Bibliography Software

I’m looking for free or cheap (under $100.00) bibliographic database software. I’d like something that uses MySQL, Perl, and/or PHP and that includes a GUI, or that one could fairly easily create a browser-based or AppleScript/AppleStudio GUI. Yes, I know, there are academic bibliographic products like EndNote or ProCite, but they cost an arm and a leg, are proprietary, and have horrible interfaces. I’m fine with paying for good software, but those applications really don’t work for me. In fact, almost no one I know, whether graduate students or faculty, uses them because they’re so poorly designed that they’re almost impossible to use.

I don’t need an application that interfaces with a word processor (though I won’t kick and scream if someone offers the feature!) but I need to be able to create entries for journal articles, essays in essay collections, and books. I need to be able to include a fairly long summary or annotation for each item—at least 1,000 words. I need to be able to search for strings based on fields (author, title, keyword). And I need to run it either on a Mac running OS X 10.3 or on a Unix server. Right now I’m still using a HyperCard stack I made, and while it’s fabulous (she says modestly) I know that it has a fairly limited lifespan, and it uses XCMDS that I can’t rewrite to use with Revolution. In other words, I’m really looking for a good bibliorgraphic database, before I give up and roll my own.

I’ve done the obvious thing— looked at VersionTracker, SourceForge and other collections, but so far, I’ve not found anything. If you have any suggestions, please use the Comment link below.

Linking and Citations

In the various discussions of whether or not bloggers are journalists, or the distinctions between war bloggers and tech bloggers, or what we do when we blog, perhaps we’ve taken for granted one of the most distinctive qualities of blogs and blogging: linking.

The emphasis on linking in blogs appealed to me immediately; linking is, after all, a way of creating footnotes and citations, something that as a medievalist, I must do all the time. But because of the emphasis on linking in blogs—the ease of creating citations, of providing source text and gloss side by side, bloggers make it easy for their readers to verify their data . As bloggers we present our sources with our conclusions, allowing us, as Ken Layne put it, to “fact check your ass.”

Updated 11/20/2005:Thanks to Ken Smith’s heads up I’ve updated the links in this post.

Information Architecture or Scholarship

According to Gerry McGovern at New ThinkingJ R R Tolkien was an information architect.”
McGovern writes:

Information architecture is concerned with the organization and layout of content. It is a discipline that has evolved over centuries, finding its roots in writing and printing. J R R Tolkien was a master information architect. He created complex genealogical and geographical architectures. If you want to master information architecture you need to acquire the type of skills Tolkien exhibits.

We used to call that scholarship. A scholar is, after all, what Tolkien “was,” in adddition to being an inventive writer and artist. He certainly identified himself in his roles as a philologist and medievalist as a scholar, as did his employer, Oxford University.

It is the task, and the joy, of scholars to accumulate information, organize it, and provide a naviagation system, whether of pages and indices or links to assist readers in making use of the information. It’s what they do.

SCORM and Modules

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about standards for courseware and CMS allowing “mix and match” development:

For the first time, evolving technical standards for software are making it possible for colleges to customize distance-learning programs by easily mixing online-learning software from multiple companies.

This is of course exactly the approach to a CMS system that makes the most sense to me. One of the standards the article refers to is SCORM, “the Sharable Content Object Reference Mode.” Here’s a good overview of SCORM. The difficulty is that talking about a standard is one thing; actually adhering to it is another, far more important step.

Copyright – History Revisited

This is long, and probably very boring, so if you want to skip to the good stuff just read these three pieces:



Our copyright laws are derived, albeit at a distance, from the prohibitive censorship of the British Stationer’s Office in the sixteenth century. The Stationer’s office censored, prohibited, and by virtue of the Star Chamber court, impounded, burned and branded offending presses, books, and printers. Milton, in 1644, having suffered though the Stationer’s restrictions during the English Civil War, passionately argued against a resurgence of censorship via the 1643 Licensing Act which proclaimed “That no Book, pamphlet, or paper shall be henceforth Printed, unless the same be first approv’d and licenc’t” in his Aeropagitica. Though Milton was a staunch supporter of the current puritanical state, he was also a staunch advocate for freedom of the press, and freedom of information, and he argues that information must be made easily available in order for rational people to be able to make good decisions. His arguments would apply equally well in our current mercenary licensing environment.

From the beginning, copyright law was meant to be a way of controlling information via publishing. Gradually control was moved from the government to the creator. Current copyright laws have changed so much in the last fifteen years that we’ve partially moved back to the restrictive atmosphere Milton wrote about—though for commercial reasons, rather than political ones.

Unlike the 1643 Act however, current copyright places control in the hands of a few large publishers, those who can, like Disney, successfully lobby Congress, as happened with the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998, which extended existing and future term limits on copyrighted works for an additional 20 years, for a total of seventy years after the death of the author. Keep in mind, please, that there’s a separate rule for a “corporate” author, that is, a work created “for hire” when the rights owner, the “author” if you will, is a corporatation—like, say, Disney. “Works for hire” were already protected for 75 years. Keep in mind too, that this law, like most of the previous changes, is retroactive. So works published in the 1920s that would have been available, aren’t going to be.

Right now Sonny Bono 1998 act is being contested, in the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case. Michael Dalton, in his piece for Monday, February 25, 2002 on “Mickey Mouse legislation” points to an interesting Salon interview of Eldred and Bjorklund, who both want to republish books whose copyright would have expired, had the law not been changed. In an age where information, data, is even more important, and can be distributed more efficiently than ever before, a few very wealthy and influential corporations are deliberately trying to stifle the spread of information, and the rights of creators, by lobbying Congress to enact increasingly restrictive copy right laws.

Lawrence Lessig, an intellectual property attorney, a faculty member at Stanford, and the lead attorney in the Eldred vs. Ashcroft Bono challenge, has a fascinating article in American Spectatorabout the changes in copyright law, and the future of the net.

The change has been gradual—Lessing offers a short history of the evolution of copyright law—but essentially copyright now means the life of the author plus seventy years, thanks to Sonny Bono. That means a publisher—or these days, a publishing conglomerate—essentially controls access and distribution of the content for that time. It doesn’t matter if the work is out of print, it’s still covered by copyright.

The Bono act has severely limited Brewster Kahle’s plans for a digital library, an Internet Library to rival the fabled (albeit historic) library of Alexadria. Kahle and his group have already created the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine. Now he wants to create a library as big as the world. Kahle was the inventer of WAIS. This is someone who actually makes data available in useful ways. He’d like to do a lot more–if he could get rights to share the data. You can read his amici curiae in which he points out:

This library will expand our understanding of “public access.” It will make information accessible in formats that uniquely support and promote creativity in the arts and sciences – allowing individuals to clip and sample millions of words, films, and music recordings with ease. At the same time digitization will greatly reduce the cost of preserving our cultural history and eliminate deterioration caused regularly through the physical handling of cultural artifacts. Through digitization, we can inexpensively open the full contents of this new library to the public, especially to those for whom access has been a half-kept promise—the distant, the deaf, and the blind. A universally accessible archive of print, audio, and visual materials is within our grasp.

I’m very much in favor of artists retaining their creative control, and being recompensed for the sweat of their brow, but not into perpetuity. Never mind Mickey Mouse and fiction, think about the way copyright effectively prevents poor nations from access to current technology data. I’m not in favor of giant publishing conglomerates making money in perpetuity.