Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Drowning in Documents

In preparation (or is it procrastination?) for getting started on writing the dissertation I've decided that I need to organize my electronic files in some sort of bibliographic software. The goal is to know what I have so that I can figure out what I'm missing and then know what I need. Simple enough, right?

I began the process of converting my physical library into an electronic one before when moved to Wales in 2007, since I knew I'd need to write grant proposals while all my books were packed away into storage. The work that I put in then (hours and hours of scanning) have paid off in two ways: 1) My entire academic library fits onto one Billy bookcase, and 2) I always have my resources just a mouse click away, as the computer is infinitely more portable than a bag full of books. There is a downside to this process, though.

I am drowning in electronic documents. As a conservative estimate I would say that I have 1000 files on my computer that need to be recorded in some type of bibliographic software. Most of the files are centralized (two folders - Ecuador Stuff and Everything Else), but there are others scattered throughout my computer, sitting in the folder of the class when I downloaded it to write a paper, or, even worse, languishing in the catch-all "Prelim" folder that contains everything I used to study for my comprehensive exams prior to fieldwork. Not only do I not know what I have, but I don't even know where it is!

My husband has BiblioScape, so I downloaded their free version, BiblioExpress, to give that a try. The program is quite simple, and reminds me of a more basic version of the EndNote 9 that I had once upon a time. It's limited, but it could record it all, which is the point of this exercise, and best of all, it's free. 

Through our university library we have free access to RefWorks, which is an online based application. I downloaded it a while ago, but I could never get the offline version to work correctly. Even though spotty internet is no longer an issue for us, I still prefer the ability to do the data entry on my computer, and not have to navigate a website. A friend recommended Zotero, which sounds awesome, but it's a plug-in for Firefox, and I'm using Chrome. Also, it's web-based.

My preference, at the moment, is EndNote X4. I downloaded a free 30-day trial from their website, and if I like it I can buy it through our university for a very reasonable sum. One of my favorite features is that I can import the PDFs into the program, which means that even if I move files around during subsequent housecleaning the program will still open them for me, which is a big plus in light of the disorganized state of my files.

So the question remains, how should I organize my electronic files on my computer, and how should I organize the references within EndNote? One giant folder, my current two and a bit, or detailed sub-folders by category? The same for within EndNote: should I keep an Ecuador library and a non-Ecuador library (even though there are some cases of overlap), or put them together and separate them into groups by topic within the program?

Any of you out there with experience in this kind of thing, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.