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Bibliographic Database Question - History Graduate Students — LiveJournal

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Previous Entry Bibliographic Database Question Nov. 6th, 2011 @ 09:53 am Next Entry
My school has RefWorks so I've long used that to organize my dissertation and teaching sources (separate accounts). I have a couple of problems with the program, however, and am interested in either having someone better at using RefWorks than I am tell me how to make it work for me, or in getting suggestions on specific programs that might work better for me.

Problem 1: RefWorks is terrible about handling archival materials. I've played around with it enough that I have some things that make it kind of work, but if there is something out there that natively works better with archival material, I'd be very interested in giving it a try. Given the idiosyncratic reference preferences of individual archives, I suspect it just isn't possible to design a program that can handle them, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

Problem 2: Searching Folders and Subfolders. I'd love a program that uses folders and subfolders but allows for general Boolean searching of things like the intersections of folders. Here is what I'd ideally like to be able to do:

If I have a book on Baptism among slaves in South Carolina in the 1840s, I want to be able to drop it in the following kinds of folder chains "Topic: Race: African Americans: Slavery," "Topic: Religion: Christianity: Baptist," "Region: South: South Carolina," and "Era: 1800s: 1840s." When I put the book in each of the end folders, I want it to also go in the containing folders and then I'd like to be able to search by those so that it would come up if I wanted to know what I had on Baptism among slaves in South Carolina in the 1840s but also if I just wanted to know what I had on religion in the 1800s.

With RefWorks, you can have folders and subfolders, but if you put something in the end folder, it isn't added to the containing folders and, more importantly, you can't search for the intersections of folders. All you can really do is see a list of your folders and the contents of each individual one. Up to now, I've been using the descriptors or tagging field within RefWorks to try to achieve what I want because you can do Boolean-type searching on descriptors. The problem there is you can only search by the exact wording of the descriptor so every sub level has to be listed on its own. My descriptor fields are starting to be a jumbled mess that look like "Topic: Religion," "Topic: Religion: Christianity," Topic: Religion: Christianity: Baptist." Plus, there is no auto-complete or ability to just select descriptors, so I have to fully type out each descriptor every time I want to add it to a new source or search by it and remember things like did I use "Baptist" or "Baptists" when I first made the descriptor. I've debated just doing descriptors like "Baptist" and "Christianity" without grouping them together, but then when I look at the alphabetical list of descriptors because I want to know, for example, how many and which religions I have sources about and which important ones might I be missing, I can never find the descriptors of a similar type because they are just all jumbled together and it is a big mess.

One thing I love about RefWorks is that it is online. Being able to access my sources from any computer is a huge plus. It's annoying when the internet is out, but I have that problem far less often than I want to access my database from a computer not my own. I'd really like an online database, but if there is something out there that will solve my folder / tagging problem in particular, I might be willing to take it even without online access. I'm willing to pay for a program or service, but it can't be a lot as I am, of course, a broke grad student.

x-posted to gradstudents
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