With this issue, I begin my seventh year of writing OUTPUT OPTIONS, and for six years, I have been meaning to write about bibliography formatting software. I view bibliography formatting software as a type of computer program that combines the benefits of a good textual database management system and a sophisticated word processor--one that has been customized with hundreds of macros to solve the nitty-gritty problems peculiar to formatting in-text references, footnotes, and bibliographies in a variety of styles.
I first explored bibliography formatting software back in the early days of personal computing on an Apple II+, with a program whose name I can no longer remember from a producer that probably no longer exists. The concept was simple--build a database of bibliographic citations by keying in references from your "personal library" of magazine and journal articles. The program would store them and allow you to sort and select specific references, which you could then turn into standalone, independent bibliographies. The elegant aspect at the time was the element of choice--you could print the resulting bibliography according to two or three different bibliographic style sheets. Unfortunately, that program crashed and simply didn't work. Fortunately, the concept continued, improved, and expanded.
Bibliography formatting programs today are highly sophisticated and increasingly complicated. Many can print standalone bibliographies, but the focus of the software has shifted to the capability of managing footnote references and bibliographies for authors who are required to submit papers in multiple bibliographic styles. Most can be used as specialized database management systems for text-based entries. And, instead of requiring keyboard entry of all information, many bibliography formatting programs, together with associated "link" utilities, can accept data imported from online or CD-ROM databases. These links act as filters, transferring the peculiarities of formatting the text file captured from a database search into the different but no less particular structure required by the bibliography formatter. (See Sue Stigleman's comprehensive survey of bibliography managers in the February 1992, February 1993, and December 1994 issues of DATABASE).
As an intermediary online searcher, my first acquaintance with the genre was with Personal Bibliographic Software Inc.'s ProCite, which enabled a user to import thousands of bibliographic citations automatically into a Pro-Cite database. I examined the hefty ProCite manual and helped the user order the appropriate Biblio-Link utility to convert downloaded records from the database we had selected. Given the size and complexity of the manual, I felt fortunate that the only output concerns for that project were making sure that the DIALOG records were TAGged, and that the records fit on diskettes for transfer from my computer to the client's. Although my user assured me that the output format had been excellent, he also said "a few" records were idiosyncratic enough to upset the standard import algorithm. I learned later that the several-thousand-item database that resulted from that online search kept a graduate student busy with cleanup for three weeks.
However, as Marydee Ojala points out with her questions in THE DOLLAR $IGN column in this issue page 32, even business people who demand quick turnaround are beginning to consider establishing desktop databases for continued use of bibliographic search results. Although other types of software--general-purpose file managers, personal text retrieval systems, and library and text management programs--could be used, bibliography formatting programs should also be considered. If your clients write for several publications, or are involved in academic life, chances are that such software already exists on their workstation.
Just what are searchers letting themselves in for when they plan a search that will be downloaded into a personal desktop database? …