free to catalog your first 200 books; after that it’s $10 a year or one “lifetime” payment of $25.

While LibraryThing allows you to manage your personal book collections, the developers have recently made the functionality of the web page available to public and school libraries as widgets for use in their online catalogs. LibraryThing For Libraries allows libraries to enjoy many features such as tagging, user-submitted reviews, and recommendations of similar books, turning their 1.0 online catalog into an easier, more social, gateway into their collections. The Danbury, CT public library is the first to implement LibraryThing For Libraries, but it won’t be the last.

Once you’ve cataloged your collection, you might want to cite a book or two in a paper or other academic endeavor. Tools like EndNote have made creating citations simpler, but the program is costly and has features that most basic users won’t need. If you’re a high school or college student, your school may be subscribing to NoodleBib, which is fairly easy to use and does a good job, especially if the user is citing a web resource or an online database. But the quickest, easiest , and (free) way to generate bibliographies is BibMe, which launched about a month ago. BibMe can generate citations in MLA, APA and Chicago style (which you can change on the fly), and I found it took half the time to create a bibliography than any other tool I have used.

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Like its commercial competitors, BibMe has an extensive search function that can find and generate a detailed citation by entering a few keywords. Registration is simple and non-intrusive, and once you have an account you can save and edit your bibliographies.

My kids have switched to BibMe even though their school has a subscription to NoodleBib. It’s just easier to use.

A tool I have also used to create citations is Zotero, a Firefox 2.0 (must be 2.0+) extension developed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Zotero combines features found in Google Notebook and BibMe, by allowing users to gather and organize information found on the Internet, as well as generate citations from their collections.

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Launched eight months ago, Zotero has over 130,000 registered users, and is fast becoming a favorite tool in academic circles. Like Google Notebook, users can easily grab URLs and text and add notes. Information can be grouped into projects and tagged.

The learning curve for Zotero is greater than that for Google Notebook and BibMe, but it’s worth the investment, especially if you go a lot of research online. Of course, you’re limited to Firefox, and there’s no talk at the moment to port Zotero to other browser platforms.

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I saw Zotero demoed at a recent Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) conference, which is curious, since Zotero currently can’t be used over a network which is its main limitation. All information is stored locally on your PC, and can’t be accessed over the web or from another computer. Developers have pledged that future versions will include a network component, allowing users to share their research as well as back it up to a Zotero server.

Zotero is open source and free. Plugins currently exist for Microsoft Word and WordPress, making it easy to export citations and notes into those applications.

As Library 2.0 continues to develop, expect more tools to become available to help you with your research and share it with others. For now,LibraryThing, BibMe and Zotero are well worth checking out.

Comment(s)

  1. Kunal Goel on July 19, 2007 at 05:36 AM:
    you forgot goodreads

    http://www.goodreads.com/

  2. Jonathan Edson on July 19, 2007 at 02:33 PM:
    Chris—I am the CEO of carmun.com—so please take this in the spirit, of “I hope you find this helpful” and not a “shameless plug”, but if this class of applications interests you, I’d invite to check out our site which is in a similar space, but hoping to take a much more community centric tack.

    Thanks,
    Jonathan

  3. R Barrera on July 19, 2007 at 03:25 PM:
    Zotero is not really Library 2.0; more like Library 1.5 at best, what with not being a pure web app and all.
  4. Rob Mansfield on July 19, 2007 at 04:10 PM:
    Another similar site is http://www.shelfari.com – it has a really aesthetically pleasing look to it, which marks it out from somewhere like goodreads.com
  5. Memo on July 20, 2007 at 08:27 AM:
    Another Web 2.0 source for finding extensive bibliographic and citation information is OCLC’s WorldCat.org .  Not only will it find books/media in the libraries closest to you (via zip code), but it will also cite the work (MLA, APA, Turabian, Harvard, Chicago) and export it to RefWorks or EndNote.