Pilot online program aims to make paper citations easier

Amy Horst

For Chantal Norrgard, writing papers will never be the same. Instead of spending a lot of her research time compiling bibliographies, the second-year graduate student will use RefWorks, an online tool that seeks to simplify the process of making a bibliography.

Norrgard is one of about 1,000 University students, staff and faculty who use the Web-based software University Libraries began offering in November as part of a one-year pilot program.

“I think it’s really useful to have a database available to everyone because sometimes students can’t afford to buy something like this,” said Norrgard, who uses the program to help a history professor do research.

The software typically costs about $100 per copy for a student and $200 for a faculty member, said Julie Kelly, a reference librarian at Magrath Library. The pilot program costs $5,000, said John Butler, a digital services librarian.

RefWorks imports bibliographic information directly from online journals or from MNCAT. For documents listed in databases that are not configured to work with RefWorks, users might have to enter the information manually. Once the program has the information, it creates a bibliography in one of 500 different citation styles.

“Normally, all those details take time and effort, so you can concentrate on the real meat of what you’re doing,” Kelly said.

About half the online journals the University subscribes to include a feature allowing users to send their bibliographic information directly to RefWorks with the click of a button, Butler said.

However, the program is not perfect – Butler said students should still look over their bibliographies to make sure everything is formatted correctly.

The program does not work well with older versions of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator.

Timothy Brennan, a professor in the English, cultural studies and comparative literature departments, said RefWorks might not benefit students in the long term.

“The act of compiling a bibliography is actually an act of immense learning,” Brennan said. “As you linger over these things, you’re learning the names of books and recalling the date a book was published and learning to associate authors with books.”

He also said that because citation styles are always changing, the RefWorks database might not be continually up to date.

For instance, the program does not contain the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style in its database. Kelly said that RefWorks is trying to get it into the program’s database.

The pilot program will be up for renewal at the end of September, when the libraries will decide to continue use of RefWorks based on input from users and University colleges.

On Feb. 17, the libraries will host an open house with workshops demonstrating how to use RefWorks.