February 13, 2006

Managing bibliographies with Bibus

Author: Dmitri Popov

OpenOffice.org contains bibliography features, but the lack of advanced features makes it better suited for simple references than sophisticated bibliographies. For a serious bibliography tool that works with Writer, consider Bibus, which has many of the advanced features that OpenOffice.org lacks.

The first public version of the software appeared in June 2004, but Bibus is already a complete package that offers a slew of advanced features. Since Bibus is a database-driven application that supports both SQLite (the default) and MySQL, it includes features typical for database-driven software, such as a multi-user environment, user privileges (read-only or read/write), powerful search capabilities, and the ability to store live SQL queries. Since all data are stored in a single database file, you can maintain an unlimited number of separate bibliography references and switch between them easily.

The feature list doesn't stop there, though. Bibus also allows users to create hierarchically organized references, and define custom keys. Bibus supports other Bibliographical file formats, and can import and export bibliographies in PubMed, RIS, BibTeX, and EndNote/Refer (import only) formats.

However, Bibus's most intriguing feature is its integration with Writer. Using Bibus, you can insert citations on the fly from your bibliography database into your document, leaving the job of updating the bibliography section to Bibus itself. More importantly, Bibus allows you to format the bibliography and bibliography entries the way you want.

Installing Bibus

Bibus relies on a number of components that you must download and install before you can start using it. On Windows, you will need to do the following:

  1. Download and install Python 2.3.5.
  2. Download and install wxPython 2.6.x.
  3. To use the default SQLite engine, download and install PySQLite for Python 2.3.
  4. Download the latest release of Bibus, unpack it, and move the Bibus folder to your desired location (Program Files would be an obvious choice).

Make sure that you are logged on to your Windows machine as administrator. In the Bibus folder, locate the setup.py file and double-click on it, then follow the setup instructions.

Since Bibus is under active development, the installation procedure may change in the future. For an up-to-date description of the installation procedure, check Bibus's documentation.

Once the software is set up, launch Bibus by double-clicking on the bibusStart.pyw file. This starts Bibus and opens the First Connection Wizard that helps you to configure the application and create a connection to OpenOffice.org. The wizard provides detailed instructions for each step of the process.

You can run the First Connection Wizard at any time (Help -> First Connection Wizard), which may come in handy when you need to troubleshoot the existing connection or want to create a new one.

Using Bibus

Bibus' main screen has three panes. The Key tree pane is on the left; click on a key and the list of references appears in the top right pane. Select a reference from the list and its contents will be displayed in the bottom right pane.

The Key tree consists of seven default keys: References, Queries, All, Online, Import, Tagged, and Cited.

The References key is the main work area of Bibus; here you can define categories and subcategories, as well as add and manage references by dragging and dropping.

All the searches you perform in Bibus are conveniently stored in the Queries key as live queries, which means that you can view the up-to-date results of each stored query at any time. The Online key contains search results performed in PubMed. As the name suggests, the Import key contains the imported bibliographies. If you tag a reference, it will appear in the Tagged key, which offers a convenient way of managing the existing references. Finally, the Cited key contains a list of all the references cited in the Writer document that's open.

Managing references in Bibus is straightforward. To add a new publication, right-click on the References key and select New reference, then use the Reference Editor to enter the relevant data.

Bibus also allows you to divide your bibliography into categories. For example, you can create a new subkey called Open Source Bibliography (right-click on the References key and select Add child), which, in turn, can contain categories such as Linux, OpenOffice.org, and LAMP. Since Bibus supports drag-and-drop, you can easily move references between categories.

To make it even easier to manage bibliographical entries, Bibus includes a Shortcuts feature, which is roughly similar to AutoText in Writer. Basically, it allows you to define groups containing text strings that can be inserted into the fields in the Reference Editor with a single click. The smart part is that Bibus allows you to capture the contents of certain fields as shortcuts, so you don't have to type them manually.

Let's say you want to compile a bibliography consisting of 10-15 publications by the same publisher. Obviously, you'd want to avoid typing the publisher's name for every single reference. This is where shortcuts come in. First, you have to specify at least one shortcut category. Choose Edit -> Preferences and click on the Shortcuts tab. Press the New button, and give the category a name -- Publisher, for example. Press OK to save the category and close the Preferences window. Now, when you create a new reference or open an existing one in the Reference Editor, you see the defined shortcut category at the top of the window.

By default the shortcut menu is empty, and you can enter your shortcuts manually, or let Bibus do the donkey work. To let Bibus do the work for you, choose the Edit shortcuts option, press the Capture button, select the field you want Bibus to process (in this case, Publisher), and press OK. Bibus then creates a shortcut list containing all the publishers that are already in the bibliography database.

Using Bibus with Writer

Since you've already configured the connection between OpenOffice.org and Writer during the setup procedure and the first run, you can insert citations from Bibus into a Writer document right away. Select the reference in Bibus you want to cite, then choose OpenOffice.org -> Insert Citation, or use the Ctrl-I key combination. This inserts the reference identifier and updates the Bibliography section in the current Writer document. To format the bibliography properly, choose the Format bibliography command from the OpenOffice.org menu. This formats the bibliography according to the selected style.

To format identifiers and bibliographical entries in the Writer document, Bibus uses styles. The application contains a few pre-defined styles, but you can create your own styles too. In fact, the ability to define styles and customize the way citations and bibliographies are formatted in the Writer document is one of the features that make Bibus such a powerful and flexible bibliographic tool.

Despite the sheer number of formatting options Bibus has to offer, defining a new style or editing an existing one is not all that difficult. The easiest way to come to grips with Bibus styles is to tweak some options of a predefined style, such as en_AsInDatabase. Make sure that the en_AsInDatabase style is selected and choose OpenOffice.org -> Formatting -> Edit to open the References formatting editor.

To edit the format and field order of the references in the bibliography, click on the Fields ordering tab. Let's say you want to remove the Editor field and format the Book title fields as italic. To remove the Editor field, press the Editor button and then press Delete. To apply italics to the Book title, press the Booktitle field and tick the Bold check box in the Style section. That's it. The Styles feature has another clever detail: instead of defining formatting for every single type of publication, you can format the ARTICLE type and set other publication types to use the specified formatting.


Admittedly, Bibus is not a tool for everyone: most users never even touch Writer's bibliography tool (which probably explains its limitations). But besides being solid bibliographical software, Bibus does an extremely important thing -- it turns OpenOffice.org into a high-end tool for academics and professional writers alike.

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