BiblioMS: A Collaborative, Large-Scale Bibliography Management System

  1. 1. Neal Audenaert

    Texas A&M University

  2. 2. Richard Furuta

    Texas A&M University

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

The need to create, maintain, and publish a bibliography
has been a recurring theme in the digital
humanities projects we have been involved with over
the past fifteen years. This may be as simple as listing
references for individual digital artifacts or as complex
as maintaining a comprehensive record of all significant
works published about a particular author. Bibliographies
are rarely the main research focus of a project—
from either the humanities or the technical side—and
are therefore frequently relegated to the sidelines. In the
best of scenarios, custom applications are built that support
the bibliography of a particular project. In the worst
(and perhaps more common) scenarios, a scholar creates
a bibliography in Word and the result of the “export to
HTML” function is copied into the appropriate page on
the project’s Web site.
Whether the bibliographic component of a digital humanities
project is a necessary chore or a key scholarly
contribution, for most projects it is a tedious, labor-intensive
effort. The development of one-off bibliography
solutions for individual projects may reduce the effort
required by humanities personnel, but this comes at the
cost of increased developer time—a scarce resource.
While developing a bibliography system from well-defined
initial specifications is straightforward, it is tedious
and time consuming. Furthermore, unless care is taken in
the initial design, the resulting system is not likely to anticipate
future needs of the project making it difficult or
impossible to modify the application to meet new needs
as they arise.
To avoid developing a new bibliographic management
system (BMS) from scratch for each new project we
work on, we are implementing a general-purpose system
that can be tailored to meet project specific needs.
Whereas the development of a BMS tailored to the specific
needs is of a single project is straightforward, the
development of a general-purpose BMS poses interesting
challenges. We have identified four key requirements
based on our experience with the use of bibliographies in
various projects we have been involved with.
First, the BMS must support user-defined genres. While
standard bibliography genres (such as books, journal
articles, electronic resources) are usually adequate for
personal use, editors in charge of large scale bibliography
projects often need to tweak the standard genres in
order to convey unique aspects of their material more
effectively. Special purpose projects may need to record
material not envisioned when the BMS was initially developed.
In addition to defining the content of different
genres of bibliographic entries, a BMS also needs to define
semantic relationships between genres. For example,
a chapter is a part of a book, or a review is a journal
or newspaper article about another work. While these
relationships are expressed in a human readable form in
the entry’s content, it is also necessary to provide formal,
machine-readable representations in order to build
systems that leverage these relationships to support data
entry and browsing.
Second, the BMS must enable multi-faceted organization
and navigation of the collection. This includes standard
features such as full text searching and the ability
to search or browse based on entry fields (a challenging
task if those fields are not known in advance). In addition
to these techniques, editors of large bibliographies often
rely on hierarchical taxonomies and controlled vocabularies
to structure collections. The BMS should provide
tools to assist editors in developing these organizational
strategies. While most projects we are familiar with rely
on a unified categorization scheme developed from a
single, authoritative editorial perspective, we anticipate
the need to organize collections from multiple perspectives.
One example of this is allowing individual users to
add their own tags or to bookmark entries in “folders.”
By allowing these personal organizations to be either
private or public, a BMS can enable external editors to
build on existing work to offer alternative views of the
bibliographic record of a field.
Third, the BMS must facilitate collaborative editing. In
a typical, project-scale bibliography, a single editor or
team of editors is responsible for maintaining the quality
and accuracy of the bibliographic entries. Much of the
day-to-day work of entering data and updating entries,
however, may be performed by assistants, often graduate
students working under the supervision of the editor
(or editorial board). Moreover, the broader academic
community may assist this team of editors and assistant
editors by recommending new items for inclusion in the bibliography and suggesting corrections to existing items. To support this workflow, the BMS needs to provide
a sandbox where users with lower privileges may
edit entries prior to being made publicly available by the
approval of an authorized editor. This also requires the
ability to assign users to different editorial access levels,
to track changes, and to maintain persistent links to the
different published states of a bibliographic record. The
BMS should also include user management features to
allow users to maintain their own profile and to allow
project editors to grant and revoke editorial permissions. Finally, the BMS must allow integrated access with the
project’s existing Web-interfaces. This includes developing
editors’ and readers’ interfaces whose look and feel
match that of the rest of the project’s Web site. Components
of the bibliography should be accessible throughout
the project site. For example, it should be possible
(and relatively easy) to include a reference to a bibliography
entry in the text that appears on the site or in a reference
section for a particular digital artifact. It should
also be possible to integrate bibliography editing tools
with other editorial interfaces. For example, if a nautical
archaeology project is building an interface to allow
project members to add information about a shipwreck,
it should be possible to add references to supporting material
directly from this interface without going to a separate
editor’s interface for the BMS.
Before deciding to develop our own BMS, we first investigated
the many open source and commercial solutions
currently available including BibTeX, Zotero, and End-
Note. Like others (Stout 2008), we quickly concluded
that most of these systems are tailored to the management
of personal collections and inadequate for our purposes.
RefDB provides reference management engine
that might be useful, but would require significant customization
and extension to meet our needs. Given the
amount of work that would be required to extend any of
these existing systems, we decided that developing our
own BMS was the best course of action.
To achieve this, we have developed a system called BiblioMS.
Instead of implementing BiblioMS as a standalone
Web application with it own built-in interface,
we have designed it to function as a set of application
modules that can be integrated with existing Web sites
or other applications. This allows us to maintain the distinctive
look-and-feel of the different projects in which
we deploy BiblioMS. For example, Fig. 1 shows screen
captures from two projects in which we have deployed
this system.
The main BiblioMS system consists of the core bibliography
management engine and a set of JavaScript libraries
for accessing this engine. The management engine
implements the storage, modification, revision control,
categorization, and retrieval requirements outlined
above. A Web interface layer provides access to the engine
via an HTTP API (application programming interface).
This architecture is shown in Fig 2. The JavaScript libraries implement an object-oriented
API that allows project developers to interact with the
management engine directly from Web pages without
writing any server side code. In our experience, we have
found that developing user interfaces in HTML and JavaScript
and using server-side technologies (such as PHP
and Java Servlets) only for data management improves the modularity of our tools and makes our applications
easier to maintain and modify.
The BiblioMS engine itself is aware of users (in order
to record who is making changes to entries and to maintain
personal annotations and collections) but does not
provide user authentication and authorization services.
Instead, an authentication layer provides these services
by filtering access to the HTTP interface. The advantage
of this approach is that administrators can configure and
control user access on a feature-by-feature basis by editing
an XML configuration file. In our current projects,
we have used a three level permissions strategy (editors,
assistant editors, and external contributors) but this implementation
allows alternative approaches.
Our work offers two primary contributions. First, based
on our experience with numerous digital humanities
projects, we have described four key requirements for
developing a general-purpose bibliography management
system: user-defined genres, multi-faceted organization
and navigation, collaborative editing, and integrated access.
Second, we have demonstrated our implementation
of a system that meets those requirements. We plan to
build on our current work by using this system as a basis
for studying how large, project-scale bibliographies are
used both by their editors as well as by their readers. We
intend to use the results of these studies to improve finding
aids, streamline editorial workflow, improve quality
control mechanisms, and support user-centric organization
and annotation of the collection.
This material is based upon work supported by the National
Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0534314.
[BibTeX] BibTeX. (13 November
[EndNote] EndNote. (13 November
[RefDB] RefDB. (13 November
[Stout 2008] Stout, J., Wulfman, C., and Mylonas, E. A
bibliographic utility for digital humanities projects. In
Proceedings of Digital Humanities 2008, Oulu, Finland,
24-29 June, 2008. Univesity of Oulu.
[Zotero] (13 November 2008).

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None