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Bibliographic Management Tools: Which Tool is Best?

Resources for learning about bibliographic management tools.

Which Tool Is Best?

Zotero Logo      Zotero Logo            

Most important things to consider

All of the bibliographic management tools suported by the Fordham libraries are similar, which make selecting one over another very difficult. That choice can seem even more daunting if you are a novice to bibliographic management tools, and if you realize that in order to get one working effectively you will need to devote a number of hours learning the tool, uploading content, and organizing it so that is meets your needs.

With that in mind, here some questions that you should ask before you make your selection:

Who creates, maintains, and distributes the tool? What is the cost?

One of the primary differences between EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley is the organization and people who create, maintain, and distribute the tool. Depending on how you feel about personal information, corporations, and networking, you may choose one tool over another. Storage is not unlimited for any of the tools, as your library expands you may need to eventually pay for storage either in the cloud or on your device.

  • EndNote Web is free. EndNote Desktop is not. They are designed to work together, and are produced and maintained by Clarivate, a large, global publisher and information management corporation. EndNote is part of Clarivate's Web of Science Group of products. Fordham IT purchases a license to distribute EndNote Desktop to members of the Fordham community who have a valid access IT username and password. Fordham IT also embeds the EndNote software into Fordham Microsoft Office applications. If you work at a Fordham owned computer, or download Microsoft Office from Fordham IT, EndNote will be embedded. If you leave Fordham University, you will need to either upload all of your content to the free web version of EndNote, transfer your EndNote Desktop access to a license purchased by another institution, or purchase EndNote Desktop access on your own.
  • Zotero is free. It is a project of the Corporation for Digital Scholarship, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of software and services for researchers and cultural heritage institutions. It is open-source, meaning that if you have an idea and skills to improve the tool, you can download the code, build something, and contribute to the Zotero project. Zotero depends on users to provide feedback, ideas, code, and documentation to support the tool. You can, however, use Zotero without contributing money, code, ideas, or feedback. It is totally free and totally independent of your academic affiliation.
  • Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network. It is owned by Elsevier, a large, global publisher and information management corporation that also owns the Scopus database, the Science Direct electronic journal platform, and many scholarly journals and book imprints. Mendeley encourages researchers to share ideas about source material and discuss developments revealed through the scholarly literature via their online platform. Researchers can create a public profile, join a scholarly social network, find and work with collaborators online, upload content to a shared repository, search for jobs within their field, and discover information about grants and funding opportunities from within Mendeley. When you create a Mendeley account your profile is publicly displayed; you can choose to add details to your profile and reveal them to select Mendeley groups.

What tool are the people you work most closely with using?

  • Some disciplines and individuals favor one tool over another:
    • Mendeley has features such as their data repository, networking & funding tools, and a connection to Scopus and Elsevier, that may appeal to the STEM community.
    • Zotero scrapes data from websites better than the others, so researchers who work in the humanities or social sciences with large amounts of content published on websites (as opposed to in books or journals) may prefer Zotero.
    • Individuals who like to work with open-source tools may prefer Zotero.
    • Individuals who are resistant to large corporations may prefer Zotero.
    • EndNote has been around the longest. As a result, many well established academics may already have a robust EndNote library and may not be eager to migrate to a new tool.
  • Ask your colleagues, other members of your academic cohort, and professors what tool they use and prefer, and why.
  • If you have a mentor or regular collaborator, you may want to consider using the same tool because it will be easier to share libraries of sources and citations if you are both working with the same tool.

How well does the tool interface with your computer operating system, your favorite browser, your mobile devices?

This is a competitive market. The tools are constantly updating and enhancing the functionality of their platform. Be an advocate for improvement of the tool you choose. Zotero encourages user input, but both Mendeley and EndNote have made significant changes to their tools in response to user demand.

  • Carefully read the download requirements of the tool you choose.
  • Consult online user groups to gauge how well your preferred tool works with your preferred operating system, word processor, other software, browser, and mobile device.

What kinds of source materials do you need to collect and cite most frequently in your research and other scholarly activities? How will you use your bibliographic management tool?

Once you select a tool, you will probably use it for a number of years or perhaps your entire academic career. Set aside a day, create an account in the free web version of each and test each out. If that is too daunting, interview others to see what they say.

  • Test (or ask others) how the tool exports citation content from your favorite database, website, and catalog.
  • Create a bibliographic record from scratch and save it. Was it easy? Was it difficult?
  • Edit a citation that you imported from a database. Was it easy? Was it difficult?
  • Use the Word Processing feature to create a short bibliography in your favorite citation style. Convert that into an annotated bibliography in your favorite citation style. Was it easy? Was it hard? 
  • Explore the citation style options. Attempt to edit, save, and name a new style option. Did the tool provide you with the options you need to produce an article for publication?
  • Input bibliographic data for multiple kinds of sources: data sets, government documents, films, art exhibits, journal articles, books, pamphlets, etc. Then use that data to create a citation for each. Was it easy? Was it hard?
  • Attempt to add tags, keywords, subject headings. Was it easy? Was it hard?
  • Attempt to upload a PDF or other content and attach it to a record. Was it easy? Was it hard?
  • Search the collection you just created. Are you finding what you want? If not, consider if your search should be improved, or if the search algorithm in the tool is adequate.
  • Attempt to group and share a selection of the sources from your library.

See the "Comparing Tools - Articles & Charts" box on this page for additional information on how to compare and choose a tool.

Are you concerned about web accessibility?

  • EndNote is ADA compliant with a VPAT policy posted on their website.
  • Most reviews of bibliographic management tools agree that Zotero has many web accessibility features. The Zotero community has a number of working groups that address issues of web accessibility.
  • In the past, Mendeley has had documented web accessibility problems. Please carefully research the Mendeley documentation to confirm that it will meet your web accessibility needs if you are considering this tool.

What if you change your mind? You started with one, but now you want to use another?

No problem! It is relatively easy to migrate from one bibliographic management tool to another. Just be safe: copy and save all of your content before you start your migration.

Comparing Tools - Articles & Charts

Bibliographic Management Advisors

EndNote

  • Peter Patten, ppaten@fordham.edu
  • Jane Suda, jsuda@fordham.edu
  • David Vassar, vassar@fordham.edu

Zotero

  • Kindra Becker-Redd, kbeckerredd@fordham.edu
  • Kirsten Lee, bkilee@fordham.edu
  • Tierney Gleason, tgleason11@fordham.edu

Mendeley

  • Michael Magilligan, mmagilligan@fordham.edu
  • Jeannie Hoag, jhoag@fordham.edu
  • Katie Wolf, kwolf9@fordham.edu

Downloading Assistance

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